Rep. Conyers wants science to be secret… or you will pay

By Phil Plait | March 6, 2009 9:09 am

There are some things science needs to survive, and to thrive: eager, hardworking scientists; a grasp of reality and a desire to understand it; and an open and clear atmosphere to communicate and discuss results.

That last bit there seems to be having a problem. Communication is key to science; without it you are some nerd tinkering in your basement. With it, the world can learn about your work and build on it.

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. This is, in my opinion (and that of a lot of others, including a pile of Nobel laureates) a good thing. Astronomers, for example, almost always post their papers on Astro-ph, a place where journal-accepted papers can be accessed before they are published.

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 Congresscritters who don’t sponsor the bill — though to be fair, the total amount is not large. Still, Conyers got 4 times as much.

Interesting.

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.

You can read more about this at Financial Times, Earlham College, and at Lawrence Lessig’s blog.

I think I have some phone calls to make.

Tip o’ the etaoin shrdlu to Tim Farley.

Comments (109)

Links to this Post

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  3. Homestead Quest » Blog Archive » Rep. Conyers wants science to be secret | March 6, 2009
  4. HR 801 Will hurt the scientific community | blog.undeadsoftware.com | March 6, 2009
  5. Lessig Concerned About House Bill | Educationload.com | March 8, 2009
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  16. More on Conyers and scientific publishing | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine | March 11, 2009
  17. Dems Push Another Fake ‘Fair’ Bill That Will Kill Online Science Research Publishing &laquo Publius Forum | March 12, 2009
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  19. Dems Push Another Fake ‘Fair’ Bill That Will Kill Online Science Research Publishing : Stop The ACLU | March 12, 2009
  20. ChooseTheHero.com » Blog Archive » Dems Push Another Fake ‘Fair’ Bill That Will Kill Online Science Research Publishing | March 12, 2009
  21. Dems Push Another Fake 'Fair' Bill That Will Kill Online Science Research Publishing | March 14, 2009
  22. Lessig Replies to Conyers | Educationload.com | March 15, 2009
  23. Just a bad day for science - Ramblings of the Subconscious | March 18, 2009
  24. April Cites & Insights | Educationload.com | March 24, 2009
  25. Brad’s Reader » Blog Archive » Friday Link Love 03/13 | May 20, 2009
  26. SarahAskew » Political snippets | October 14, 2010
  1. Ryan

    Is there some way for Conyers to explain how this is NOT corruption?

  2. Todd W.

    I’d add that forcing scientists to publish in journals which charge the scientist to publish the article leads to some conflict of interest questions. That casts doubt on the validity of the research.

  3. Negatron

    Getting paid to publish your paper might cast doubt on the validity, but how does paying to publish your own paper? They do that now already.

  4. Todd W.

    @Negatron

    I agree that the current situation (paying to have your research published) is not good and casts doubt on the research. However, things would be much worse if the no-charge venues were prohibited.

    Even if the pay-to-publish process does not result in bias, it still leaves open the impression that things are not quite right. It’s like pharma companies paying the FDA for the marketing applications they submit for approval.

  5. Mark Norris

    @Negatron,

    It makes it in the best interests of the Journal to publish any paper, irrespective of quality. Of course you can argue that they can’t go too far otherwise people will stop reading it, if every other article is cranky, but it would inevitably lead to a pressure to decrease standards. The easiest way to do this is by applying editorial pressure on reviewers to accept more borderline cases that otherwise would have been rejected or sent back for major corrections.

    Simple solution, publish elsewhere, MNRAS doesn’t charge for standard papers.

  6. Sir Eccles

    People don’t like patents for a number of reasons but often forget that the patent system is the largest, free, publicly available, organized collection of human scientific knowledge out there. Sure it can cost a little bit to publish but (optional attorney fees aside) it isn’t that much in the general scheme of things.

