Culturing Science – biology as relevant to us earthly beings

Major universities write open letter in support of FRPAA, open access publishing act

Congress finds that–

(1) the Federal Government funds basic and applied research with the expectation that new ideas and discoveries that result from the research, if shared and effectively disseminated, will advance science and improve the lives and welfare of people of the United States and around the world; and

(2) the Internet makes it possible for this information to be promptly available to every scientist, physician, educator, and citizen at home, in school, or in a library.

HR 5037 2010

I’ve written previously about why I feel open access publishing of scientific research is important, and the challenges it faces.  Currently most high-profile journals are closed access, requiring a paid subscription of hundreds of dollars each year, despite the fact that most research is funded through government agencies.  Why should taxpayers have to pay twice to have access to science?

As I’ve said before, it’s a complicated question.  How do we keep productivity and quality up without the competitive atmosphere created by journal hierarchy?  How do we ensure that peer review is selective without revenue?

But I think the benefits outweigh the potentially negative outcomes of these questions.  Science will become more efficient as scientists everywhere have greater access to results and methods.  We will have more opportunities to create databases and communicate with one another.  The public will have access to the latest developments, promoting science education.  And research has the potential to fall under greater scrutiny by both the scientific and non-scientific communities.  I also just like the idea of science-for-everyone as a rule; science is not for the elite, but for the world!  (Right?)

Congressman Mike Doyle (D- Go Pennsylvania!) has revived an older bill, proposing the 2010 version of FRPAA (Federal Research Public Access Act), which would require all research institutions that spend over $100 million each year in research funding to require that the resulting research be public within 6 months of publication.  This includes all the major funding agencies, such as the NIH (National Institute of Health), NSF (National Science Foundation), CDC (Center for Disease Control), and others.

Today, major research universities – Harvard, Carnegie Mellon, UPenn (pound!), UTexas, Pitt, UCs, Rutgers, Ohio State, UIndiana, UIllinois, etc. etc. – got together and wrote a letter to Congress (.pdf warning!) in support of this bill.  They state everything I have just tried to explain above far more eloquently.

As scholars and university administrators, we are acutely aware that the present system of scholarly communication does not always serve the best interests of our institutions or the general public.  Scholarly publishers, academic libraries, university leaders, and scholars themselves must engage in an ongoing dialogue about the means of scholarly production and distribution. This dialogue must acknowledge both our competing interests and our common goals. The passage of FRPAA will be an important step in catalyzing that dialogue, but it is not the last one that we will need to take.

FRPAA is good for education and good for research. It is good for the American public, and it promotes broad, democratic access to knowledge. While it challenges the academy and scholarly publishers to think and act creatively, it need not threaten nor undermine a successful balance of our interests. If passed, we will work with researchers, publishers, and federal agencies to ensure its successful implementation. We endorse FRPAA’s aims and urge the academic community, individually and collectively, to voice support for its passage.

The internet and globalization have created opportunities for collaboration and the rapid spread of information, but the current system of publication is antiquated and is only hindering us.  I am enlivened by both the existence of this bill and its acceptance among research institutions.  I’m sure people will find fault with the 6-month waiting period, but this is a big step.

Let’s just pray now that it will easily pass in congress.  Then the real work will begin, of creating ways for us to share the public information in an organized fashion.  I’m looking forward to the day when we get to face those challenges.

(Info from GenomeWeb Daily Scan)

Written by Hanner

April 27, 2010 at 7:28 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. A big problem with this wide eyed innocent idea is peer review. In order to be published in a journal, it must be peer reviewed – and so will be at least somewhat trustworthy. By simply publishing results without this peer review process, IMHO, you open the floodgates to tons of garbage scientific data being out there – and how do you determine what is quality and what is not without the journal review process? Do you suggest peer review for the “open publication” scenario? That something would have to be peer reviewed before it gets published? Who, pray tell, will determine who is a good good reviewer or not? You’re right that it’s complicated – the journal system has served well so far, and should not be abandoned till a good alternative is in place.

    Paul Nelson

    April 28, 2010 at 11:40 am

  2. Subscription fees also fund the editors & staff who stage manage the whole process. Plus the cost of printing paper editions (which I personally am not fond of except the few journals I’d actually sit down and read) and the cost of maintaining the journal website

    I’m not saying making everything OA is a bad idea, but there are real costs in publishing science. Publication charges at most OA journals are pretty steep, reflecting this.

    Keith Robison

    April 28, 2010 at 12:23 pm

  3. Re: Paul and Keith,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Peer review is incredibly important and it should definitely remain in an open-access publication system. The purpose of journals seems to be to provide this peer review service. Someone needs to pick through the first round of submissions, as well as organize and keep track of the communication between scientists. And of course, this is what requires money. Journal subscriptions pay for this service (as well as printing). Stevan Harnad has estimated that this costs around $200 per paper without printing, but we should double-check that figure.

    But who says that the demise of traditional subscription journals would mean the end of peer review? I’m not well-versed in the peer review process, having never submitted a paper myself. But I feel confident that another organization could be set up that replicates the same function as journals. Perhaps research institutions could fund these, or payment for the process would be part of submitting a paper.

    We could even think of the current publication system as a “first step” in the evolution of scientific publishing – a way of establishing what qualifies a good paper, as well as identifying those scientists who are worthy of being reviewers themselves. But now it’s time to move forward, using the information we’ve gleaned from paid-subscription journals, to move toward an open access model.

    It won’t be easy to set up a new system — we’re so used to the one we have and it does work very well. But I think the benefits of open access far outweigh the pain of adjusting to a new system.


    April 28, 2010 at 1:10 pm

  4. […] At Culturing Science- biology as relevant to us earthly beings, Hannah Waters reports that Major universities write open letter in support of FRPAA, open access publishing act. […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: