FRPAA: Great idea or...?

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FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby The Great Hippo » Sun Mar 04, 2012 6:54 am UTC

In my internet meanderings, I stumbled across the following petition; apparently, this is a piece of legislation meant to create a requirement of open access to research in exchange for government grants for scientific findings. It seems like a great idea, and I'm surprised I haven't read or seen any bits of news about this.

I'm puzzled over it not getting more support (at the moment, I see only 800 signatures on the petition!). Are there serious drawbacks to it? Good reasons why we shouldn't be interested in it? Or is it just one of those cases where issues that are heavy with words and ideas require considerably more energy to get moving?

Basically I'm looking for someone with more knowledge on this subject to help me understand if I should be signing this petition--and whether or not I should encourage those Americans I know to sign it as well.

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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby Proginoskes » Sun Mar 04, 2012 7:23 am UTC

I doubt that the average taxpayer really cares about things like this, so that's why it's probably not doing that well.

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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby Ceron » Sun Mar 04, 2012 9:35 am UTC

Seems reasonable to me to require researchers receiving public funds to disclose more of their findings. I mean, if not for the public good, why should they be receiving public funds in the first place?

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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby Iulus Cofield » Sun Mar 04, 2012 10:36 am UTC

The only downsides I can think of are the need/desire to maintain a technological edge in military technology (including weapons of mass destruction) for as long as possible and the need to contain information on deadly plagues. The latter isn't so secret anyway, so eh. For all other research, I don't see why publicly funded research shouldn't go into the public domain, or maybe a special kind of intellectual property law restricting free use to citizens of the US, since it's not like the government is in the business of inventing and then selling microwaves anyway.

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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby KnightExemplar » Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:18 pm UTC

Here's the bill in question:
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c112:H.R.4004:

The proposal doesn't seem completely related to the bill.

----------

Some issues from a differing side:

* The petition seems to want to reduce costs behind scientific journals. However, we pay exorbitant fees for scientific journals because of low distribution, high cost to market, and difficulty of the peer review process. That is, its an editing problem and it goes above and beyond just "opening up research".

* The research community is very small for each field. For example, there are only ~92,000 people registered in ACM (the Association for Computing Machinery), which is the largest computing society. That doesn't go into even more specific details like the size of say... the Algorithms research community or the HPC research community. For example, In the past year, there have only been 40,000 downloads of ACM's Database Journal. There are only ~2,500 subscribers for this journal.

When you consider that PH.Ds are the authors and editors of the journal (extremely specialized and trained individuals), and the size of their market, its no wonder that these kinds of journals cost so much money.

----------------

Ultimately... I like the idea of opening up research. But lets be honest here, forcing researchers to share their research for free doesn't solve any issues. There are so few researchers out there... and they are so in demand that they don't need the government's money. If I were a PH.D, I'd rather keep control over my research and take funds from say ... Insurance Companies... than be forced to give away my research for free. And I'd probably be in a good position to do so. You have to remember, these are the research and academic elites of the country. They probably can afford to say "no" to this deal.

Basically, I think it would be nice... but I expect that this sort of bill doesn't actually address the issue. I would be more in support of say... a public research journal funded by Government Money... rather than a bill that "micromanages" and "earmarks" funds and places restrictions on their distribution.
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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby Angua » Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:29 pm UTC

From what I hear, the overheads for prestigious journals are actually pretty low. You have to pay to have your paper published, the peer reviewing is done by academics who receive very little to nothing for doing so, and then people have to pay to subscribe to the journal. If an author wants their paper made public, then they have to pay the journal for the privilege of doing so. I know our library still gets a lot of paper stuff instead of switching to exclusive online access, because there's actually an exorbitant fee for doing so.

The problem is, if you want to be a well-respected scientist, you don't have much choice than getting at least a few publications in a prestigious journal, and you don't have much of a choice when it comes to keeping up with the literature.
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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby Puppyclaws » Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:40 pm UTC

KnightExemplar wrote:* The petition seems to want to reduce costs behind scientific journals. However, we pay exorbitant fees for scientific journals because of low distribution, high cost to market, and difficulty of the peer review process. That is, its an editing problem and it goes above and beyond just "opening up research".

