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July 2, 2009

Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

Posted by John Baez

nn-Café regulars will know about Representative Conyer’s bill that would repeal the National Institute of Health’s public access policy and forbid other US funding agencies from mandating open access to research papers written with the help of federal grant money. Conyers’ argument in favor of this bill was hilariously misinformed. He wrote: “Journal publishers organize and pay for peer review with the proceeds they receive from the sale of subscriptions to their journals.”

But laughing at the folly of the world is not really much fun. Now some good news, for a change! A bill has been introduced that would do quite the opposite. It would ensure free, timely, online access to the published results of research funded by the National Science Foundation and ten other US federal agencies!

A brief report:

On June 25, Senators Lieberman (I-CT) and Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the Federal Research Public Access Act (S.1373), a bill that would ensure free, timely, online access to the published results of research funded by eleven U.S. federal agencies.

S.1373 would require those agencies with annual extramural research budgets of $100 million or more to provide the public with online access to research manuscripts stemming from such funding no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The bill specifically covers unclassified research funded by agencies including: Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, Department of Defense, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Homeland Security, Department of Transportation, Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and the National Science Foundation.

If you work at a university, now is the time to get the bigshots there to start lobbying for this bill. That’s what we’re doing here at the University of California!

Posted at July 2, 2009 11:51 AM UTC

TrackBack URL for this Entry:   http://golem.ph.utexas.edu/cgi-bin/MT-3.0/dxy-tb.fcgi/2007

30 Comments & 1 Trackback

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

I have a question about this bill. I once worked in neurobiology at Harvard University and I recently advised three professors at Harvard Medical School on different projects.

Thus, I happen to know that the abstracts for peer reviewed medical articles (including some foreign language ones) are listed at this website which is brought to us by the NIH:

http://www.pubmed.gov

Does anyone know why the above bill does not include research funded by the NIH?

Posted by: Charlie Stromeyer on July 2, 2009 1:40 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

I forgot to mention that on this pubmed.gov a peer-reviewed paper about quantum coherence in photosynthesis recently appeared (paper [1] below) which led me to this new idea I just had for possibly and radically improving existing polymer solar PV (photovoltaic) technologies:

The review article below [1] shows quantum coherence in photosynthesis, and paper [2] shows a similar magnitude of quantum coherence in conducting polymers.

The work mentioned in [3] shows that an individual photon can excite up to three electrons at once within quantum dots, and there is also both previous and ongoing research on combining quantum dots with polymers.


[1] Annual Review of Physical Chemistry
Vol. 60: 241-262 (Volume publication date May 2009)
(doi:10.1146/annurev.physchem.040808.090259)
First published online as a Review in Advance on November 14, 2008

Dynamics of Light Harvesting in Photosynthesis

Yuan-Chung Cheng and Graham R. Fleming
Department of Chemistry and QB3 Institute, University of California,
Berkeley and Physical Bioscience Division, Lawrence Berkeley National
Laboratory, Berkeley, California 94720

We review recent theoretical and experimental advances in the
elucidation of the dynamics of light harvesting in photosynthesis,
focusing on recent theoretical developments in structure-based
modeling of electronic excitations in photosynthetic complexes and
critically examining theoretical models for excitation energy
transfer. We then briefly describe two-dimensional electronic
spectroscopy and its application to the study of photosynthetic
complexes, in particular the Fenna-Matthews-Olson complex from green
sulfur bacteria. This review emphasizes recent experimental
observations of long-lasting quantum coherence in photosynthetic
systems and the implications of quantum coherence in natural
photosynthesis.

[2] http://www.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/abstract/323/5912/369

[3] http://www.physorg.com/news156016623.html

Posted by: Charlie Stromeyer on July 2, 2009 2:38 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

Charlie wrote:

Does anyone know why the above bill does not include research funded by the NIH?

It’s because the National Institute of Health already has an open-access policy, which was signed into law by President Bush in December 2007. That law said:

The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication

The current bill would extend a similar open access policy to 11 other agencies, most notably — for mathematicians and physicists — the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy.

Posted by: John Baez on July 2, 2009 10:54 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

Thanks, John. Also, I applaud the decision yesterday by the EASD (European Association for the Study of Diabetes) to publish one week prematurely a variety of different articles showing an apparent statistical link between insulin glargine and cancer.

EASD made these articles fully accessible to anyone via their website and the website of their journal called Diabetologia which is a highly reputable journal.

