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Nobel Prize Winning Scientists Say Federally Funded Research Should Be Available Free Online

from the good-for-them dept

For many years, there's been a lot of debate over the fact that many scientific journals effectively lock up the results of federally funded research in expensive journals that are inaccessible to the public -- including many other researchers. Locking up useful research is troubling enough, but when it's federally funded, it's really problematic. Many scientists are quite troubled by this, and Glyn Moody points out that a group of Nobel Prize-winning scientists has now urged Congress to require federally-funded research to be freely available online. Really, they're pushing in favor of a new law, the The Federal Research Public Access Act of 2009, which seems to make a lot of sense. If the government is funding the research, the more widely available it is, the better.


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2009 @ 6:26pm

    I'm definitely for this, but it will ultimately probably end up essentially being a government bailout for the journal publishing industry.

    Journals will be forced to be public access, libraries will cancel expensive subscriptions, and then the journals (rather than, say, cutting profits and/or costs) will charge people to have their papers published. The scientists will then add these publishing costs to their NSF grant applications.

    The end result will be some NSF money going to publisher profits instead of going to science, which is rather annoying. It sure beats closed-access journals though.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2009 @ 6:57pm

    Nah, I'm sure the journals will do just fine with privately-funded research. What I wonder, though, is what happens with joint public-privately funded research? I would hope that the public funding supersedes the private in terms of access, but I really doubt it would go that way. What will probably end up happening is that lobbyists will put in some kind of provision to "protect" joint funding, and then private funders will contribute just enough to an otherwise public project that they can keep the research locked up.

     

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  3.  
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    Ryan Diederich, Nov 11th, 2009 @ 7:29pm

    John Kerry

    I send my senator (John Kerry, MA) a letter about this, but I doubt he'll care. He usually only supports who pays him the most.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2009 @ 7:34pm

    This is a good idea. Also, I don't think that this will affect the journals too much.

    Many universities (including the one I attend) are beginning to create rules requiring faculty to keep some rights to their published research, so that the university can publish the research online at a latter date. I don't have details on all of them, but here's what I've heard about what the plan is at my institution:

    *Any research professors publish will be made available for free online 1 year after the publishing date.
    *The editing and formatting done by the journal itself won't be included in the published version
    *Supporters argue that it won't affect journals, because they still provide the prestige and the peer review

    I think it's interesting to say that least, and am glad this is happening, as I'm sure many researchers are. Hopefully this bill passes as well.

     

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  5.  
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    TweekTheSystem, Nov 11th, 2009 @ 7:39pm

    Like intellectual property

    Intellectual property needs to be proprietary so that it may be used exclusively, as leverage in the marketplace. Federally funded does not imply knowledge gained through research inherently belongs to the public. It belongs to the agency that commissioned the research on behalf of those who allocated the budget. Instead of socializing all research and development - which will destroy what's left of the entrepreneurial motivation to do research - why not require expiration dates on intellectual property created with federal funds; like the patent system...

     

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  6.  
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    ChurchHatesTucker (profile), Nov 11th, 2009 @ 7:40pm

    Re:

    "I would hope that the public funding supersedes the private in terms of access, but I really doubt it would go that way."

    Judging from the BBC's example, private will trump public.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2009 @ 9:09pm

    Re: Like intellectual property

    Intellectual property needs to be proprietary so that it may be used exclusively, as leverage in the marketplace.

    This is an easy thing to achieve. You want it to be exclusive and proprietary, then fund it yourself. Problem solved.

     

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  8.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2009 @ 9:48pm

    Re: John Kerry

    I thought that's what all senators do?

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2009 @ 9:49pm

    Think of federally funded research as a more productive bailout. The science gets done and will hopefully benefit society one day. Just because GM got federal funding bailout money doesn't mean that the public can go get free access to a new car. Thus, federal funding does not equal free to the public.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2009 @ 9:49pm

    "Federally funded does not imply knowledge gained through research inherently belongs to the public."

