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A Bid for Public Access to Fed-Sponsored Research 39

An anonymous reader submits "Your taxes support lots and lots and lots of research that gets published in journals that you can't access without paying absurd fees to the journal publishers. So, for example, if you'd like to read the latest research on SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) because your pregnant wife had two sibs die of it, you can't, even though you paid for it. Well, somebody's trying to fix this — there's a pending bill (Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006, S.2695) to require public access to Federally-funded research: This would let anybody access the work for free within six months of its acceptance for publication by a peer-reviewed journal."
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A Bid for Public Access to Fed-Sponsored Research

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  • by l2718 ( 514756 ) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @01:05PM (#15971100)

    As a scientist I have to say this is a great idea, but it misses the main problem of government-funded research. Certainly if the public paid for the research, they should be able to read the paper, but an even more important issue is that of patentability. The current situation is: we (taxpayers) pay for basic research. Then the universities get to patent the results. Next, private companies license the patents and get a monopoly on sale of products embodying the results of reserach we paid for. The rule has to be that the results of research that has been funded by the public are not patentable. If you want to patent the result, use private money (industry grants, university tutition money, whatever).

    • As a Ph.D student going into my third year, I disagree with you just a little bit. When the universities get these patents and then license them, they make money from them. I think making this little bit of money is better than using tax dollars. The people who pay taxes (everybody) may not necessarily have anybody in their family who is going or will go to college, so they aren't getting as much benefit from these tax dollars. Of course, everybody benefits from universitites in some form or fashion, but at
      • by l2718 ( 514756 )

        If making money for the universities was the only outcome, I might agree with you. However, there are some important issues you aren't considering.

        1. If universities need more money, won't it be better to simply fund them directly? While your indirect funding system is merit-based in that they have to get good results to profit, I'd say the public would benefit more when drugs developed from government-funded research were cheap.
        2. The main question is who actually gets to enjoy the profits. Universities
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by aminorex ( 141494 )
          If patents were required in order to incent pharmas to produce drugs, then there wouldn't be a vast market in generics. There is a vast market in generics, however. The only reasonable argument for patents as incentives is as incentives to invent. However, pharmas have concluded that it is not worthwhile to pay for your own research, when you can leverage off of publically subsidized research. A reasonable conclusion, based on self-interest, not on the public interest, that. Risk is thus avoided, and p
    • Pick your poison (Score:3, Insightful)

      by UbuntuDupe ( 970646 )
      The granting of patents to federally-funded research was enabled by the Bayh-Dole Act []. Yes, we "already paid for it". But the reason it was passed was (in part!!!) because well, the idea that a scientist could make some great discovery, and not see much material benefit beyond the salary he was paid for it, tends to get their undies in a wad. It can skew their incentives so that they don't put the time and effort into the work that would be later justfied by public demand for the fruits. "Ah, I'll come
      • by LuYu ( 519260 )

        I'm willing to bet many of you, by the way, would object to a professor not being able to get a copyright on books he wrote while working at a public university.

        I would not object to that. In fact, I would go so far as to say that publicly funded institutions should be required to use only public domain works for text books in order to protect us from the current gross theft that the system of publishers, university book stores, and used book resellers has subjected students to. The prices are obnoxi

        • That's a good point, but a slightly different issue. You're referring to professors writing books which students are required to buy. But I'm referring to the general point of a professor getting *any* copyright on any book he wrote while working for the university. For example, what if he's writing a book, *not* to extort students, but as an introduction to a niche topic for people in industry? Or for researchers in the area? (They would have free access to the general ideas elsewhere, but not to his
  • To really fix the research system to be what I would consider fair, it shouldn't be restricted to peer-reviewed journals. If it is truly financed solely with tax money, it should be open and completely public -- without restriction. I want to know and read what failed research is out there, who did it, why, and how much it cost. I want to know that $600 thousand was wasted on tiger and big cat research because some idiot left the cage unlocked and the tigers escaped. I want the data. Yes, of course being in
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by l2718 ( 514756 )

      I want to know and read what failed research is out there, who did it, why, and how much it cost.