As a professional level member of the MIT Energy Club, I also support the idea of making non-classified DOE funded research more accessible to the public.

Posted by: Charlie Stromeyer on July 3, 2009 12:07 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

“It would ensure free, timely, online access to the published results of research funded by the National Science Foundation and ten other US federal agencies!”

Does that include papers funded by NSF, but prior to the bill? For example, a paper from 1980 would be made open access?

Posted by: Daniel de Franša MTd2 on July 2, 2009 1:48 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

Daniel wrote:

Does that include papers funded by NSF, but prior to the bill? For example, a paper from 1980 would be made open access?

No.

Posted by: John Baez on July 2, 2009 10:46 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

Surely the older the articles, the more argument for making them free, due to the difficulty of obtaining new copies. An example: I couldn’t get my library to buy Ehresmann’s complete works, published as supplements to the Cahiers, even though at the time we had a subscription, but neglected to buy them. Thankfully they will soon be available on NUMDAM. I’m also grateful for services like JSTOR, but that’s only helpful as I’m at uni.

Or are the policy wonks motivated by the cutting edge research that is outdated after 12 months, so is clearly superfluous? You know the fields I mean.

Posted by: David Roberts on July 3, 2009 2:45 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

Actually that was a poor example, but think of all the category theory work funded by the NSF…

Posted by: David Roberts on July 3, 2009 3:19 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

Presumably the limitation of this requirement to new research is largely a matter of feasibility. If I am required to put my future work on a public archive, I can do that. But who’s going to do the work to put all the papers supported by NSF, etc., over the past several decades, much of it done by researchers who are now retired or deceased, on an archive? Think how much work it would be even to determine which papers those are.

Posted by: Mark Meckes on July 3, 2009 3:27 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

It would probably be difficult politically to have a retroactive provision in the bill. Opponents will get people to testify that they accepted a grant without any indication that their work would be posted online etc; politicians don't like to make the fight any harder than it has to be.

Posted by: Toby Bartels on July 3, 2009 5:22 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

It would be an incredibly controversial if a bill proposed to take vast amounts of copyrighted material — material for which publishers own all the rights — and suddenly make it freely available to the public. It would basically be saying “Hey! You publishers, who thought that copyright law guaranteed you all rights to this stuff? Well, you don’t! Copyright law as you know it is gone.”

Every publisher and every media company would fight this to the death.

On the other hand, it requires no rewrite of copyright law to say that when you accept a government grant, you agree to deposit a copy of anything you write under that grant in a freely accessible database. You do this when you still own the copyright, before you sign it over to the publisher.

However, every journal publisher will still fight this bill. And they will argue, as they already have, that this bill is a massive rewrite of copyright law.

Don’t forget that Conyers’ bill to overturn the current National Institute of Health open access policy is called the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act. There’s a reason for that! As Peter Suber wrote:

In an earlier joint statement (April 2008), before the Conyers bill was introduced, the American Association of Publishers and the DC Principles Coalition asserted that the NIH policy denied “authors and publishers the benefits of their copyrights…

The DC Principles Coalition, the American Association of Publishers, and the Copyright Alliance all say that the NIH policy “forces publishers to surrender their copyrighted scientific journal articles….” The Copyright Alliance goes a step further and says that a public research grant is no reason to “commandeer the resulting research paper and treat it as a public domain work”. BTW, the word “surrender” was first introduced into this context by the press release announcing the launch of PRISM in August 2007.

If the publishers could claim infringement, they would. They would have a remedy at law and would not need to amend the law to get it. But a specific charge like infringement is too easy to evaluate and dismiss. Hence, we face nebulous charges like “inconsistency with copyright law” or “diminished copyright protections”.

The NIH uses a simple and elegant method to avoid infringement. When researchers publish an article based on NIH-funded research, they must retain the right to grant PubMed Central a non-exclusive license to disseminate a copy of their peer-reviewed manuscript. They may transfer all the remaining rights to publishers, if they wish, and they usually do.

There many ways to describe the result. Open access through PubMed Central is expressly authorized by the copyright holders. Publishers no longer acquire full copyright to articles by NIH-funded authors, at least when those authors comply with the policy. Publishers don’t acquire the rights they would need to negate the NIH’s non-exclusive license or claim infringement. When researchers sign their funding contracts with the NIH, they are not committing any publisher to anything, let alone taking any intellectual property from anyone; they are only committing themselves to demand certain terms when they later write up and try to publish articles based on their funded research. The NIH is taking advantage of two important facts: (1) that authors are the copyright holders until they decide to transfer one or more of their rights to someone else, and (2) that researchers sign funding contracts before they sign publishing contracts.

