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PubScience Shut Down
November 15, 2002 2:59 PM   Subscribe

PubScience Shut Down "Having persuaded the Energy Department to pull the plug on PubScience, a Web site that offered free access to scientific and technical articles, commercial publishers are taking aim at government-funded information services offering free legal and agricultural data."
posted by frykitty (35 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

This is a fucking travesty. The talk of not publishing work on subjects that could be useful to terrorists was bad enough, but this is ridiculous, considering that the only motive is the profits of publishing companies.

LeDuc said it is fairer to charge researchers for the articles they use than to charge taxpayers for the cost of running a Web site that makes them available for free.

That's bullshit -- unless, of course, we've has decided that supporting scientific research is no longer in the interest of taxpayers.

Let's see, putting this together with the death of the public domain, I think the score works out to "Corporations: 2. 18th Century Enlightenment Dream of an Open Society of Inquiry: 0"
posted by tweebiscuit at 3:07 PM on November 15, 2002

The irony I keep coming back to is that federally funded labs will have to pay for information that a federally run site used to provide for free. Since there's always plenty for federal automation staff to do, shutting the site certainly won't cut costs.

Foot, gun, BLAM!
posted by frykitty at 3:22 PM on November 15, 2002

There's a similar US gov service for biomedical sciences called PubMed. It's extremely useful. There are at least a couple of private providers of similar services, but hardly anybody uses them and they pretty much suck in comparison. If the same thing happened with PubMed, I think there would be some severe embargoing against the publishers responsible. Anyways, over half the best journals in biomed science are published by nonprofits, and I'm sure they'd be quite willing to take up any slack.

I don't get why the publishers were able to have PubScience stopped. Would Celera have been able to have the human genome project stopped?
posted by shoos at 4:18 PM on November 15, 2002

I never got a chance to see Pubscience. Anybody know if they offered material whose copyright was held by the publishers who protested against Pubscience?
posted by shoos at 4:30 PM on November 15, 2002

Read the announcement of the pubscience launch.

Good article about pubscience.

from this article:
PubSCIENCE launched in October 1999 with the mission of providing free Web search capabilities for journal article abstracts and citations in the physical sciences. Reading the abstract is free, but hyperlinking to the full text generally involves paying for the article. The collection contains over 1,200 journal titles from 35 publishers, including both professional associations (American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Meteorological Society, American Physical Society, American Society for Microbiology, Royal Society of Chemistry, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics) and private publishers (Blackwell Science, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Nature Publishing Group, Springer-Verlag, and Taylor & Francis Publishers, Ltd.). A few university presses also contribute to the database. Clearly modeled after PubMed, PubSCIENCE wanted to attract scientists and the general public to its information. Noting that the U.S. federal government funds 80 to 90 percent of scientific research and development, DOE touts PubSCIENCE as a significant taxpayer benefit.
Emphasis mine. Then 80 to 90 percent of published scientific research should be free totany taxpayer.
posted by Nothing at 5:06 PM on November 15, 2002

And Shoos, no, they did not. The protest came from companies that offered similar databases for a fee; from other content aggregators, as it were, not producers.

A telling quote (from the same article I quoted above):
Database producers and some scholarly publishers felt threatened by the free availability of peer-reviewed scientific information.
posted by Nothing at 5:12 PM on November 15, 2002

But PubScience did provide article absracts, and those were certainly copyrighted by the respective publishers. And the publishers did provide information for the databases. So, to me, it looks really like a case of the publishers exercising their own rights over their property. It may not be a good thing for science, but it doesn't seem they're doing anything that any typical company wouldn't do.

The US gov could turn around and stipulate that results arising from any research they provide grant money for be published only in publically-accessible form. That might work. I mean the purpose of the funding isn't to make publishers rich.
posted by shoos at 6:07 PM on November 15, 2002

Yes, but as far as I can tell here, the protest was not related to copyright, but unfair government competition. If there was a copyright issue, I think it would have been mentioned, considering the current IP climate.
posted by Nothing at 6:15 PM on November 15, 2002

Also, if it were simply a copyright issue, PubScience could have been purged of offending material. A decent portion of their database was contributed by universities, and there is no controversy there. Why did that information have to be taken down as well?
posted by Nothing at 6:18 PM on November 15, 2002

