Saturday, January 7, 2012

Open Access and the Research Works Act

This fall, all the Internet policy debate was about SOPA/PIPA.

But there's another issue that you should be paying attention to: Open Access and the Research Works Act.

Start by reading Rebecca Rosen's essay in The Atlantic: Why Is Open-Internet Champion Darrell Issa Supporting an Attack on Open Science?. She calls the bill "a direct attack on the National Institutes of Health's PubMed Central, the massive free online repository of articles resulting from research funded with NIH dollars. ", and gives some great background and pointers to the previous incarnations of this legislation, and why they were problematic.

Move on to a nice essay by John Dupuis of York University in Toronto: Scholarly Societies: It's time to abandon the AAP over The Research Works Act, where he challenges the scientific societies of the world to explain why this act supports their stated mission:

These societies will certainly have among their vision and mission statements something about advancing the common good, promoting the scholarly work of their membership and scholarship in their fields as a whole.

To my mind, The Research Works Act is directly opposed to those goals.

Michael Eisen of U.C. Berkeley comments on the poisonous influence of money in these discussions: Elsevier-funded NY Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney Wants to Deny Americans Access to Taxpayer Funded Research.

This industry already makes generous profits charging universities and hospitals for access to the biomedical research journals they publish. But unsatisfied with feeding at the public trough only once (the vast majority of the estimated $10 billion dollar revenue of biomedical publishers already comes from public funds), they are seeking to squeeze cancer patients and high school students for an additional $25 every time they want to read about the latest work of America’s scientists.

Saving the best for last, make sure you don't miss Danah Boyd's superb rant: Save Scholarly Ideas, Not the Publishing Industry. She concedes that it's no surprise that the corporate publishers and their lobbyists are using their money and prestige to squeeze the politicians:

the scholarly publishing industry is in the midst of complete turmoil. Its business model is getting turned upside down and some of these organizations are going to die. So I get why their lawyers are trying to grab any profit by any means necessary, letting go of the values and purpose that drove their creation.

But what really bothers Boyd is the behavior of the academics themselves:

How did academia become so risk-adverse? The whole point of tenure was to protect radical thinking. But where is the radicalism in academia? I get that there are more important things to protest in the world than scholarly publishing, but why the hell aren’t academics working together to resist the corporatization and manipulation of the knowledge that they produce? Why aren’t they collectively teaming up to challenge the status quo? Journal articles aren’t nothing… they’re the very product of our knowledge production process.

Readers of my blog know that I've written about this issue before, and I've pointed to important academics in my field, such as Matt Welsh, who have taken highly visible positions on these topics.

I've mostly been following the debate as it relates to the Computer Sciences field, but it seems like the issue is much more intense and controversial in the Biological Sciences field, where the major institution is the U.S. Government's PubMed Central:

PMC is a free full-text archive of biomedical and life sciences journal literature at the U.S. National Institutes of Health's National Library of Medicine (NIH/NLM).
One of the journalists who's doing a good job of covering these issues is Glyn Moody of the web site TechDirt; among his recent articles have been a detailed examination of copyright license clauses in major online science libraries, and a thorough exploration of the financial aspects of major science publishers.

It's a tough and challenging problem, and with all the debate and activity over SOPA/PIPA it isn't getting a lot of attention. But now you know more than you did before.

Update: Stevan Harnad has an interesting article here, specifically discussing the issues revolving around peer review, while Joshua Gans weighs in with his views here, specifically providing an economics-based perspective.

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