  7. The House of Reprehensibles is perpetually up for lease. Have every university library tell publishers it will cancel subscriptions to free funds for Washington lobbying. Bothering the House of Reprehensibles is silly – you cannot drown a fish (except for keeping sharks stationary).

  8. Thank you for bringing this to our attention. I have just fired off a letter to my congresswoman. It seems safe to say that Obama will lobby against this. It certainly seems to run against his philosophy.

  9. Todd W.

    Wait a sec…I just noticed something. Phil is calling out a Democrat for anti-science behavior. Clearly this is only because some Republicans said Phil was being partisan and a hypocrite. /snark

  10. DrFlimmer

    I wonder if this (American) bill could effect the whole world. I mean, why should an American bill effect me over here in Europe where this system would still go on?

    Crazy idea, nonetheless!

  11. Cheyenne

    worldwideweb(dot)huffingtonpost.com/lawrence-lessig-and-michael-eisen/john-conyers-its-time-to_b_172536.html

    Looks like HuffPo just ran an update piece on this issue. This thing isn’t going to pass.

  12. That’ll also hurt science bloggers who write about research papers. Now, all of a sudden, they can’t access or link to the papers. But hey, as long as lawmakers are getting paid to do the bidding of an interest group, they don’t care. Bills are getting paid, houses are getting built and PAC coffers are being stuffed. Why should they worry about how the laws they push through actually affect others?

  13. Anticult

    It seems safe to say that Obama will lobby against this. It certainly seems to run against his philosophy.

    Which philosophy is that? You know the man well enough to make such a statement? Oh, I know, you heard it on the news so it must be true.

    In his last speech he completely lied about the results of a study about health care and bankruptcies (he reported the initial result rather than the corrected and far less dramatic result), and the whole thing is just another correlation without causation scare tactic. He talks a big game, but his philosophy seems to be to play with numbers and research as loosely as any other hack politician. He gives a speech about the causes of this economic mess, and doesn’t even mention the credit/banking collapse which anyone with even a scrap of knowledge knows is at the core.

    Here’s the words of Rahm Emanuel, Obama’s closest advisor now:

    “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

    Things, huh?

  14. ndt

    Ryan Says:
    March 6th, 2009 at 9:13 am
    Is there some way for Conyers to explain how this is NOT corruption?

    Easy, just accuse anyone who brings it up of being excessively cynical.

  15. ndt

    Chad Says:
    March 6th, 2009 at 10:12 am
    It seems safe to say that Obama will lobby against this. It certainly seems to run against his philosophy.

    Thank you for demonstrating that many Americans are not cynical enough.

  16. He’s doing this for $9000? His hidden agenda must be to make Rod Blagojevich look like a visionary.

  17. Phil, are you sure you’re characterizing the bill correctly? As I understand the links, the bill would forbid NIH or other funding agencies from demanding that researchers make their work publicly accessible 12 months after it’s been published. That’s a very bad idea, but not nearly the calamitous disaster it would be if the government simply forced researchers to publish in journals rather than on astro-ph. (For one thing, the bill only seems to impact medical researchers, if I understand it correctly.)

  18. Xerxes

    IANAL, so perhaps I’m reading the bill wrong, but the summary from the congressional website is: “Prohibits any federal agency from imposing any condition, in connection with a funding agreement, that requires the transfer or license to or for a federal agency, or requires the absence or abandonment, of specified exclusive rights of a copyright owner in an extrinsic work.”

    Or in other words: Sometimes when the government gives people money right now, they insist that your work is in the public domain. This bill would make that practice illegal. It does prevent you from making your work public, it just means the government cannot force you to do so by giving you money with strings attached.

    Now, I still think that’s bad law, but it’s not really “literally ban[ning] the open access of these papers”.

  19. Todd W.

    Just a clarification. After looking at the text of the bill, it appears that this would only apply to research receiving funding from a Federal agency. The legalize seems (it’s a bit much to muddle through) to make it so that the Federal government cannot circumvent the copyrights of journals that publish Federally-funded research.