    Umm, yes, it does.

    "why not require expiration dates on intellectual property created with federal funds; like the patent system..."

    Oh, yeah, because that worked out sooooooooo well.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 11th, 2009 @ 10:52pm

    Re: Like intellectual property

    So dumb I hope this is a joke....

    Federal funds = $ from the public. If the public pays for it, then the public owns it. If a researcher wants to be entrepreneurial they can go find private investors like every other entrepreneur. The government invests so the general public can be rewarded on the investment and the inventor achieves the glory of discovery. All reap some benefit from the situation, but that does not entitle the researcher to all profits. Profit must at least in part owned by the public because the public is taking all the risk on investment!

    So what you are implying is that the government and public should always take all the risk and never receive any reward. That sounds like a really bad deal to me and if that is the situation and terms for this deal I'm in favor of cutting all grant and research spending from the government. And we wonder why the government is always in debt and overspending. Maybe because all investments toward public welfare and research end up as a losing deal to the public?

    There was once a time when scientists were interested in science, discovery and the betterment of mankind. Sadly profits and patents are far more important to our elected officials. Our scientists and general population only respects the almighty dollar. It is a shame that no art, science, discovery, innovation can ever be performed as a service toward the public rather than being seen as a profitable investment. The mentality change of the IP activists and the overall harm of this thought process is staggering and would be seen as shameful to many of the great scientists and political founders of our country. You should be ashamed at the audacity of your entitlement thought process...

     

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  12.  
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    Doctor Strange, Nov 11th, 2009 @ 11:32pm

    Re: Re: Like intellectual property

    Our scientists and general population only respects the almighty dollar. It is a shame that no art, science, discovery, innovation can ever be performed as a service toward the public rather than being seen as a profitable investment.

    Do you actually know any scientists? In real life? The ones played by Jeff Goldblum in the movies don't count.

    Now I don't know every scientist, and I haven't surveyed a statistically significant number of them about their motivations. However, I probably know more scientists than the average person. In fact, the majority of people I socialize with on a daily basis are scientists of some sort, and on the whole I think you'd find them (and their motivations) to be quite a bit more interesting and nuanced than your infantile preconceptions.

     

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  13.  
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    Mechwarrior, Nov 12th, 2009 @ 5:54am

    Re: Re: Re: Like intellectual property

    Im gonna agree with Doctor Strange's sentiment. I'm an engineer, I didn't get into the field of applied sciences to make money. I would say the motives for scientists is not so much money as curiosity and urge to do good. The real problem though is lack of federal funding, forcing many scientists to pimp themselves out to industry.

     

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  14.  
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    DB, Nov 12th, 2009 @ 6:03am

    Maybe if they were encouraged to file patent apps?

    Maybe if they were encouraged to file patent applications, the information would become public?

     

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  15.  
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    Steve R. (profile), Nov 12th, 2009 @ 7:57am

    Publiclly Funded Research Belongs in the Public Domain

    Relative to federally funded research being publicly available on-line; I might as well point out another privatization travesty, the Bayh-Dole Act. This act allows researchers to patent results that were funded by the public. Any research accomplished through public (tax) support should not be patentable. It belongs in the public domain and should be freely available on-line.

     

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  16.  
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    TheStupidOne, Nov 12th, 2009 @ 8:29am

    Re:

    "Journals will be forced to be public access, libraries will cancel expensive subscriptions, and then the journals (rather than, say, cutting profits and/or costs) will charge people to have their papers published. The scientists will then add these publishing costs to their NSF grant applications."

    Or the researchers can just band together and form a non-profit publication. Or just skip print media and put it all online. I bet they can find a way to post their research for free online where it is easily accessible. If they can't find anything I'll suggest a blog.

