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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Comments on “Nobel Prize Winning Scientists Say Federally Funded Research Should Be Available Free Online”

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Anonymous Coward says:

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.

TheStupidOne says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

TweekTheSystem says:

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…

Anonymous Coward says:

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…

Doctor Strange says:

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.

Mechwarrior says:

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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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….

Steve R. (profile) says:

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.

Dave (profile) says:

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.

Wolfy says:


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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