Shouldn't Taxpayers Get To See Taxpayer-Funded Research?

from the yes,-probably dept

Do taxpayers have a right to see taxpayer-funded research? Two senators are proposing a bill that would require federal agencies to collect and publish online research papers for which they gave grants. Opposing this plan are the myriad scholarly journals, which claim that such a plan will damage their operations. Their concerns include lost advertising revenue, a diminished bond between the publication and its readers, and the danger of making information available to the public that may be misunderstood. Starting with the last point, the possibility of misunderstanding is always a danger. But as it currently stands, the information is already available to the public, but they have to buy a copy of the journal or go into the stacks at the library to find it. Ultimately, the people who bother looking up scholarly articles will be a fairly self-selecting group of intelligent people. As for the business models of the journals, why should they be subsidized by the taxpayers? If they could make the case that the quality of scientific research would diminish without exclusivity that would be one thing, but that’s not what they’re saying. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay twice for the research that they back. Furthermore, they assume, like every other media company, that they can’t change their business model. But the imprimatur of a respected journal will remain of great value, even without exclusivity over the material. Their ability to select quality works and then package them together will still be a service to their readers. Instead of fighting the fairly straightforward idea that taxpayers should have access to what they pay for, they should see the opening up of science as an opportunity and look to exploit it.

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Comments on “Shouldn't Taxpayers Get To See Taxpayer-Funded Research?”

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dorpus says:


Only a select group of people are qualified to review a research article to determine whether it is worthy of publishing. Of course, this is time-intensive and requires labor costs. The set of publish-worthy papers are a fraction of all the research papers that receive grants. If amateurs can freely quote material from bad papers, it will increase the amount of scientific misinformation on the net. Do we want every UFO group or alternative health huckster to be quoting “government-supported research” which says what they want to believe?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: QC

This begs the question; Why are we giving $$ to UFO groups and alternative health huckster? It’s a waste of our money in the first place. Is there no review board for culling UFO/hucksters? Your quote sounds like elitism. You think the “qualified” people of society should decide what the lower classes should be allowed to consume/read/use. I say if you force Congress to publish what they are funding, it’s quite possible that tax-payers may decide that they are sick and tired of funding studies about the healthful benefits of toad flatulence and start raising heck. The less we know the more powerful they are.

Dan says:

Re: QC

Yes. All of us are too dumb to to avert our undectable assumptions and preferences. That’s more true for PhDs than 5 year-olds. Research results are most valuable before they’re packaged into sound bites by people with a point-of-view. Why should we depend on someone else’s opinion when we can read the graph ourselves? If we fail to understand the setup, procedure, and data, we can always ask.

Freedom of information is as important as freedom speech. Access won’t won’t make me cancel subscriptions that add value to the raw data.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: QC

You are right about the publish-worthiness of basic research and papers. I you are missing the point of whether or not the public should have to pay for those papers that are deemed worthy. As a technology innovator it pays to know what the current research is so I may then research it. I think it is not unreasonable to think that I should have access to this information as the public was the financier of it.

If you are saying that publishing the things freely would ruin the ability for these journal institution to regulate science, I disagree. Institutions are freely interchangeable. If published freely, you would see countless new institutions that would provide that same credentials.
As it is now, journals have a taxpayer backed monopoly.

Frank says:

Re: Gotta agree with Bob

For every job I’ve ever done in the private sector, I’ve had to justify everything. Time, expenses, etc.

That is the biggest problem with this country to date. Very, and I mean VERY little accountability goes on. Especially where any form of Govt is involved. Case in point, Senator Kennedy’s son. No accountability. The man isn’t smart enough to learn from Daddy’s mistakes? And we want this guy in govt? Same thing. No accountability.

The people who are bitching the most about the “costs and perception” are the ones with something to hide.

Just my thoughts.


Asher Schweigart (user link) says:

Re: google

very true, google would love to collect that info.

I don’t think that’s a bad idea as far as taxpayers are concerned. The agencies might not like google profiting off their research, but if they don’t want to pulish it themselves, i don’t see how they could argue against it.

Maybe something could be worked out where if the agency listed it themselves, all google would do would be to provide a link to the page where the article is (just like web search now).

'Nother Bob says:

Middle Ground

Perhaps there is a middle ground on which both camps can have their way.

Since it’s publicly funded by tax dollars, we as taxpayers, have essentially purchased the research with money we make by going to work and giving out cut to Uncle Sam; so we should be privy to what’s being done withthe reseach money we dole out.

But requiring the research groups to distribute such info in entire, comprehensive reports could be too much to ask, for a number of reasons. but why not require a Sysnopsis, or Letter of intent, or hypothesis that states: Here’s how much money we have received/are receiving. Here’s what we’re researching. Here’s our anticipated timeline to completion. Here’s why this is valid research into a good idea. Then they can give certain details that would not threaten the research or give away trade secrets, etc. These articles would not be very exciting but would give the public an idea of where their money is going. If they want to learn more about it, they can find the full write-ups in the scholarly publications already mentioned.

Topher31 (profile) says:


how about this. Nasa or Pentagon is researching some new weapon or space delivery system. Are you going to want everyone in the world to know?

Its all fine and dandy to say that the US government should be held accountable for letting taxpayers know what they are doing with their taxes, but there are some things that taxpayers (and by extension, the rest of the world) dont need to know about.

What the government should be forced to be accurate and truthful about is HOW MUCH Nasa or the Pentagon gets to do their research. You dont have to get into details, just let tax payers know that billions of dollars are being wasted in Nasa every year.

