The Intellectually Dishonest Claims Of Those Fighting Against Open Access To Federally Funded Research

from the shameful dept

We've written a few times about the ongoing fight over whether or not federally funded research should be somewhat accessible to the public. This kicked off a few years back when the NIH, which funds a tremendous amount of research, required that any research that was funded by them had to be published in PubMed, its free and open database of such research one year after it was published in a journal. Scientific journals, as you probably know, are basically a huge scam. Unlike most publications, the journals don't pay the people who provide all the material in those journals. Instead, the researchers pay the journals to publish their research. Not only that, but in exchange for paying the journal, the researchers also have to hand over their copyright on the research. This gets really ridiculous at times, as professors I've spoken with have needed to totally redo their own experiments because some journal "owned" their research, and they couldn't reuse any of the data.

On top of that, these journals don't pay people to do peer review. Other researchers in the field are expected to do the peer review for free. Oh, and then did we mention that these journals charge ridiculous sums (thousands upon thousands of dollars) for subscriptions, which many university libraries feel compelled to pay? And that much of the research is paid for by your tax dollars anyway?

So the journals have been complaining about this attempt to actually have federally funded research available to the public who paid for it, where it can actually be much more useful. The American Psychological Association has been the worst of the bunch in dealing with this, trying to (on top of everything else) charge institutions $2,500 to "deposit" papers with PubMed as it's required to do (as if researchers couldn't just upload the paper themselves). On top of that, various publishers lobbied hard for a law to end the requirement to publish such federally funded works. Thankfully, it hasn't passed. Instead, the Obama administration has supported extending the policy beyond the NIH to make all federally funded research publicly accessible after a year.

As this is being debated, it's really rather stunning the level of intellectual dishonesty being pushed by those who want to lock up federally funded research. Glyn Moody points us to the astoundingly ridiculous claim from Steven Breckler of the American Psychological Association, that requiring free access to federally funded research one year after it's published would violate the administrations pledge for transparent government. Yes, read that again. With a straight face, this guy is claiming that a requirement for making federally funded research publicly accessible will violate a pledge for more transparency in government. This is shockingly dishonest.

If you want to understand the specious reasoning, it's as follows: the requirement for transparency from the government says that there are limits on that transparency, and those limits include "national security, privacy or other genuinely compelling interests." And, according to Breckler, one of those other "genuinely compelling interests" is his job. Well, that's not quite the way he put it. But, basically, he claims that if required to publish content after a year, there would be fewer peer reviewed journals. But he presents no evidence to support that whatsoever. In fact, what the research actually shows is that the journals that have chosen to be open are actually doing quite well when it comes to actually having their research being used for scientific advancement. They're cited much more frequently and used much more often in moving research forward. In other words, if the real goal is to promote scientific advancement, opening up federally funded research makes a tremendous amount of sense, totally contrary to Breckler's and the American Psychological Association's claims.

If you're a member of the APA, you should frankly be disgusted with this display of intellectual dishonesty.

And it gets worse. Moody also points us to an attempt by Patrick Ross of the Copyright Alliance to side with the APA as well. Ross, amusingly, always claims he's fighting the fight for "content creators." And yet, when you look at nearly everything that he and the Copyright Alliance seems to work on, it's always working with middlemen who regularly screw over the actual content creators. That's the case here as well. These journals are getting researchers to pay them to take away their copyrights. Defending them and pretending that's defending content creators is sickening.

But that's exactly what Ross does, where he claims that the rule would effectively limit copyright to 12 months. That, of course, is not true at all. But, more importantly, it's worth pointing out, again, that this is federally funded research. US copyright law already says that anything produced by the federal gov't should not get a copyright, and it's silly that this does not extend to research funded by the government as well. Beyond that, Ross' attempt to toe the APA's line is so blatantly misleading, it's amazing anyone takes anything Ross or the APA has to say seriously. In his writeup, Ross quotes new APA research (so that's not biased at all) that claims that only 15% of access to journal articles happen in the first year.

Ross then takes this to conclude that requiring open access after year one is asking a publishers to "forfeit 85% of their economic return." Except that's simply not true at all. Not even close to true. This assumes that all journal revenue is on a pay-for-access basis. But that's not the case at all. First of all, journals make money from the fees researchers and professors pay to submit their articles. Second, the vast majority of their income comes from subscriptions from libraries. Most libraries will continue to pay for subscriptions for important journals, because it'll still be worth having access earlier. The fact that people access the data later doesn't change the economic model very much, and certainly not by 85% as Ross claims.