    In other words, scientist receives money from, say, the NIH. The scientist completes the study and publishes the results in a for-profit journal, which then holds the copyright to the text. This bill would prevent the NIH, in this instance, from infringing on the journal’s right to control the distribution of the study text and reap whatever profits they may from that ownership.

    While I understand why for-profit journals would want this, I feel that any study receiving Federal funds should be freely open to public scrutiny to help increase accountability, as well as promote broader interest in the science and build on those discoveries.

  20. Xerxes

    Nuts, Sean was faster than I. Also I made a typo; it should have read “It does NOT prevent you from making your work public, it just means the government cannot force you to do so by giving you money with strings attached.”

  21. oj

    I thought the Clean Air Act has been largely positive, while the Clear Skies Act was the one that weakened targets and cut enforcement budgets.

  22. I think this is a symptom of a larger conflict, namely that between two views of society. One is the scientific view that says that knowledge should be freely shared so as to encourage the greatest level of understanding and development. The other is the for-profit view that suggest everything must have a (high) price so you can make money on it. Since our society is heavily weighed toward the latter I can see why people want to get paid for science — otherwise, it’s sort of like “losing” profit.

    Many people have made huge amounts of money thanks to the efforts of science, efforts that by comparison usually net the scientist far more modest income. What we need is a way for knowledge to be freely shared that doesn’t end up making scientists (et al) feeling as though they’ve given away what they do best for nothing. Either that or cure society of its fetish for unrestrained monetary profit.

  23. Charles Boyer

    @ DRFlimmer “I wonder if this (American) bill could effect the whole world. ”

    I would venture to guess that it probably would. If journals have their way, they would probably do what the US Government working with the RIAA and the MPAA has done with the The Digital Millennium Copyright Act of 1998 — try to force it down the throat of the EU and other countries like Canada.

  24. Daffy

    This is beyond moronic.

    I have been mainly bashing Republicans for some time because they were in charge and their idiocy was rampant. Now it’s the Democrats turn. This is just ugly…it’s not that he could be bought (these days they pretty much all can), but that he can be bought so cheaply.

    Jackass.

  25. Kevin

    I have to agree with Xerxes and Sean. I tried to plow through the text (with no legal training at all) and as far as I can tell, Lessig’s blog does a much better job of explaining this one. Sorry Phil, usually I love your stuff but I think you missed a bit on this.

  26. Pieter Kok

    This bill does not make any sense: Forcing open access to publicly funded research, yes. Forcing subscription-only access when both the researchers and the journals support open access (in addition to subscription-only published versions) is completely backwards.

    I do not see any problem with authors paying publication charges if that means the journal is open access. At least in physics it is completely acceptable to budget for these in grant proposals. Regardless of the charges, there is strong peer review in all the open access journals that I am familiar with, so it is unlikely that authors can buy their way into a respectable journal (at least not via publication charges, I have no idea what else goes on behind the scenes). In general, journals are extremely wary of publishing crappy papers, though, because all they really have is their reputation.

  27. David D

    Whether he got this one right or wrong, I applaud Phil for showing some rare nonpartisanship and calling out a Dem on anti-science thinking.

  28. Retrogarde

    Off topic, the MIT has put series of lectures online on Youtube, including Physics and Chemistry courses. It’s fun to watch and you’ll learn a lot along the way. Check it out.

    5.112 is about elementary chemical science in which i.e. the atom is explored and work of Einstein and others is explained, 8.01 is about classical mechanics and 8.02 is about electricity and magnetism. Lectures on mathematics are very interesting too.

    Princeton put lectures online too, including a course on astrophysics.

  29. “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 Congresscritters who don’t sponsor the bill — though to be fair, the total amount is not large. Still, Conyers got 4 times as much.”

    Is that the new plan for beating the crisis, according to journal publishers?

    Time for us to create the X-Scientist Team and start hunting goofy polititians!

  30. QT

    Clearly you aren’t on the latest jargon, Phil. “Patriot” now means “One who unquestionably supports their goverment.” and “Fair” means “Whatever lines my pockets the most.”