      There's a problem with this: scientists can't promise success. I'll be afraid of accepting a grant if it's based on me promising to deliver results. The current system is that my next grant application will be reviewed based on what I did with the previous one. But it's crazy to expect basic research to work like clockwork. Moreover, it's difficult to judge things in hindsight. In mathematics in most ca

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by daeg ( 828071 )
        I don't expect success. I realize that a lot of success in science comes from failure. Failure itself is unavoidable in that which is research. It's expected. But that doesn't mean that the information shouldn't be published, does it? If I'm researching or studying cell division under extremely toxic conditions and I notice that the radioactive particles from my experiment are causing my test cultures to suddenly multiply in an unknown way, why shouldn't I be able to easily -- and freely -- see that other "
  • I work for a biomedical publisher and fully support open access policies, especially for publically-funded research. My question, however, is just how much will the average citizen get out of reading a highly technical research report on a subject? Unless they are well schooled in a particular field, they likely won't even understand what the abstract is talking about.
    • What is your reason for asking this? Are you attempting to justify keeping the reports secret?
      • Are you attempting to justify keeping the reports secret?

        I see you haven't bothered to read the first sentence of my post.
        • by krell ( 896769 )
          Then it really shouldn't matter, should it? No matter what kind of report you release, there will always be some idiot who does not understand it. A non-issue, really.
    • I don't think thats really the point. One point of course is that competing researchers should have access, though technically they do through subscribing to journals. Now its a given that there arn't many serious biotech researchers who arn't subscribing to all the relevent journals, there are plenty of hobbiest computer scientist, some whom even might rival well funded researches in abilities, who could gain a lot from this free exchange of knowledge. I'm sure there are other fields as well. Now the real
    • by AuMatar ( 183847 )
      Does it matter? By releasing the information, those who can understand it have access to it. They can use that information to further their own research or buisness ideas, which is a net gain for the nation.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by AJWM ( 19027 )
      My question, however, is just how much will the average citizen get out of reading a highly technical research report on a subject?

      Irrelevant. True, most of them won't get anything out of it -- indeed won't even bother trying to find it. That's no reason not to make the information available to those who do want to read it and may well be capable of understanding it.

      Unless they are well schooled in a particular field, they likely won't even understand what the abstract is talking about.

      Likely? Perhaps --
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by therealking ( 223121 )
      I think that should be the public's problem. If I want to get my hands dirty reading some very techincal jargon, maybe I will get it, maybe I won't. But I should have the opportunity to do so.
    • by yali ( 209015 )
      An average reader might not understand a very technical basic research article, but they can probably get the important points out of many articles that would be directly relevant to their situation (clinical trials, meta-analyses, etc.).

      Moreover, I think this policy would actually help quite a few scientists, especially those at less well-funded institutions. Institutional rates for journals are astronomically high, and universities often have to make difficult choices about which journals to subscribe to.
    • It's irrelevant how the average person will perceive the information that's made available. The average Joe will most likely never look for it, and if he finds it, probably won't care (most likely due to a lack of understanding).

      What is important is the minority; those of us who believe in the research spending, and want to see the product of our research $$ at work. Personally, I get really tired of digging through the research sites of known gov't funded research projects, and never finding anything more
    • Just about all of the several respondents after me also wondered if your message implied some sort of justification for keeping the information away from the proles.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by MagicMike ( 7992 )
      Slightly restated:

      "I work for an operating system company, and fully support open source policies, especially for publically-funded projects. My question however, is just how much will the average citizen get out of having access to highly technical source code? Unless they are well schooled in programming, they likely won't even understand what the header files mean."