....

When you consider that PH.Ds are the authors and editors of the journal (extremely specialized and trained individuals), and the size of their market, its no wonder that these kinds of journals cost so much money.


These would be worthwhile considerations, except for the fact that those realities are not reflected in the journals' extreme costs. Peer reviewers and those PhD authors/editors do not generally see the monetary benefits of the work; in most cases they get essentially a pat on the back and a check mark on their CV (a valuable one, but still). This is why there are many people involved in the Elsevier boycott. It would seem that the only people being paid in many cases are those involved in compiling, marketing, and selling the journals; most of the really difficult work that is being done which you describe is not paid for by the journal.

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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby Angua » Sun Mar 04, 2012 3:43 pm UTC

Puppyclaws wrote:
KnightExemplar wrote:* The petition seems to want to reduce costs behind scientific journals. However, we pay exorbitant fees for scientific journals because of low distribution, high cost to market, and difficulty of the peer review process. That is, its an editing problem and it goes above and beyond just "opening up research".

....

When you consider that PH.Ds are the authors and editors of the journal (extremely specialized and trained individuals), and the size of their market, its no wonder that these kinds of journals cost so much money.


These would be worthwhile considerations, except for the fact that those realities are not reflected in the journals' extreme costs. Peer reviewers and those PhD authors/editors do not generally see the monetary benefits of the work; in most cases they get essentially a pat on the back and a check mark on their CV (a valuable one, but still). This is why there are many people involved in the Elsevier boycott. It would seem that the only people being paid in many cases are those involved in compiling, marketing, and selling the journals; most of the really difficult work that is being done which you describe is not paid for by the journal.

I'm glad someone else is backing me up - all I had was a rant by one of my tutors on the scam that is the academic journal industry.
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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby letterX » Sun Mar 04, 2012 5:50 pm UTC

KnightExemplar wrote:Ultimately... I like the idea of opening up research. But lets be honest here, forcing researchers to share their research for free doesn't solve any issues. There are so few researchers out there... and they are so in demand that they don't need the government's money. If I were a PH.D, I'd rather keep control over my research and take funds from say ... Insurance Companies... than be forced to give away my research for free.


Yeah... this is not how research works. We already give our research away for free: I send off my paper to whatever journal or conference, they send it out to reviewers in the field (who almost always are unpaid volunteers), and then if they decide to print it, they put it in a big book which they then sell. I, the researcher, see exactly $0 of that money. Not that I was really expecting to, as I actually want my research to be published, but the only people getting paid are the publishers.

To be fair, the publishers do add some value in terms of editing and coordinating the whole process. However, it's unclear that open journals can't add the same value by an additional small amount of volunteer effort. The reason such journals haven't taken off is unclear. Possibly the paid companies have a monopoly on prestige. That is the point of the Elsiver boycott.

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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby folkhero » Sun Mar 04, 2012 6:45 pm UTC

letterX wrote:To be fair, the publishers do add some value in terms of editing and coordinating the whole process. However, it's unclear that open journals can't add the same value by an additional small amount of volunteer effort. The reason such journals haven't taken off is unclear. Possibly the paid companies have a monopoly on prestige. That is the point of the Elsiver boycott.

I'm guessing the reason they haven't taken off is that young academics are the ones who would be most in tuned to the open culture and who aren't yet set in their ways, and therefore willing to change. And young academics are also most in need of the prestige that the established journals provide.
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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby Metaphysician » Sun Mar 04, 2012 6:54 pm UTC

KnightExemplar wrote:Here's the bill in question:

Ultimately... I like the idea of opening up research. But lets be honest here, forcing researchers to share their research for free doesn't solve any issues. There are so few researchers out there... and they are so in demand that they don't need the government's money. If I were a PH.D, I'd rather keep control over my research and take funds from say ... Insurance Companies... than be forced to give away my research for free. And I'd probably be in a good position to do so. You have to remember, these are the research and academic elites of the country. They probably can afford to say "no" to this deal.