    Next up, were redefining “Freedom” to mean “Slavery”, and “Ignorance” to mean “Strength”.

  31. The more I read about this sort of bufoonery, the more I am tempted to actually run for office so I can bodyslam people for proposing this sort of BS! Sadly I don’t have the sort of maleable morals to actually do what is required to win in a US political race…

  32. A couple of points:

    In the post, I point out this is for federally funded science, which is a major chunk o’ research. That would include NIH, NSF, NASA, NOAA, and so on.

    The bill reads like some awful C++ code, so it’s entirely possible I am misinterpreting it. But it seemed to me that this would seriously restrict at least publicly-accessible scientific results. I may be wrong about banning it. If someone can make this clearer, I’m all ears.

    Also, yes, I confused the good Clean Air Act with the amendment to it Orwellianially-named Clear Skies. I fixed that.

  33. Icepick

    Thank you, Phil. The advancement of science is fostered only by the free and open sharing of ideas and understanding. I’m terribly disappointed that this would be undercut by a journal lobby.

    Maybe journal publishers are falling on hard times and that is why there is the American Journal of Homeopathy and the American Journal of Accupuncture.

  34. lon bordin

    I believe this would kill SCOAP3!
    http://scoap3.org/

  35. Politicians are rarely scientists, but they sure do loooove to dabble in the sciences (and do damage), don’t they?

  36. !astralProjectile

    Apologies for OTP, but interesting (IMHO) survey about
    Brits who lie about their reading list:
    I wouldn’t bother mentioning it except that Orwell, Dawkins, Hawking, and Obama made the list.

    (HEY! howcome the spellchecker flags Dawkins and Obama, but not Orwell or Hawking?)

  37. winbaby

    Must run in the family, his wife is the Detroit city council President. She has been accused of accepting money to get city business. She is also ‘colorful’ at council meetings. Check out freep.com (Detroit Free Press) or Utube Monica Conyers.

  38. matt

    The Last Psychiatrist took a look at this from a different perspective. Thought you might be interested:

    http://thelastpsychiatrist.com/2009/02/the_bubble_in_academic_researc.html

  39. Todd W.

    @Matt

    Interesting article. Nice to see a different way of looking at the issue.

  40. BTGoss

    Mandated Open Access is a bad idea.

    Obviously the for-profit journals will make less profit from this loss of control, but the non-for profit journals are going to fade away because of this.

    We all want information to be free and open, but someone has to pay the bills for producing it.

    Someone needs to do some thinking and come up with a solution that will provide for more Open Access, while protecting the journals business model.

  41. Anon

    hmmm… Harold Varmus is one of Obama’s science advisors. He’s specifically pro-OA and famous for that. http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.06/varmus.html

    Let’s see where this goes. Obama’s got a very good science team with quite a few Nobel laureates. I dont believe this bill will go too far – whatever the language is.

  42. If this reads as I’ve heard reported (i.e., it’s backing down on earlier bills that would force researchers to publish in a free medium), I understand why you might do this. There have been problems with the earlier bill that would have forced open publication, namely, journals demand rights to anything that they publish. That puts the poor researchers between a rock and a hard place: legal requirements and inability to publish in the commonly read or prestigious journals. That, frankly, is wrong. If Congress wants to set up open publication, that’s great. But I think that it’s up to them to make sure that it doesn’t mess up the scientists’ ability to effectively publish.

  43. Elmar_M

    Typical case of lobbyism in congress.
    The EU senate is getting the same way unfortunately.

  44. Juan Cabanela

    As I read the text of HR801, it seems to ban Federal agencies from _requiring_ the free publication of scientific data, it doesn’t ban scientists from publishing their data freely.

    I personally think it is a good idea for the NSF to force data to be published, so I still oppose this bill, but there is a big difference between banning the NSF from requiring free publication of data on Federally-funded projects and banning the free publication of data.