The whole thing, frankly, is ridiculous. Academic journals are immensely profitable operations, in part because they not only get free labor from peer reviewers, but they also get people to pay them to give them their content. No other publishing business in the world has it so good and so easy. And much of this rides on the back of the American taxpayer. The system, as it stands, is effectively a way to transfer taxpayer dollars to private publishers, and lock up federally funded research in the process. It helps no one other than the publishers. It doesn't help the researchers, who have much more difficulty sharing and building on the research of others. It doesn't help science, which is held back by having such research locked up. And it certainly doesn't help the public or the government who foots the bill.

On top of all that, there's increasing evidence that the traditional peer review journal system doesn't even work very well. More and more frequently, we're hearing of junk science making it through the peer review process. Simply having two people review a work and signing off on it is not a real peer review. A more open system, where lots of experts get to look at the information and weigh in on it is significantly more effective and efficient.

What's amazing is that this is all so painfully obvious to anyone who looks at this stuff, that those who are still trying to defend this ridiculous taking of taxpayer money in an effort to lock up federally funded research for profit are forced to make such laughably intellectually dishonest claims to try to keep such a scam going. It's really quite shameful, but does suggest the lengths to which some people will go to keep cash flowing in their direction.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Danny, Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 11:36am

    Wow

    " Yes, read that again. With a straight face, this guy is claiming that a requirement for making federally funded research publicly accessible will violate a pledge for more transparency in government. This is shockingly dishonest. "
    That's gutsy right there. They are literally saying that if the government were to require the data on from research (pretty much publicly considering the federal funds are basically tax dollars) that the governemnt paid for (well not paid for but rationed money out to) to be published publicly then it would actually mean that the government is trying to reduce transparency in government? So the government requiring publication of the ways federal money is spent is bad? Damn!

    "And, according to Breckler, one of those other "genuinely compelling interests" is his job. Well, that's not quite the way he put it. But, basically, he claims that if required to publish content after a year, there would be fewer peer reviewed journals. But he presents no evidence to support that whatsoever. In fact, what the research actually shows is that the journals that have chosen to be open are actually doing quite well when it comes to actually having their research being used for scientific advancement. They're cited much more frequently and used much more often in moving research forward. In other words, if the real goal is to promote scientific advancement, opening up federally funded research makes a tremendous amount of sense, totally contrary to Breckler's and the American Psychological Association's claims. "
    I've heard this argument before. Something about patents, innovation, and promoting progress....

     

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    Crosbie Fitch (profile), Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 11:38am

    Money & Power Corrupts

    There's a lot more money to be made by locking up knowledge, suspending mankind's liberty to share and build upon it, even conning people that such actions promote the progress (which certain people not too far from here are happy to pay lip service to), THAN campaigning for transparency, restoring people's liberty, abolishing the anachronistic privileges of copyright and patent.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 11:50am

    Requiring researchers to pay to have their papers published isn't so common as you make it sound, at least not in fields where the typesetting is done mostly by the authors themselves in LaTeX and the expenses of the journals are pretty limited. (This doesn't stop them from charging ridiculous prices to libraries for subscriptions though.)

     

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      edward ratovitski, Jan 23rd, 2011 @ 5:26pm

      Re: publication charges are very common in the field of biology and medicine

      publication charges are very common in the field of biology and medicine

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 11:50am

    I can't speak for all fields, but I've never had to pay to have something published in a journal (and I have a couple of published papers). You have to pay for reprints if you want them though.

     

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      Richard (profile), Aug 4th, 2010 @ 4:59am

      Re: Page charges

      I've not come across a journal where page charges are mandatory. However many journals have "voluntary page charges". If you payyou get extra reprints (or some reprints) and at times you might get speedier publication. This was always an issue in the past because major US institutions would usually pay the charges - which meant that their papers appeared quicker than smaller institutions and those outside the US (even the biggest UK institutions never paid).

       

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      edward ratovitski, Jan 23rd, 2011 @ 5:27pm

      Re:

      publication charges are very common in the field of biology and medicine

      And I paid any time having more than 100 papers

       

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    jupiterkansas (profile), Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 11:51am

    scam

    Don't forget that the money scientists pay to journals to have their work published is often money they get from the government in their grants. It's a budget item. So basically it's tax payers paying to have the information published, then tax payers paying again through libraries to have access to it. It's a scam.

    Although you have to wonder why the NIH can't just publish the stuff they fund themselves and work around all the associations and journals.