     

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  17.  
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    Dave, Nov 12th, 2009 @ 8:31am

    Like intellectual property

    Enterpeneurship implies risk... risk with the chance of profit. The entrepeneur risks his time, his seat, and/or his money to perhaps, that's a big maybe, experience a return on his investment whether it be one, all or any combination of these investments.
    Now that means that whatever the value of taxpayer funded research, it should yield a return to the taxpayer since the taxpayer is, at the very least, sharing in part, if not all, the risked investment.
    I do not believe that government funded activities of any kind, other than military, should be secreted from the public. I would even go so far as to include profits realized by such organizations as The Children's Television Workshop, which receives most of its funding from us, the taxpayers, but keeps huge profits to itself as if it had risked an investment.
    Fair is fair and, unless there is a national security reason to withold research results, they should be available to the general public.

     

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  18.  
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    Wolfy, Nov 12th, 2009 @ 8:39am

    NASA?

    Let's re-examine what happened with NASA in the 60's-70's. The spin-offs from the space race are still generating new processes and products. The last time I recall anyone doing the numbers, there were about $10 generated for every cent that was put into the NASA budget. That's federal funding at it's best. All of NASA spin-off tech was freely available to individual or industry, as long as you were as US entity or citizen.

     

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  19.  
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    DRG, Nov 12th, 2009 @ 10:53am

    Some articles are already public

    For journal articles that have a government employee as an author, there is already a requirement that the article be in the public domain. I'm not sure how often this actually happens, but there's a separate signature line for such authors when you are otherwise signing your rights away.

     

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  20.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 12th, 2009 @ 12:16pm

    Re: Re: Re: Like intellectual property

    I know lots of scientists. I know many that work for universities and for the government. I myself am a government scientist. As a government scientist, I make a decent wage as a government employee along with all the traditional government benefits. My work goes directly to the public and anything we do or discover is owned by the public. This is the way it is for my team and this is the way it should be for others.

    Most scientists are interested in the larger picture and their own idiosyncrasies which have nothing to do with money. Many of the university scientists seek grant money at the bequest of their university. Staying at that university is dependent on securing funding from grants and other investments. For these scientists yes there is a professional necessity to win a grant, but their job security depends on it and not their interest in the "profit".

    If the general industry was not dependent from the profit windfalls of the government grants, then the universities might measure the performance of their scientists on their actual work instead of how much money they are bringing in. What happened to teaching and When you assess the situation from and individual level of an individual providing for their family yes turning down money seems infantile because normal humans do have a motivation to provide for their own personal families. However to create the incentives that the universities feed off of is equally infantile in expectation of results. The greed and entitlement to think that you as the researcher or the university or anyone should own general knowledge as property is unbelievable and disheartening.

    Science can never be measured by profit alone. Some discoveries can be profitable, but others never have any applicable profit driven purpose. These are not unworthy of discovery. Limiting science to the profitable is like saying you can never play any classical music because you can't fully copyright it and sell it without future profitable potential on replication. The governmen must strive to make motivations not profit driven and IP as currently existing under US law limit god given freedoms which humans have enjoyed since roaming the plains of Africa. I'm glad they patented the means to use a stick while hunting for their food otherwise none of us might be here today....

     

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  21.  
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    John Mitchell (profile), Nov 12th, 2009 @ 9:47pm

    Private toll booths on public roads?

    Paying people the public's money to invent and then letting them keep the public out unless it pays again is like hiring a contractor to build a public street and then looking the other way when the contractor sets up a toll booth on it.

     

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  22.  
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    suway locations, Dec 19th, 2009 @ 9:47pm

    im the boss

    as a taxpayer, i dont think my money should be forcibly taken from me to be given to researchers. but since it is, the very least they could do is make the results available to me.

     

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  23.  
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    lrobbo (profile), May 29th, 2012 @ 4:51pm

    They'll have the research out if it categorically supports whatever cause it is they were seeking out . . .

     

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  24.  
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    fodder99 (profile), Jul 11th, 2012 @ 4:59am

    Exactly, it will remain locked away if they dont like the results or if the results dont support their theory!

     

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