  45. Juan Cabanela

    By the way, the people who would pay if we are banned from publishing to astro-ph and the like are the American people. Publication costs are a significant part of some smaller NSF grants and if we are forced to only publish in paid journals, I can bet you the journals will jack up the page fees… well, all the for-profit journals. MNRAS, I love you.

  46. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act

    Another Academic Freedom mangle science project?

    I think I’ll pass Kill Bill and move on to the sequel Kill Corruption.

  47. MadScientist

    My attitude has always been the same as most older scientists: if the research is paid for in part (not necessarily in whole or even in majority) by public funds, all the results and data should be publicly accessible for as small a fee as possible. Over the past 20 years a lot of not-so-intelligent people have been led to believe that they can profit from keeping discoveries secret or by patenting them (what – when sponsored by public funds? get real). That is absolute nonsense and would only serve to hinder research. Imagine needing a large team of lawyers every time you want to design a new experiment – you might be infringing on someone else’s patent or something.

    It’s the attitude of free exchange of information (especially for publicly funded projects) which results in all data from earth observation satellites to be freely available to anyone on the planet (not just citizens of the USA) and the availability of such information has no doubt been of benefit to many people. Ironically, the idea of free exchange of information originated in Europe but it seems that these days it is the USA that’s most supportive of the idea; the Europeans have not been very useful at all with sharing information from satellites but I still hope they improve. People shouldn’t take the attitude that they can make a buck by being secretive; the superior attitude would be to make the information freely available and allow industries to benefit from publicly funded research without directly paying for the costs.

    Phil Plait complains about some journals costing $2k per year – blah – try $6k per year and in my case I might only find 20 articles of interest to me – an average of $300 per article I read. At least I have the option to not subscribe and just pay $30 per article – but still, this is a huge expense. If I kept a library with all the paper journals (in english only) of interest in my field I’d spend over $20k per year on subscriptions alone. ‘Electronic’ journals with paid subscriptions don’t make my reading all that much cheaper.

  48. sn0re

    Phil, the bill only limits the kinds of conditions federal agencies can put on funding. It does not “literally ban the open access of these papers, forcing scientists to only publish in journals.”

    The text is a little hard to comprehend, but it’s not *that* hard. Only the parts under section (f)(1) really matter. The rest is Congressional boilerplate, disclaimers, and definitions of terms.

    Section (f)(1) says no federal agency may impose, as a condition of funding:

    (A) that the party receiving the funding transfer the copyright of their work to the government or license the work to the government;
    (B) that the party receiving the funding wave their copyright;
    (C) or that the government itself would claim copyright of the work or prevent the other party from claiming copyright.

    Under that, the NIH could no longer require scientists to make their results public for 12 months, but it wouldn’t prevent scientists from doing it anyway or force them to publish in a journal instead.

    I agree 100% that this is a bad bill, but you really need to correct that one line about forcing scientists to publish. If you’re still unsure, you should at least note the potential confusion instead of being so matter-of-fact about it.

  49. Kyle

    Hey I figured my Rep will vote against it anyway, she hasn’t cast an up vote yet.

  50. Steve Dutch

    The bill is sponsored by a Democrat. The same people who pushed to gut the Apollo Program to spend the money on social programs, who very nearly gave away Kennewick Man, who oppose tort reform even though threats of lawsuits have been used regularly to silence academics. Why, oh why, am I not surprised?

  51. Martin

    Not to dilute the subject of discussion here, but Mr. Conyers wife is the president of the Detroit city council. She is ALLEGEDLY under investigation for some improprieties regarding contracts the city is party to, where she may or may not have accepted payment for her vote. Mr. Conyers district includes the city of Detroit where the high school graduation rate ranges between 25 & 34%, depending on the source. Other estimates put the rate of functional literacy for adults at 50%. What use would Mr. Conyers and his constituents have for the advanced knowledge contained in scientific papers?