Basically, I think it would be nice... but I expect that this sort of bill doesn't actually address the issue. I would be more in support of say... a public research journal funded by Government Money... rather than a bill that "micromanages" and "earmarks" funds and places restrictions on their distribution.


See but the government does give out a lot of money to researchers... so something like this would have an effect. This bill would make sure that what research the government does fund, is more openly available for the enrichment of society as a whole. If researchers don't need federal money, and they don't like this, they can get the money elsewhere and save US taxpayers some cash.
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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby johnny_7713 » Sun Mar 04, 2012 8:34 pm UTC

Metaphysician wrote:
KnightExemplar wrote:Here's the bill in question:

Ultimately... I like the idea of opening up research. But lets be honest here, forcing researchers to share their research for free doesn't solve any issues. There are so few researchers out there... and they are so in demand that they don't need the government's money. If I were a PH.D, I'd rather keep control over my research and take funds from say ... Insurance Companies... than be forced to give away my research for free. And I'd probably be in a good position to do so. You have to remember, these are the research and academic elites of the country. They probably can afford to say "no" to this deal.

Basically, I think it would be nice... but I expect that this sort of bill doesn't actually address the issue. I would be more in support of say... a public research journal funded by Government Money... rather than a bill that "micromanages" and "earmarks" funds and places restrictions on their distribution.


See but the government does give out a lot of money to researchers... so something like this would have an effect. This bill would make sure that what research the government does fund, is more openly available for the enrichment of society as a whole. If researchers don't need federal money, and they don't like this, they can get the money elsewhere and save US taxpayers some cash.


Not just US taxpayers either, it's the same system worldwide. Taxpayers give researchers money to do research, but if they then want to actually be able to have access to the results they have to also pay other people (i.e. journal publishers) (large amounts of) money. I also think KnightExemplar is overestimating the amount interest Insurance Companies have in fundamental science. How many companies do you think are funding CERN?

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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby Griffin » Mon Mar 05, 2012 12:53 am UTC

I also think he's underestimating the large number of scientists who rely on government grants to do their science. There ARE very few researchers in a great many fields, and since they don't get paid by the publishers government grants are pretty much their sole source of income if they want to keep researching into that field.

Most scientists do NOT care about the money - they care about the science. And if they leave their chosen field due to a lack of grants to work at a company, most often they will not be conducting what they see as valuable science. And they lose essentially nothing from a law that says other companies that were completely uninvolved for their research and did nothing to pay for it can't have exclusive publishing rights to it.
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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby KnightExemplar » Tue Mar 06, 2012 6:13 am UTC

To be honest, I was playing the devil's advocate and failed horribly apparently. So I'll just step out of this issue that I don't have too much experience in... :oops:
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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby sourmìlk » Tue Mar 06, 2012 6:28 am UTC

I think the reason this petition isn't getting signed might be the same reason I'm not signing it: as nice as it appears on the surface, the issue seems far more complex than is something I can form a reasonable opinion on at the moment.
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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby cjmcjmcjmcjm » Tue Mar 06, 2012 10:57 pm UTC

If the government pays for it, there is no reason why we should pay for it twice (once with taxes, once with normal spending)
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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby iop » Sun Mar 18, 2012 5:07 am UTC

letterX wrote: However, it's unclear that open journals can't add the same value by an additional small amount of volunteer effort. The reason such journals haven't taken off is unclear. Possibly the paid companies have a monopoly on prestige. That is the point of the Elsiver boycott.


PLoS are doing fine, and, for example PLoS Biology has become quite a decent journal. Building reputation takes quite a while, though.

Also, note that since a few years, any research funded by the National Institute of Health (a large part of biology research in the US) is required to be freely accessible 6 months after publication. Thus, non-free journals get to sell subscriptions, but the general public will have access to the research within reasonable time.