      Surely nothing good could come out of something like that, since it's impossible for a mere layman to self-train and provide any help to exis
  • by l2718 ( 514756 ) on Thursday August 24, 2006 @01:20PM (#15971244)

    Currently some journals (especially the very prestigious ones like Nature) want to have complete control of the paper. At the start this means they won't take anything the public has seen before -- that's part of their take on only publishing "original research" [hence the reasonable six-month delay in the proposed law]. But they also insist on having the copyright in the article assigned to them [they mostly need some form of this so they can disseminate the article in new ways that didn't exist when it was written]. Unfortunately, sometime they take these ideas too far (as in preventing people from publishing the papers on their own websites).

    The internet is slowly forcing the journals to change. This law will make them chagne faster. They will have to accept that their function will be limited to providing reputation (via peer-review and editorial policy), and in some cases providing the first view of a paper. However, they will no longer be the only way to get the paper so the value of a journal subscription will go down.

    In math and physics the researches are already annoyed by the system. Essentially it works like this: we do the research, often being paid by the public via a government grant. Then we write the papers. Then we referee papers for journals for free, and serve as journal editors for free -- no scientist gets paid by the journal for either writing the paper or checking that it's correct. Then the journal turns around and charges the community money to read the papers. Of course this is untenable and open-access journals are beginning to flourish. Moreover all journals live with people posting the paper to their website (either the preprint or the journal version) as well as having preprints freely available from the arXiV []. Still some journals are expensive beyond belief (given that they get the content for free and all the editing is done for free and all they are giving is reputation). Many researchers will have nothign to do with an Elsevier [] journal because of this kind of behaviour.

  • About time (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Iron Condor ( 964856 )

    About time, I'd say.

    Quick clarification up front: most universities will let you read their subscription to the appropriate journal either for free or for a modest fee. So it isn't as if there's some monumental hurdle here anywhere.

    But yes -- I am definitely in favor of some kind of access system to the peer-reviewed literature that keeps the results that I produce on the public dime in the public domain. What good does it do me (and I'm strictly appealing to my own, personal selfishness here) to have

  • This all sounds good on paper, but the real effect is that it's going to just kill public funding of science, and the scientists that depend on public funding. In effect, this is making two separate tiers of research. Public research has to go into the public domain, but that will make it less valuable to the institution that is hosting the scientist that does the research. Private research is going to bring in more money to the hosting institution, and those researchers are going to be more highly valued.

    • The other issue, of course, is being able to charge overhead. Many private grants do not allow this, while the Gov't ones factor it in. Therefore, faced with two professors, one who may develop an idea which might be granted a patent which may hold up in court (or ever pay back even the patenting fees), versus one who comes in with a 5Mill grant that can be skimmed at 56% by the U. to pay for "overhead" (libraries, power, HVAC, and, of course, lots of administrators), most Unis will take the grant with ov
  • ... but how about making all government funded research created technology free to the government. For example, if my tax dollars helped develop and market drug X, why the hell should my tax dollars have to pay market price when someone on medicaid is perscribed drug X.

    I think that all government funded research should be internationally patented by the US Governement and all rights to manufacture based on these patents should be free to any US owned and based corporation. This would give the US an edge i
  • And wow, just look at the reaction from the self-titled nerd community. A whole 5 posts over +2.

    The problems with this, as I see it, are at least fourfold:

    1) The companies that want to keep the research results private have money and influence, and will likely lean on Senators and Congressmen to vote against it.

    2) Someone will bring up the topic of weapons research.

    3) The Bill [] [PDF Warning] specifically excludes research that is unpublished or rejected for publication, which boggles the mind.

    4) The Bill cl
  • NIH and the National Library of Medicine has been working for years to make information available to the public. Grateful Med/PubMed has been online for at least 10 years that I know of. Yes, it consists primarily of abstracts. But abstracts tell you most of what you need to know. Ask a scientist to tell you honestly how many of the papers they reference in their work they actually read, or only read the abstract.

    For the last several years NIH/NLM been making full articles to some publications available via

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