     

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      Richard (profile), Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 3:13pm

      Re: scam

      Although you have to wonder why the NIH can't just publish the stuff they fund themselves and work around all the associations and journals.
      Eventually it will go that way. The problem is that somehow we have to dismantle the old "pecking order" of journal status from the old physical world.

      I'm involved in academic conference organisation. We charge a registration fee for papers in the conference (but that pays for the right to attend, including refreshments and get a physical CD of the proceedings.)

      Reviewing is done for free by the technical programme committee.

      We used to do the whole thing ourselves and put the proceedings openly on the web for free. We used to get about 30 papers submitted each year. Now we have the IEEE publish our proceedings on their website (which has a paywall). We get 100-150 papers each year now! (And it's easier to get people to be reviewers.)
      The reason is of course the status conferred by the IEEE which helps with all the various research quality assessments that governments make.

      The problem can only be fixed by governments changing the rules on those quality exercises - but there is a lot of inertia and it is difficult to get these things to stick.

       

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    slander (profile), Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 12:21pm

    Huh?

    Aside from the issues that have been pointed out, I'm just having a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that the journals get a one-year monopoly on publishing federally funded research.

    As far as I'm concerned, if public money is paying for it, then the public should have access to it right off the bat.

     

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    vv111y, Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 2:09pm

    the brightest of the brightest

    I want to point out that this is being done to what is considered some of the smartest people in the world. Many act as authority figures.
    Think of it.
    This isn't some fluke - many of these activities are commonplace in academics, and it's been like that for a very long time.
    And this is debated and argued and lots of hand-wringing is involved.
    What kind of people are researchers/academics? What's wrong with them?

     

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      slander (profile), Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 3:01pm

      Re: the brightest of the brightest

      Intelligence != Wisdom

       

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      Richard (profile), Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 3:22pm

      Re: the brightest of the brightest

      The problem here is that most of us just don't have the self confidence to jump ship.
      There are small journals out there that will publish for free and make the material available to everyone - but until a few classic papers get published in them no-one will read them and so there is a chicken- egg problem.

      Having said that practically everything in these big paywalled journals IS available for free via the author's institution website - or just email the author. This fact acts as a big safety valve in the system as far as researchers are concerned and so limits the pressure for change.

       

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        Anonymous Coward, Aug 3rd, 2010 @ 5:54pm

        Re: Re: the brightest of the brightest

        "Having said that practically everything in these big paywalled journals IS available for free via the author's institution website"

        Maybe in the UK, but in the U.S. it depends. From my understanding, some journals won't say anything if an author republishes his/her work while others might. It also depends on the work as well and where it was published I suppose. But even so, I imagine many professors don't republish their work online.

        Yeah, I'm sure if you E - Mail the author, depending on the author, they may E-Mail you back a copy, especially if you're a professor in a relevant field. Most universities pay for and offer free access to their students and staff to most works and some works can be found on the Internet for free via Google even. I guess that's probably why not enough researchers complain, they already get access to it either via university/corporate subscription plans or asking their small group of peers.

        I mean how many professors that speak one specific language in any one specific field exist? Professors make up a very small faction of the population and they all probably have easy access to each others research as opposed to the general public of non-professors.

         

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          Richard (profile), Aug 4th, 2010 @ 4:45am

          Re: Re: Re: the brightest of the brightest

          Maybe in the UK, but in the U.S. it depends. From my understanding, some journals won't say anything if an author republishes his/her work while others might.

          It's not a matter of the UK vs the US, it is international and since the US is the largest single player here my comments were based on the US situation as much as anything else.

          Having said that I can really only speak for the fields where I have direct experience - which are Computing and Theoretical Physics - things may be different in other field of study.

          In theoretical physics there was a "preprint system" long before the Internet got going and so you really only used the actual journal for old articles (> about 10 years).

          This preprint system was actually the prototype for the Web Tim Berners-Lee was a physicist at CERN he simply mechanised the referencing/preprint system with which he was already familiar.

          In my experience most journals don't object to author self-publishing - provided it isn't the exact version they have. As a consequence the author will usually provide you with an expanded version of the journal article.

          As I mentioned in another comment, the journals are now mostly sustained by the quality metrics imposed by governments (and used by institutions when assessing job candidates.) If we can somehow change that strucutre then the journals don't really need to exist anymore.

           

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        zub, Aug 4th, 2010 @ 7:56am

        Re: Re: the brightest of the brightest

        Based on my short and rather amateurish experience, I think it's a combination of several things.