  52. Steve Dutch, you’re kidding right? Pulling a Poe’s Law on us?

  53. Several people have been commenting that I have overly-interpreted this bill; after reading it again it does seem that way. I originally thought this bill would ban scientists from making their work publicly available, but what it appears to do is disallow the government from forcing them to publish publicly. In other words, the bill tells the government that scientists don’t have to publish publicly. That’s an interesting difference, and one that seems to give this bill no teeth. Scientists can still publish publicly, but they don’t have to. I think most will anyway. So at this point, realistically, the bill doesn’t seem to make any sense.

    Does this sound about right?

  54. AC

    Research ‘published’ in secret journals is worse than useless – it may as well not exist, since few (if any) people will ever have access to it. All government funded research must be freely and publicly available.

  55. Paul

    The article and the bill seem totally unrelated. In fact the bill’s doing the opposite of what is being claimed.

    The bill would forbid federal agencies from forcing scientists to turn over copyright to the federal government. Scientists would still be free to publish online, or anywhere else they want. But the federal government could neither compel nor forbid them to publish in any particular medium, as they can now.

    Effectively, the bill is about who owns the rights to the paper — the authors or the government. Right now, the authors can be forced to surrender those rights or deny federal funds; the bill would ensure that the authors retain full copyright and thus full control of the work.

  56. Goober

    It’s hard to get worked up over a stupid bill that has zero chance of passing, and if it did pass, would have even less chance of passing a constitutional challenge. It is obvious this is an egregious violation of the first amendment, after all.

  57. John C. Randolph

    Seem to me that if the taxpayer is footing the bill for the work, then it’s entirely appropriate to attach a condition that says research is a work made for hire and all copyright should go to the public domain.

    -jcr

  58. zefal

    This is meant as a means to censor science that isn’t politically correct. The politically correct “science” journals will act as the censors.

  59. Tyler Durden

    “Seem to me that if the taxpayer is footing the bill for the work, then it’s entirely appropriate to attach a condition that says research is a work made for hire and all copyright should go to the public domain.”

    QFE.

    We paid for it (our taxes) hence the copyright belongs neither to the government agency that signed a paper directing funds to the group doing the research, nor to the scientists involved in the research.

    The copyright for any work done with *our taxes* belongs to all of us.

  60. John
  61. Rand

    Phil, you do a grave disservice by belittling the achievements of nerds tinkering in basements!

  62. Gus

    It seems established in other comments that the bill does not actually ban open publishing, it actually bans requiring open publishing. Furthermore if you follow the link to the donation information you find that saying that cosponsors received more donations from publishers on average is a bit misleading too. While they did receive more on average, there are only 5 of them compared to 35 non-cosponsors. The large number of non-cosponsors who received no donations from publishers is skewing the average. In fact the three largest recipients of donations from publishers are not cosponsors. This blog post is lacking in facts and excessively incendiary.

  63. Gary Ansorge

    The bill seems to be typical legalese, comprehensible only by one trained in law. which is probably why only two people here seem to understand what it said(and that does NOT include me).

    As a paraphrase of an old(really,REALY old) comedian:

    “I love lawyers,,,baked, broiled and fried,,,”

    I should probably add politicians to that,,,

    AHH! Soylent Green, made of lawyers and politicians.
    Caution: Don’t eat too much,,,it can result in exploding heads,,,

    GAry 7

  64. Chris Shaffer

    The NIH Public Access Policy requires NIH-funded authors to retain a portion of their copyright and deposit a copy of their article in PubMed Central for open access 12 months after publication. It does not infringe on the copyright of the journals, because the journals aren’t the original copyright holders. It simply prevents NIH-funded authors from signing away their entire copyright. The Conyers bill would overturn the NIH Public Access Policy.

    Without the NIH Public Access Policy, authors who wish to publish their articles in an open access manner are between a rock and a hard place. If they insist that the publishers amend the copyright transfer agreement to allow open access publishing, the publishers refuse and the authors are unable to get published in the most prestigious journals. This is the situation that prevailed prior to the adoption of the NIH Public Access Policy. The only reason the publishers have allowed the authors to retain sufficient copyright to publish open access is because the NIH, the largest funder of biomedical research, insisted upon it.