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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby pollywog » Mon Mar 19, 2012 4:52 am UTC

I've never really thought about this too hard. I get all of my research articles free through my university, even if they're completely unrelated to my study (nursing) and I have on several occasions just looked through a few on random subjects. It's improved my knowledge, and if I've already paid for it through tax, why shouldn't I be getting it for free anyway? I can't think of a good reason why I should pay for knowledge.
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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby masher » Mon Mar 19, 2012 5:44 am UTC

pollywog wrote:I get all of my research articles free through my university, even if they're completely unrelated to my study (nursing) and I have on several occasions just looked through a few on random subjects.


You aren't getting them for free; you're getting them at no-charge to you at the point at which you get them.

The University still pays a large chunk of money to the publishers to enable you to get access and you are paying for that through your tuition fess and others such things that you give to the university.

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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby iop » Mon Mar 19, 2012 11:01 pm UTC

pollywog wrote:I can't think of a good reason why I should pay for knowledge.

Packaging? Server space and bandwidth? Also, you may have happened to pay for books - why did you do that?

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Re: FRPAA: Great idea or...?

Postby Angua » Thu Apr 12, 2012 12:39 pm UTC

Necroing for this

Wellcome trust joins 'academic spring' to open up science

Spoilered below
Spoiler:
One of the world's largest funders of science is to throw its weight behind a growing campaign to break the stranglehold of academic journals and allow all research papers to be shared online.

Nearly 9,000 researchers have already signed up to a boycott of journals that restrict free sharing as part of a campaign dubbed the "academic spring" by supporters due to its potential for revolutionising the spread of knowledge.

But the intervention of the Wellcome Trust, the largest non-governmental funder of medical research after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is likely to galvanise the movement by forcing academics it funds to publish in open online journals.

Sir Mark Walport, the director of Wellcome Trust, said that his organisation is in the final stages of launching a high calibre scientific journal called eLife that would compete directly with top-tier publications such as Nature and Science, seen by scientists as the premier locations for publishing. Unlike traditional journals, however, which cost British universities hundreds of millions of pounds a year to access, articles in eLife will be free to view on the web as soon as they are published.

He also said that the Wellcome Trust, which spends more than £600m on scientific research a year, would soon adopt a more robust approach with the scientists it funds, to ensure that results are freely available to the public within six months of first publication.

Researchers who do not make their work open access in line with the Trust's policy could be sanctioned in future grant applications to the charity.

Walport, who is a fellow of the Royal Society, Britain's premier scientific academy, said the results of public and charity-funded scientific research should be freely available to anyone who wants to read it, for whatever purpose they need it. His comments echo growing concerns from scientists who baulk at the rising costs of academic journals, particularly in a time of shrinking university budgets.

The majority of the world's scientific research, estimated at around 1.5m new articles each year, is published in journals owned by a small number of large publishing companies including Elsevier, Springer and Wiley. Scientists submit manuscripts to the journals, which are sent out for peer review before publication. The work is then available to other researchers by subscription, usually through their libraries.

Publishers of the academic journals, which can cost universities up to €20,000 (£16,500) a year each to access, argue the price is necessary to sustain a high-quality peer review process.

A spokesperson for Elsevier said the company was open to any "mechanism or business model, as long as they are sustainable and maintain or improve existing levels of quality control".

He added that the company had been working on open access initiatives with funding bodies. "There has been a constructive collaboration as we've worked with the Wellcome Trust to build support and participation among authors … At the same time, we will also remain committed to the subscription model. We want to be able to offer our customers choice, and we see that, in addition to new models the subscription model remains very much in demand."

But the government has also signalled its support for open access. At the launch of the government's innovation strategy in December, David Willetts, minister for universities and science, said he aspired to have all government-funded research published in the public domain.

"We want to move to open access, but in a way that ensures that peer review and publishing continues as a function. It needs to be paid for somehow."

Science funders say this is not the problem. "I think publishing is a cost of research in the same way as buying a centrifuge is a cost of research," said Walport. "We have to maximise the public benefit of the research that we publish and we only do that by distribution."