Posted by: John Baez on July 3, 2009 7:55 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

The comment by Mark is of course the immediate answer to my (quite ignorant) grizzling - who’s going to scan and maintain such a massive amount of material?

I was going to say something about the long tail in academic publishing, but thought better of it earlier. I just wonder how much demand the publishing companies get for academic material older than 10 years? Older than 20 years?

Posted by: David Roberts on July 3, 2009 8:23 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

In computer science the biggest publishers like IEEE and ACM seemed (a year ago when I had university access) to have raw scans (of the poor quality “automatic” kind) going back to the early seventies. Going back further you may be right.

I suspect that if you’ve already got scanning infrastructure set up the marginal cost of scanning a volume of a journal is relatively small, so it takes only a relatively small number of people buying of papers to make it work financially for the companies.

Posted by: bane on July 3, 2009 10:55 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

John wrote about what this law is not:

It would basically be saying “Hey! You publishers, who thought that copyright law guaranteed you all rights to this stuff? Well, you don’t! Copyright law as you know it is gone.”

Considering that (within the U.S. legal context) copyright is a creation of Congress, they would be perfectly within their rights to say this. But you're right that it would be politically impossible and that this bill proposes nothing like that.

David wrote about old academic works:

I just wonder how much demand the publishing companies get for academic material older than 10 years? Older than 20 years?

Very little, I suppose, except for a few seminal works. Yet they retain copyright for 70 years after the death of the author (or 95 to 120 years for work for hire, or —if you extrapolate from the rate at which Congress has been extending the terms— forever).

Posted by: Toby Bartels on July 3, 2009 7:55 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

this comment here doesnt belong to this thread, but I just quickly wanted to remark, that you currently have no direct link from the ncatblog to the nlab page (like in the sidebar for example).

Posted by: nad on July 7, 2009 10:30 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

Good point. Sometime we’ll try to get Jacques Distler to implement this feature for us.

Posted by: John Baez on July 21, 2009 7:45 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

links to the nLab

Somebody wrote:

I just quickly wanted to remark, that you currently have no direct link from the ncatblog to the nlab page

John replied:

Good point. Sometime we’ll try to get Jacques Distler to implement this feature for us.

Yes, good point. I was thinking by myself at times that a real boost for the nnLab-nnCafé project would be if the messages that we currently leave at Latest Changes would appear here in an updated list analogous to the existing list of “Recent Comments” on the right of the main page.

Posted by: Urs Schreiber on July 21, 2009 2:10 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Comic for Conyers

Here is a comic that Conyers can read, to keep it simple for him. http://www.phdcomics.com/comics/archive.php?comicid=1200

Posted by: Toby Bartels on July 21, 2009 4:35 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Comic for Conyers

Nice. Nature and Science are pretty good at keeping control of the papers that appear there. In return for the prestige of publishing in these journals, scientists will usually agree to not make their papers freely available online.

Posted by: John Baez on July 21, 2009 7:44 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Comic for Conyers

It seems to me that the way AAAS treats access to Science is not all that different from the way AMS treats access to its journals, books and Math Reviews. AMS uses income from publishing to subsidize its other activities. I don’t understand if Nature is published by a for profit orgainization or by a non-profit.

But my larger point is: if you are unhappy about access to Science not being free, you should be also unhappy about about AMS and other not-for-profit publishers. And are they really the same as Elsevier?

Posted by: Eugene Lerman on July 21, 2009 5:04 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Comic for Conyers

Eugene wrote:

But my larger point is: if you are unhappy about access to Science not being free, you should be also unhappy about about AMS and other not-for-profit publishers.

I guess I wasn’t very clear. I’m unhappy that Science and Nature seem to prevent their authors from making versions of their papers available on their personal websites. At least, this is my conclusion after trying to find such papers. The AMS very clearly does allow authors to keep papers on their websites, and also on the arXiv.

But while we’re at it, let’s not forget that every issue of the AMS Bulletin is now free online: all the issues from 1891 to the current one are available here, so now we can all read stuff like this:

(In case you’re wondering about the non-monotonicity of volume numbers, it seems that in the old days the volume numbers started from 1 each year.)

Posted by: John Baez on July 21, 2009 6:30 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Comic for Conyers

John, I agree with you that it’s very nice that AMS gives free access to 100 year old papers that should be in public domain by now.