  65. Msix

    Conyers is straight out do anything for any money, any time! Obama won’t say SH#$ because he needs this liberal core happy.

  66. Tony Pott

    Surely a violation of US constitution free speech guarantees?

  67. Ben

    Imo, it doesn’t matter. Anytime I have needed a paper in the past, I have emailed the author directly if I have not been able to access it via the normal channels. 9 times out of 10, they have been only too happy to send me a copy. Ben.

  68. Robay

    I’ve read the bill in its short entirety and it seems on its face to do little of what Phil Plait charges. The bill defines limits what a “Federal agency” may set as conditions in a “funding agreement”, generally, that the Federal government can’t set any limits or take ownership of copyright. It expressly states there shall be no limitations on copyright owners’ rights. Section F.1.A.i.II seems to be the rub- (expanding): “LIMITATIONS REGARDING FUNDING AGREEMENTS- No Federal agency may, in connection with a funding agreement– … impose or cause the imposition of any term or condition that … requires the transfer or license to or for a Federal agency of … any right provided under paragraph (1) or (2) of section 106 in an extrinsic work, to the extent that, solely for purposes of this subsection, such right involves the availability to the public of that work;”.
    So the bill seems to say a Federal agency can’t impose copyright in a funding agreement for an extrinsic work. Does that mean extrinsic works are now going to be “secret”? I’m not clear how it does, and I’d like to hear from Mr. Plait as to how this will make science secret.

  69. Chris Rose

    What about a little thing called Freedon of Speech? How does a bill forbid me my right?

  70. Justin

    I’m usually very liberal about linguistics and not prescribing so-called “proper writing”, but when it starts getting in the way of communication, I think it’s gone too far. Does the current generation really find it alright to produce sentences like the one below?

    “This bill is not fair, it puts a burden on scientists and keeps research from being publicly accessible as it should be. ”

    I guess it doesn’t really matter, you don’t need periods, punctuation is overrated anyway

  71. Robert Clark

    I’m reading the text of the bill. Where in the bill does it say anything of the sort?

  72. Lonnie

    For what it’s worth, maybe someone can list websites or the names of organizations that can help push back at this. And also– (Yes, I know some of you will sneer) contact your own representative and express your opinion as to why this bill should not just slide unnoticed past them. Remember that the Representatives who can affect this bill do NOT read Blogs like this one (As great as it is!) So rants here will not affect the people it needs to.
    Sometimes, the politicians DO listen to their constituents! But if they hear NOTHING, well then, the result should not surprise you.

  73. dude

    If my money is going into research, then I see no reason for there not to be strings attached. When tax money is a source then it should become public domain. There’s no reason I should be paying for research for someone who is then going to take the same idea and make millions because it is closed to the public. That’s ridiculous.

  74. Alan

    If the public is paying for the research, the public should get the results. It’s that simple.

  75. Just to throw a screwball in here – access to the literature in any given field is a very high barrrier to participation. It should be obvious that there are many fields that have room for amateur and enthusiast participation. Indeed, astronomy depends heavily on such participation. This could seriously impact folks who do science for the sheer love of it, if it impacts the use and utility of the basic literature of a field because that field is developed largely by federal grants.

    Moreover, it’s obviously authoritarian, setting up natural power centers which will almost certainly be populated by people who shouldn’t have such power.

    We have to ask, aloud and loudly, what function does even the most prestigious journal perform that makes it superior to a specialist Wiki? Prestige IS an important consideration – but there needs to be broader – not a narrower – access to scientific information and expertise. I see this as being utterly critical to current social, economic and environmental issues.

