[Paleopsych] Technology Review: Science Wants to Be Free
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Fri Apr 15 20:25:26 UTC 2005
Science Wants to Be Free
By Spencer Reiss May 2005
Publicly funded research belongs in the public domain,
says Michael Eisen, a computational biologist at Lawrence Berkeley
National Laboratory. Along with Stanford biochemist Patrick Brown and
Nobel Prize-winning oncologist Harold Varmus, Eisen founded the Public
Library of Science, which is launching three new "open access"
scientific journals this year. The publishers of paid-subscription
journals such as Science, Nature, and Cell aren't laughing.
What's the state of open-access publishing today?
Depending on who's counting, 95 percent of research papers in the life
sciences are still locked up by the big commercial
publishers--Elsevier, Springer, and the rest. It's ludicrous at a time
when the Internet has pushed the actual cost of distributing a
research paper close to zero.
But it's not as if a scientist who really needs a paper can't find it.
Isn't that why research libraries pay for subscriptions?
For starters, if research were freely available, people would build
better tools to sift through and dig things out. And what if you're
Joe Guy who's just been diagnosed with cancer? It's ridiculous that
you can't read papers that your tax dollars have paid for that might
be pertinent to your condition. And often your doctor can't either--we
won't even mention the doctor in Uganda. In the first issue of the
Lancet--Elsevier's prime medical journal--there was an editorial
stating that the aim of the publication was to communicate the
findings of science to the widest possible audience. Somewhere along
the line, they became a business and lost touch with why they exist.
The latest policy from the National Institutes of Health "asks" grant
recipients to submit their results for public access within a year of
publication but doesn't require it. That's a lot less than some people
were hoping for; what happened?
The forces of darkness surprised us.
"Forces of darkness"?
Scientific publishing is a $10 billion global business, growing 10
percent a year. They're not going to let go without a fight. The
Association of American Publishers has hired [former congressperson]
Pat Schroeder as its president and chief lobbyist--the queen of
darkness. They went up to Capitol Hill and said we were socializing
scientific publishing. NIH knows where its purse strings are.
Any merit to their argument?
It's ludicrous. What we have now is an egregiously subsidized
industry--they're given content for free and then paid tremendous
amounts of money to process and distribute it. Peer reviewers mostly
aren't compensated. In a lot of fields, even the people who oversee
the peer-review process are volunteers. And of course, the research
that went into the papers is already paid for. And then the publishers
have the gall to insist that they own a copyright on the results.
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