Thursday, January 12, 2012

Should science be open

Two interesting articles appeared this week in some blogs I frequent about technology and science.  The first is an Op-ed in the New York Times titled Research Bought, Then Paid For and the next is Open Science: why is it so hard?  The two articles are a different take on the idea that scientific findings should be open for everyone.  Someone who is outside the scientific community might think that statement is silly.  Of course science is open.  No one has a copyright or a monopoly on scientific or mathematical discoveries.  Yet that is not the real issue.  The real issue is the access to those scientific discoveries.  In some cases the scientific discoveries are paid for by public subsidies.

The main focus of those two articles is that science has been hijacked by the publishers.  The articles even go so far as saying the hijacking is a monopoly of sorts.  I think monopoly is too strong of an analogy but the publishers do have a lot of control.  The control is mostly about access to the science.  The publishers own the copyright and can limit access to anyone unless a fee is paid.  A lot of the times these fees are rather high.  Now it looks like with the Research Works Act the access to publicly funded scientific research will be limited as well.  Access to the science is the crux of the debate.

Academics rely on publishing of their scientific findings for further funding of their research.  It is part of the academic circle of life.  Publishing begets more funding which begets more publishing and the cycle continues.  I do believe academic community deserves to get compensated for their research.  I'm not sure how much residual income they get other than peer review notoriety from their published content.  Publishers seem, again, to have a lot of the control. 

I am not an academic researcher.  My work is trying to help organizations better themselves by using the learning, skills, and knowledge I have acquired through the years as an Operations Research professional.  I try to keep up to date on the latest research and methods by studying journals, networking with colleagues, and reading articles.  I rely on scientific access quite a bit in staying up to date with the latest findings.  I rely on the academic community so I can improve my knowledge and skills.  Yet it seems very difficult for my to gain access to a lot of good research.  There has to be a common ground for access to the science.  I wish I had a simple solution to this issue but it seems very large and very complicated.  There are a lot of interactions that I am sure I am glossing over.  Yet I am a big fan of the idea of Open Science.

There are some publishers that do understand this problem.  INFORMS seems to get this issue rather well.  They do not charge a lot for their journals.  In fact as part of membership INFORMS allows two free subscriptions to any journal of your choosing.  In addition to that the PubsOnLine Suite is available for $99 which is 12 journals for a whole year.  That is a bargain compared to some other publishers.  So not all publishers are pure evil.  There are some good ones.


Anna Nagurney said...

Thanks for such a timely and interesting blogpost.

As an academic researcher, I have access to journals, including e-journals, which I access very regularly through the university library website at my home institution, UMass.

Your post brought out that those without such "advantages" may still need to use results published in journals and it is not easy for them to access the literature.

As one of the articles also notes, refereeing we do "for free" and this is time-consuming but an essential professional service.

Time will tell how the economics of scientific publishing and tax payers' dollars that went into funding the research plays out. Perhaps here is another great opportunity for Operations Research modeling!

Paul Rubin said...

Some universities are starting to actively resist the academic publishing scam (see, for instance, Princeton goes open access to stop staff handing all copyright to journals – unless waiver granted. I did a tour on my university's library committee, and it's scary how expensive some journal access is for us. Worse, for people at schools with shallow pockets, or independent researchers, individual article reprints can be out of the question (forget about subscriptions).

Some journals have gone to an "open access" model, but that usually means author-pay as opposed to reader-pay. The good news is that anyone with network access can read the papers. The bad news is that we've changed the filter from only well-heeled readers to only authors with grants (to pay the publication charges).

As Anna notes, all of the reviewing (and most of the editing) is done gratis. Publishing online would cost relatively little (bandwidth, some hardware, power/cooling and maintenance). What stops progress is the tenure system, which promotes based on publication in established, "top-tier" journals -- mostly controlled by commercial publishers who do not want to be on the wrong end of "creative destruction".

Anonymous said...

"I'm not sure how much residual income they get other than peer review notoriety from their published content." We receive nothing else because part of our job is to publish. The indirect payment is that a good record increases your changes of receiving a grant.

Jyoti said...

Nice tool would prefer process intensification.

Industrial Training said...

A great example of why science and engineering for that matter should be open. See

using open source format as business plan to bring the world space travel on earth. It is so cool and exciting. :>)

Narayana Rao said...

Science can't be patented. But the journal publisher is getting copy right protection and is able to charge for accessing the articles. Now that open access publishing is more economical, free digital access publishing is to be encouraged. Universities may come forward and create a platform which could delegate the data transfer function to digital companies like Google, Yahoo etc.

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