        One part is that it's "always" been like that, so people are used to the status quo. The fact that they don't see the expenses for the journals directly, as their institution foots the bill, can make them only more complacent.

        Also, at least in my country (somewhere in eastern Europe), there's a real "fetish" for publications in well-known journals. You must have them. The more, the better. But the vast majority (if not all) are those let-me-lock-up-your-research type. Basically there's an official list of journals + how many points given journal is worth. Each year you sum up your points (sum of journal_points*times_published over what you had published). If you publish in something not on the list - too bad. This score basically counts as your performance, and affects future grants etc.

        I found the attitude of the journals and the scoring system really disgusting.

         

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    DNY (profile), Aug 4th, 2010 @ 5:47am

    transparency

    Well, I see Breckler of the APA is really in tune with Obama's notion of transparency, the model for which seems to be the Romulan cloaking device.

     

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    Relax, Aug 4th, 2010 @ 12:07pm

    This Article is Biased and Ridiculous

    Firstly, there are many cases where federal funding pays for something and then the public pays on top. How many times have you driven down a toll road that is also maintained by federal transit subsidies? Please, this is not unique to publishing.

    "Academic journals are immensely profitable operations"... in another universe that is not our own. Most of the journals I know are barely holding on and our library is filled with stacks of dead journals. I bet just a few, high profile journals, turn a profit. Most others are consolidating or disappearing in many fields.

    Not all journals charge page fees, those that do usually don't make them mandatory (for poor countries), and they really aren't very much (especially if the pages are black and white). No journal can survive on page fees alone.

    Every journal that I belong to is not-for-profit. No one is raking in a big paycheck. Most have a skeleton staff with scientists volunteering for many critical roles. Most have liberal policies about their scientists sharing their papers freely. And almost none would ever litigate anyone short of ridiculous levels of infringement.

    Journals are a lot more than just repositories of papers. Journals also organize meetings where authors get to collaborate, do educational outreach to communities/public, additionally, they act as media relations between scientists and the public. The average scientist neither interfaces with a school teacher nor a journalist. Journals and especially meetings of journals provide this important feedback. This feedback is essential to educating the public and reminding congress why scientific funding is so important to our future.

    Also there is a different copyright form when a government institution submits a paper to a journal than a regular scientist at a university.

     

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      Librarian, Aug 18th, 2010 @ 12:25pm

      Re: This Article is Biased and Ridiculous

      The article is lumping a lot of different publishing entities into one stereotype but it's not ridiculous.

      Your example of the toll road doesn't quite hold water as there isn't a private middle man (like the publishers) raking in on what the taxpayers paid for.

      Agreed, not ALL academic journals are immensely profitable operations. Journals published by non-profit organizations charge considerably less for publication of an article and pennies on the dollar for libraries subscriptions to their titles.

      There ARE however, the big, bad, uglies that charge tens of thousands of dollars for access to their content, to the tune of tens of dollars per page and higher. They charge page fees, color fees, etc on top of that. They also get their peer review for free. And then the libraries, from the same universities that pay the researchers have to turn around and pay ridiculously high subscription fees so the students and colleagues of the same researcher can access the content.

      As every journal you belong to is "not for profit" you are reporting from one side of the publishing world so your statements are just as biased as you were claiming the article to be.

      Also, many research scientists belong to public state universities so technically they are being paid by taxpayers too. So perhaps they should have similar copyright forms to gov't institutions?

       

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    Sandy Thatcher, Aug 18th, 2010 @ 11:54am

    intellectual dishonesty?

    Mr. Masnick slings a lot of charges around here, accusing publishers and their defenders of intellectual dishonesty. I'd like to point out that he doesn't seem to mind engaging in some himself, to wit: 1) his generalization that authors of journal articles pay to have them published is a vast oversimplification, as some commentators have already pointed out (in humanities and social sciences, it is very rare indeed that authors pay anything); 2) his claim that the proposed new legislation for open access will cover all federal agencies (it will not apply to agencies like the NEH, whose budget for research is under $100 million); 3) his presumption that no journal publishers would suffer from a 6-month embargo period (humanities journals certainly would); 4) his implied assertion that publishers pay nothing for peer review (publishers run expensive editorial management systems, not paid for with tax dollars, that allow peer review to function efficiently); 5) his argument that "junk science" is getting through the peer-review system (he seems not to be aware of the scams that some OA publishers are perpetrating). Though I support open access myself in many ways, I don't think it benefits OA to have advocates that are as sloppy with the evidence as Mr. Masnick.

     

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