Tyshaun says:

This issue isn’t as straightforward as the arguement presented. First of all, traditionally the government has sponsored a lot of grants into what is called “basic research”. Basic research deals with things that usually only a University or Government would fund because the private sector can’t make a profit from it. I would hate to see that research curtailed because suddenly groups start yelling stuff like “Why are we spending X amount of dollars on this study that we see no benefit in”. It is necessary to fund some research that may be considered “non-essential” to immediate scientific advancement, but forms a fundamental core for further study.

Next, the point has been made but it can’t be overlooked that all grants don’t turn into scientifically valid results. Some studies are conducted poorly, some come up with negligible if any real results. The point is that it is true that once theirs a repository of non-peer reviewed grant results out there, the vultures will use it as fodder to justify everything from pills to make you instantly skinny to a spray that will turn your Chevy Nova to a Ferrari.

Finally, the point of the bill wasn’t so much to distribute the information to the the general public as it was/is to increase accountability and responsible investment in research. This can be achieved through using internal peer reviews, consistent auditing by the GAO, and periodic disclosure of areas of research. If someone wants to see a particular research paper, make it a FOIA like process and they should be able to apply and get it.

Posterlogo says:

There is already middle ground.

There is absolutely NOTHING hidden about published research. The most interesting stuff already makes the headlines. Scientists give freely accessible talks at every university EVERY SINGLE DAY of the week. Just go to your nearest university and you’ll see seminar series for every department there. This is one small way that researchers make their work public, even though not all their research may be funded with public money.

Second, while I don’t really agree with the premise that some research could be “misinterpreted”, the costs of publication are not negligible. The journal has a massive amount of overhead, even publishing online costs money. I actually do agree with a compromise that says after a set amount of time, the articles should be freely available online (advertising supported if need be). I could care less about the US public — we’re rich enough and can basically get access to these articles without too much effort. But I do think better access would help fellow colleagues in poorer countries.

As for there being a synopsis freely available, this is already the case, and should be more than enough to satisfy the very casual reader that this whole debate concerns anyway. It’s called medline. There is a public version at NIH (National Institutes of Health) … just search for “pubmed”. You’ll get way more easily searchable abstracts than you can shake a stick at. If you really want specific experimental details, go to the library.

Third, there is a growing movement to publish in freely open access journals, including those of the “Public Library of Science” or PLoS. It is currently somewhat more expensive for researchers to publish there becase the journal has no other source of funding (they don’t charge money to view the articles). I think this is a great trend that should continue.

Jim says:


Wouldn’t the Defense Technical Information Center (DTIC) already meet this requirement? Research usually results in an official report that gets submitted to DTIC and, if deemed safe for public release, is made available online (a la 1974 Freedom of Information Act). Journal articles are usually from individuals or groups that repackage the important parts of the DTIC reports and submit them to journals (journal articles being a few pages while DTIC reports can be hundreds of pages, especially when they include raw data.)

Bogamol says:

I don’t have a problem with what the journals are saying. The Govt is merely paying private companies to do research. The private companies should do the research as requested by the customer, the US govt, and publish the findings in the private journal that it uses.

Why should the govt waste more money on a service that is already being provided admirably by private firms?

Library Fairy says:

Free Delivery?

I tried that whole ‘free delivery’ thing you speak of. It was a miserable failure. The librarians mistook me for a pedophile and would constantly call the police. The patrons would spit on me and call me names. Over all not a pleasent experience for me at all. You want scientific journals? You gotta pay for them baby!

Marshall M. Midden says:


I would like to have a repository of all those places where papers were not accepted. I expect that there is a lot of good information available that did not make the journals.

Yes, lets put it on msn with all those pictures of all the cities — but msn must make access free to all US sites. The rest of the world can pay small fees — afterall, the US citizens have already paid for it.

Scott says:

What about weapons research?

Do you want to see sensitive weapons research made freely available to the world? The part of the constitution that says the purpose of government is to ‘provide for the common defense’ doesn’t mean that U.S. military research funded by you and me should be shared out to the world. I certainly don’t want to see the Chinese or Iranians getting advanced stealth composite materials formulas and such…

G. E. says:

Journals do more than publish... they provide comm

Most journals operate at cost. They aren’t profit making ventures and many are going out of business as we speak. They do more than just bind paper or even organize peer review (which is all volunteer work). They provide a community to network through conferences, committees, and special sessions. They are a place to meet your peers and get jobs. They are an invaluable part of research just like government grants.

Much of the readership is for Amercan journals are from overseas. These phantom buyers are what keep these scientific institutions afloat. If the articles are free our journals will die.

Every time you pick up Scientific American, Nature, or Science at your news stand do you grumble that it should be free? No. They are magazines supported by their readership.

Lastly, just because the government pays for something, it doesn’t mean John Q Public gets to have to have it for free. The goverment completely subsidizes the farming industry, so are farmers now required to give you free vegetables? They use protectionist quotas to protect steel and heavy manufacturing. I sure hope they don’t leave some ingots on my door step.

Stan says:

The real motive...

A fair number of posts have shown up on why this legislation is a bad idea – I won’t go over the ground again I will note that the law would apparently apply even if only a part of your funds came from the Feds (perhaps you could give them only a proportional part of your publication?). But the real reason for the legislation is not mentioned. If you read the article linked from the above on the legislation, you will see the following:

A year ago, the National Institutes of Health introduced a policy encouraging scientists who had received N.I.H. financing to submit published articles within a year to a central database at the National Library of Medicine. Fewer than 4 percent of researchers have complied.

Now, why would the scientists comply at such a low level? Especially since the wider your exposure the more cites you get and the higher your prestige rises? Because the hoops you have to jump through to actually get your pubs up on the NIH site are so ridiculously difficult that it just plain isn’t worth it. So, rather than simplify the submission process (and admit they screwed up) so that more people would post voluntarily, they want it made mandatory.

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