But let’s get back to the difference between AMS and AAAS. Both organizations have cash cows and both of them protect them. I have some idea of the structure of the AMS budget and I am just guessing about AAAS. I would not be surprised if Science is just as important to AAAS as books and Math Reviews are to AMS.

So my guess is that AMS can afford to let people post papers on their homepages and AAAS cannot (or thinks it cannot). In the case of AMS they have little choice: much too much is posted in the arxiv anyway [for AMS to have a strict no posting policy]. So AMS makes a virtue out of necessity.

I feel that if we want AAAS to change its policy, we have to give them another source of income…

And by the way, the cartoon, while funny, is not fair: both Science and Nature do add value to papers.

Posted by: Eugene Lerman on July 22, 2009 7:35 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Comic for Conyers

Eugene wrote:

And by the way, the cartoon, while funny, is not fair: both Science and Nature do add value to papers.

There is now a sequel to that cartoon which addresses that unfairness.

Posted by: Mark Meckes on July 22, 2009 11:40 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Comic for Conyers

A late addition to the series discusses open access. Nothing there that people here don’t already know, but if you're keeping track of what people are saying …

Posted by: Toby Bartels on August 11, 2009 8:11 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Comic for Conyers

Eugene wrote:

In the case of AMS they have little choice: much too much is posted in the arxiv anyway [for AMS to have a strict no posting policy]. So AMS makes a virtue out of necessity.

Your analysis of the situation is probably correct. But in this particular game, I’m always more interested in praising the good guys and shaming the bad guys, than explaining why the bad guys have good explanations for their bad behavior. Of course I’m interested in understanding the world. But when I blog about this subject, I’m mainly interested in changing people’s feelings about it.

I feel that if we want AAAS to change its policy, we have to give them another source of income…

Or we can push for a situation where they, too, will have to ‘make a virtue out of necessity’.

Posted by: John Baez on July 22, 2009 8:11 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Comic for Conyers

John wrote:


…I’m always more interested in praising the good guys and shaming the bad guys, than explaining why the bad guys have good explanations for their bad behavior. Of course I’m interested in understanding the world. But when I blog about this subject, I’m mainly interested in changing people’s feelings about it.

While I sympathize with your point of view, I am not convinced that the strategy of shaming and praising is the winning one in this case. I also don’t agree with your characterization of AMS as “good” and AAAS as “bad.” If AAAS’s choice is between charging for access to Science and going out of business, I’d rather they stay in business. And I wouldn’t see such behavior as bad.

Posted by: Eugene Lerman on July 22, 2009 9:25 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Comic for Conyers

By the way, apparently people do post some of their Nature publications on their web pages.
Posted by: Eugene Lerman on August 11, 2009 5:35 PM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

The lead editorial in the latest Communications of the ACM (July 2009, Vol. 52 No. 7) discusses ACM policy on Open Access. It’s described as Clopen. ACM puts no restrictions of authors self-archiving papers. The subscription fees for ACM journals are comparatively small and mostly cover publication costs with some going to supporting the association. There is also a reasonably cheap subscription fee for complete electronic access to everything the ACM publishes (less than $200, if I remember right, though you may have to join the ACM to get that)

Posted by: Mark Biggar on August 12, 2009 12:39 AM | Permalink | Reply to this
Read the post Argumente zur "Open Access"-Petition
Weblog: Mathlog
Excerpt: Lars Fischers Bundestagspetition hat nach einem Tag schon mehr als 3.000 Unterzeichner....
Tracked: November 10, 2009 9:25 PM

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

How about this crazy move, claiming support for open source is akin to piracy?

Posted by: David Roberts on February 25, 2010 3:50 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

Re: Open Access to Taxpayer-Funded Research

IMHO the open source debate is analog to the question when scientific results should be patentable, the open access question of scientific results is more analog to the question who should pay for the servers that host open source projects (that analogy will work only if we talk about publishers that don’t add value to the content in any way, of course, but only provide the means of publishing).

With regard to the first analogy: The apache software foundation is a good example how this works, an open source community provides solutions to common problems, companies use these to solve specific problems of their customers that they are allowed to sell for a living. Without the support of the open source community, no one could afford the software systems that are developed and used everyday; as no company could afford to do it’s own fundamental research (ok, maybe some could, but that would be very inefficient from a macroeconomic point of view).

Posted by: Tim van Beek on February 25, 2010 9:46 AM | Permalink | Reply to this

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