The copyright issue wasn't mentioned, but I think that's what gave the publishers (and the Software and Information Industry Association that represents them) their power over the situation. If the government held the copyrights, they probably would have just told the publishers to go blow themselves. The publishers probably originally thought that they could get a some good free referrals and publicity from Pubscience, but later realized that the numbers weren't good enough to justify the loss in revenues from their database services (eg, Elsevier owns the Scirus science search engine service)

I think the DOE took the entire thing down instead of just the offending parts because they didn't want to keep putting so much effort into a database which represented an ever-shrinking fraction of the available literature. Maybe the SIAA made their own concessions as well.
posted by shoos at 8:22 PM on November 15, 2002

This article highlights a critical abuse of power by the scientific publishing body which is abhorrent to the continued freedom of research and yet has been ignored by the general public and by most scientists. To summarise the article, commercial publishers have forced a government-funded energy publications database to close down on the grounds that it constitutes "improper competition" with commercially funded informations services. That is to say, a private company is charging fees for access to government-funded research.

To put this news in context, it's important to explain how the science journal system works. Let's say that I have just finished a series of biochemical experiments which have led to a significant finding. I write these findings up into a short journal article, which I then submit to (say) the Journal of Biological Chemistry. This journal charges every university $600 a year for 52 print issues. As well as this fee, to submit an article I will have to pay a fixed per-page charge to the Journal in order to publish it, around $300. The Journal sends my manuscript to a panel of other scientists who review it critically (peer review). These scientists perform this service free of charge, they do not cost the journal anything. The journal is simply an information distribution service.

So where does all the money go? On printing costs and also on the publishers' salaries. These journals may also carry expensive advertising, making more money. Also, by giving my manuscript to the Journal I am giving away the copyright to this manuscript. To summarise: We pay the journal to accept the article. They take the copyright for their exclusive use. Then we pay the journal again to read the article. The general public, who indirectly paid for the research, can't access it.

If research isn't published in a journal - and preferably a prestigious one like Science, Cell or Nature, then it's not a part of the scientific discourse. Hence, the journals have enormous power over the flow of science in general. (An ex-editor of Nature told me that she could make or break a scientific career.)

As science has splintered into subdivisons, thousands of different science journals have formed, and each one costs between $100 and $1000 to subscribe to. For a university to keep up with the flood of scientific knowledge in print may cost upwards of a million dollars a year. Many universities simply cannot afford this. Even the University of Cambridge, for example, still cannot afford to subscribe to any of the large-scale journal databases such as ScienceDirect. The journal publishers thus have absolute cartel and absolute monopoly on the ability of these institutions to communicate withn other scientists, and to do good science. Needless to say, the sheer cost of information also prohibits research in developing nations.

Now here's the bit that has the publishers worried: just as the music industry has become irrelevant in the face of large-scale file swapping, print scientific journals could easily become obsolescent thanks to cheap and centralised electronic information management. It is easy to imagine [1] a system where scientists just put their papers online, their fellow scientists review these papers and finally the papers are stored and indexed in an openly accessible database. It would cost next to nothing and public money would finally be spent on publicly accessible science. In fact such a system exists and operates very successfully. This is called the arxiv [2] and it lists almost every paper which has been published in physics or the mathematical sciences. Physicists I know tell me that the physics journals are now effectively irrelevant as everything they want is on the arxiv. However, no open databases like the arxiv exist for the chemical and biological sciences, which account for an order of magnitude more research than physics and mathematics combined.

This lack of an open framework for communicating science is because large journal companies such as Elsevier Science have responded to the threat of the opening-up, or "Napsterisation" of science by introducing proprietary online databases of articles with expensive and restrictive access policies. The current state of affairs is that if an institution spends a lot of money on databases such as ScienceDirect, Web of Science, Scirus etc. a researcher there might be able to read half of the journal articles online that she wants to. The rest will still have to be dug up up on paper or else will not be there at all.

Electronic publishing is big business for Elsevier, Harcourt and so on, and none of them want to risk having a free "open source" competition. A recent attempt to establish a open "Public Library of Science" [3] in this vein was stymied by absolute noncooperativity from the major publishers, on the flimsiest grounds that the "integrity of information could not be assured" by the database. And the same thing has happened in the article under discussion: a free-access public database has been shut down because it threatens the power of the cartel (here, the SIIA).