  76. David

    If a journal is “prestigious” it is a valuable property, usually made so by selection of research information that is carefully examined before publication. Usually in medicine it is examined by a board of medical peers familiar with the work upon which the research is based. The peers may also visit the site where the research was done, and ask to examine the facility and research records. It’s done for a reason, human fallibility. But I am aware of one instance long ago, when an unexpected request for the names of the people who represented the statistical core of a study published in a major journal were discovered inexplicably and permanently missing.

    All of that costs money over and above the “publishing costs.” If the information is released without payment and the government which paid for the research but not the evaluation of the results doesn’t pay for peer review, the “prestigious journal” ceases to exist. Personally, I’m cynical enough to believe if the government or any entity pays for both the research and the evaluation of the results, it will sooner or later try very hard to make the results fit their agenda to justify the cost. (Negative results have scientific value, too. It already happens too often that negative studies are abandoned.) Most authors are also required to list any financial benefits they have or will receive in connection with their research which might lead them toward bias for a historical reason.

    Again, personally, I think abstracts should be made available to assist those looking for the right research paper for their need, perhaps a doctor with a patient whose unusual plight keeps him or her up at night. I also think that public access subscription libraries (joined for a fee) should be organized as co-ops for information purposes as to the use of the information, but not necessarily as to details that, say, might lead to loss of competitive position of licensees of the information for manufacture. One article should lead to another for any serious student of an article, preferably not at $35 dollars a pop for footnoted cited archival articles perhaps consulted for relevance and confirmation of author veracity–and more information. The way it is now online with some of the for-profit journals, an independent student could easily spend hundreds of dollars checking out one new paper, perhaps asking, ” Could it really have been learned this way?”

    One cannot tell much about the research from many abstracts. If for-profit journals fraudulently were to use abstracts to market worthless information, there should be a stiff penalty for repeated instances such fraud involving jail time. I’m unclear at present on just how that might be organized at present, and offer it only as a point of discussion. Ethical journals now have a classification of the level of proof that might be used to determine both value and perhaps misrepresentation such as might be encountered in the snake oil industry, if there was one.

  77. spudmaster272

    If you must pay to publish, it could set up a ‘trap’ of sorts, where anyone who is Willing to pony up enough Money is thought to be more “credible” because they paid to have thier work put where more people can see it, NOT that its accurate science. Accuracy could be sacrificed to affordability.

  78. Suzan Mazur
  79. WC

    In an America that is already scientifically deprived due to the Republican aversion to the field in the past 8 years, forcing the public to pay for access to scientific journals will further the gap between America and pretty much every other first world nation in terms of science. With Obama trying to bring back science to the forefront of America, this bill cannot pass if the current government really wants the public to have access to information. It is of my opinion that these should be free for anyone but I understand that it takes some level of funding to publish and distribute journals. I sincerely hope this bill does not pass and instead the Democratic agenda involves providing funding and a budget which will allow the general public to acess journals for little to no cost while also implementing measures which will retain the intellectual properties of the authors and their research. It is time for science to not be some top secret project but for us to share ideas and grow as an open global community where we can be free to rationally and intelligently critically analyse research and ethics instead of being force fed statistics and research results without being able to see the research for ourselves.

  80. TheBlackCat

    @ David: If my understanding is correct, the journals still have exclusive access to to the articles for a year. It is only after that year is up that they have to become publicly available. People, particularly in the field the journal specializes in, will still need subscriptions, as will university libraries. So no, this won’t drive publishers out of business. I suspect there will be very few people who cancel their subscriptions based on this. However, people having to pay $30 for an article from the 1960’s is pretty silly. This won’t fix that, but it will prevent it from happening for people in the 2070’s.

  81. Real

    WC, conyers is a “dumocrat” not a “rebumlican” — In any case, this is liberal fascism at its worst!

  82. Kahlid

    Stop worrying everyone. He’s a democrat, and they only want whats best for you and society.

  83. Waltr

    Why don’t we invite him to speak his reasons here.

    Mr Conyers, are you available to explain this piece of strange legislation. Why is it necessary for the public good??
    WBW

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