Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

March 7, 2009


Discover Magazine - Rep. Conyers wants science to be secret. . . or you will pay. . . Recently, government-sponsored agencies like NIH have moved toward open access of scientific findings. That is, the results are published where anyone can see them, and in fact (for the NIH) after 12 months the papers must be publicly accessible. . . .

John Conyers (D-MI) apparently has a problem with this. He is pushing a bill through Congress that will literally ban the open access of these papers, forcing scientists to only publish in journals. This may not sound like a big deal, but journals are very expensive. They can cost a fortune: The Astrophysical Journal costs over $2000/year, and they charge scientists to publish in them. So this bill would force scientists to spend money to publish, and force you to spend money to read them.

Why would Conyers do this? Interestingly, if you look at the bill sponsors, you find that they received twice as much money on average in donations from journal publishers than Congress critters who don’t sponsor the bill - though to be fair, the total amount is not large. Still, Conyers got four times as much.

Ironically, this bill is called The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, which is much like the Clean Air Clear Skies Act or the Patriot Act, in that it does exactly the opposite of what its name says. This bill is not fair, it puts a burden on scientists and keeps research from being publicly accessible as it should be. I myself rely on things like Astro-ph to do my reporting here; it could become illegal to post papers there for federally-sponsored scientists if this bill is passed.


Anonymous Chris Collins said...

The bill will also ensure that all government-sponsored research will meet the standards of refereed journals. No more learned papers on the science of "Intelligent Design" will be funded, thank you very much.

March 7, 2009 7:38 PM  
Blogger Lars said...

Traditional publishing houses that are quite large like Nature Publishing Group and Elsivier see their product withering up if this passes. They're already losing ground to open-access online only journals such as those put together by the Public Library of Science (PLoS) and Biomedical Central (BMC). Many society journals which run their journals to support the costs of operating open up their archives to anybody after six months (for instance, see the Journal of Biological Chemistry or the Journal of Bacteriology). The NIH mandate still protects traditional publishers because articles remain behind a copyright firewall for up to 12 months. Thus if you want the latest findings from some journals you still need a subscription. And furthermore, the profits of these publishers fighting to repeal the law are somewhat ill-gotten when one considers the following:

1. The bulk of the research they publish is supported with public funds. The public should have a certain right to access the results of research they fund.

2. Review of the scientific literature is a duty that all scientists undertake, free of charge. Thus, the majority of these journals labor force is highly qualified and not paid. They do their work for the good of science. So should journal publishers indefinitely profit from this free labor?

3. Finally, in this article it is noted that many publishers charge authors page charges. These can indeed be very high. But open access publishers charge them as well to support their editorial staff. They will wave those fees if one can demonstrate inability to pay, but page charges are a fact of life in publishing. But where do those page charges come from? Again, the money comes out of research grants that are paid for by the public.

So in sum, the public pays for the research, part or all of faculty salaries and thus supporting article review, and the public pays again to publish articles in copyright protected journals. All in all, it is a very sweet deal for some publishers where profits come at very little expense to themselves. Most of their operating budget is supported by public funds. So there is no excuse to not give them access to the research that they so generously support.

March 7, 2009 7:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Science is the greatest democratizing force around. Of course these guys need to hide it. Otherwise we might all figure out how to read it. Then they'd all be in biiiig trouble.

Every lawyer, officer, holy man, and executive in the country has to feel their own obsolescence at least subconciously amidst the growing scientific population. While it's a bummer they may be able to supress science for another couple centruries, it's bittersweet comfort that they won't be able to keep it down forever. We'll rid ourselves of paliatives and crooks eventually...

March 8, 2009 1:02 PM  
Anonymous m said...

Oh wonderful,

The execution of science by government. Science is at its heart a methodology, and beneath that it is human inquisitiveness. Now Conyers lays the net to strangle science through technocracy.

March 8, 2009 4:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


March 9, 2009 10:40 AM  

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