According to David Prosser, executive director of Research Libraries UK, British universities spend around £200m a year on subscriptions to electronic databases and journals, which is around 10% of the block grants the institutions receive from government. The exact prices paid by university libraries are covered by confidentiality clauses with publishers but Prosser said that many of Britain's big universities "are spending, with some of our largest publishers, more than £1m a year each".

The rising costs of journal subscriptions have led many scientists around the world to question the business models of the publishers, which can make profit margins of more than 35% through selling access to the results of publicly-funded research. Proponents for open access in science argue that research papers should be freely available to anyone who wants to read them, with the publication costs borne by the authors of the work, perhaps as part of the research grant that pays for their work.

"If you look at the way the web works and what makes effective information dissemination on the web, then it's clear that open content spreads further, has more influence, is used in more ways than the people who wrote it could ever expect," said Cameron Neylon, a biophysicist who will take up a position as director of advocacy at Public Library of Science, an open access publisher, in July.

"From the perspective of research funders, particularly public research funders, the attitude has to be 'we fund this research, it generates these particular outputs, some of them are journal publications, how do we ensure that we maximise the impact that those outputs have?'"

The Wellcome Trust makes money available to its grant holders so that they can pay publishers to make their work freely available. The problem, said Walport, is that only 55% of Wellcome-funded researchers comply. Scientists often do not take up the open-access option or end up publishing in journals that refuse to make the work open access.

To force more scientists into submitting their work into open-access journals, Walport said the Wellcome Trust was considering sanctions for researchers and universities if Wellcome-funded research is not made freely available. One option under examination is to make grant renewals contingent on open access compliance, so that new money would be released only once a scientist's previous Trust-supported work is fully accessible.

Another proposal is to require universities to confirm that papers produced with a Wellcome grant are accessible before the final instalment of that grant is paid.

"If a journal won't comply with our grant conditions, then we're effectively saying you can't publish in that journal," he said, although the Trust does not support the boycott of paid-access journals.

Even the six-month stipulation keeps original research out of the public domain for too long, added Walport.

"Frankly, it's a bit like saying you can have the Guardian free after three weeks – the news section has little value at that stage. I would say that even six months is ultimately too long for research."

Another issue for many scientists is that publishing houses get the services of scientists, for the purposes of peer review, for free.

"One of the biggest costs in the whole scientific publishing world is borne by the academic community, which is the peer review," said Walport. "The journals have benefitted from having free, potentially very expensive consultancy. Again, why do we do that, if the end product is going to be locked behind a paywall?"

Walport said there was a trend for conservatism in the scientific community because scientists want to get published in the most prestigious journal brands such as Nature, Science or Cell. Until relatively recently, there were not many alternatives for researchers who wanted to make a big impact with their work – but the commercial success of open-access journals published by the PLoS group, has proved that open access can make money. "PLoS ONE is now the largest scientific journal in the world and this is ramping up," said Walport.

To address the lack of competition, the Wellcome Trust has teamed up with the Max Planck Society in Germany and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in the US to set up a new open-access journal called eLife. "The idea is that that will take on the very top end of the scientific publishing industry, a visible high-profile competitor to Nature and Science," said Walport. "In no sense is this a war in which we're trying to put them out of business, the thing that would be best for them [publishers] to do is to change their publishing model."

Willetts has appointed Dame Janet Finch, a former vice-chancellor of Keele University, to sit down with academics and publishers to work out how an open-access scheme for publicly-funded research might function in the UK.

Research Councils UK, the co-ordinating body for the distribution of more than £3bn of government money via the science research councils, has issued a consultation on open access. The main recommendation is in line with the Wellcome Trust's policy, that the final version of research papers produced as a result of public money must be made open access online within six months of initial publication.


For those of you who don't know, the Wellcome trust is a massive funder of scientific research (a lot of the departments here get funding from them). They are even going so far as to bring in guidelines whereby scientists being funded by them who don't publish in free journals will face the possibility of having some of their funding pulled. They are also planning on starting their own online journal - e-life.

There's also stuff in the article confirming that other academic journals are making massive profit margins by making people pay for access to what they basically obtained for free (minus printing and server costs).
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