I still hope that eventually the cartel will be broken, but this is surely some time away. In the meantime, this particular news item is not in itself a travesty but rather is just one more dent in the freedom of public information we should enjoy, thanks to the unlimited power over science that the big publishers have. I can understand why musicians don't like the idea of their songs being traded on the internet when they get nothing for it. But there is no way to justify the abuse and extortion of scientific intellectual property in which much of the publishing industry is engaged. As a scientist, I don't expect to get rich. But, like every other scientist I know, I want everyone in the world to be able to read about my discoveries. Right now I am paying to have my intellectual property taken away from me and then sold back at prices half the world cannot afford. If we are getting upset about the RIAA's clampdown on music trading, how should we view the continuing plunder of the entire world's scientific intellectual property? What's more important?


Disclaimer: I am a graduate student who has been involved in, been listed as primary author in, and has also reviewed, a fair number of publications in the field of biochemistry.
posted by Bletch at 8:58 PM on November 15, 2002 [1 favorite]

I agree with Bletch but there's something that's bothering me at the moment. In the research lab I work for at Cornell University, I sometimes need to use tools created at other universities by other researchers. Due to the fact that those tools were created using federal funds, they have to give me the tools (as I understand it). So, if federally funded research has to be shared with other researchers, why can it not be shared with the federal government?

I've used PubMed a lot and I'm glad that no one is going to try and take it down. Its just sad to see an under-used but exteremely useful service get taken down.
posted by Stynxno at 9:38 PM on November 15, 2002

Wonderful post, thanks Bletch. I had no idea that's how the journals operated.
posted by Nothing at 12:49 AM on November 16, 2002

SIIA - first up against the wall when the information revolution comes! Axis of information constipation.

Thanks for the infromative post, Bletch.
Get those accountants away from the fruits of human endevour, they neither understand or respect them. They are trying to put a toll barrier on the route to enlightenment.
posted by asok at 6:12 AM on November 16, 2002

Let me join the chorus, Bletch -- a great comment. It's things like that that made me want to be part of MeFi.
posted by languagehat at 7:07 AM on November 16, 2002

Thanks for the feedback; I feel strongly about this issue. Scientists tend to be apolitical and are bad at organising opposition to an entrenched and powerful system which is screwing us over like this. It's important that as many people as possible understand what's going on here; I was thinking of extending this argument into a decent front-page post.
posted by Bletch at 7:46 AM on November 16, 2002

Bletch: although I think the vilifying of the publishing companies is a little over the top, I am generally sympathetic to your views.

I myself don't blame the publishers for pressuring the DOE to close down PubScience. They didn't go into the business so they could end up as government employees, and they shouldn't be expected to. The problem is with the way the entire system was set up: The gov hands out money, researchers use it for research then submit the resulting work (along with the assignment of copyright, and sometimes a little extra dough) to publishers. Some of these publishers function in a for-profit manner, like thousands of other businesses do, while a similar number of others simply require only enough revenues to keep their nonprofit scientific organizations going.

That's not to say science wouldn't be better off with an overhauled system. This really depends on whether or not the government or some other body can provide access to the scientific literature more effectively and more efficiently than publishing companies or nonprofits. The answer to that is not really clear. Many commercial publishers have great products at reasonable prices (especially for students and postdocs), while others don't, and subscription rates vary hugely from journal to journal. You mentioned page charges, but these are the exception rather than the rule for commercial publishers, while the reverse is true for nonprofit publishers. One potentially good thing about the commercial publishers is that they do use advertising and this revenue could be used to cover some of the publishing expenses. (Then again, I've heard some police departments are advertising on squad cars. Maybe the FBI and secret service could do the same for raising funds for science publishing).

To come to Elsevier's defense, they recently launched a free service for chemistry research called ChemWeb.

One reason that access among academics to journals and journal databases is getting worse is that the production of scientific information is growing exponentially while most university library budgets grow only very slowly, and occasionally shrink. The number of journals in existence is growing rapidly as well. Universities aren't helping either. If you have access to Science Magazine, you can see this chart (from this article) of university profits versus university library funding from 1976-96 in the US. (if you don't have access, it basically shows strong growth in profits versus steadily shrinking library budgets, both expressed as percentage of total univerity revenues.) So others can be cast as villains in this story.

A potential part-answer would be to have authors retain copyright over their work. Some universities, including Caltech, were talking recently about requiring that of their employees and students. Then they could put their work wherever they wanted, even after getting it into a conventional journal. Don't know what came of that.
posted by shoos at 12:43 PM on November 16, 2002

Shoos -- could you point me to any info on that? (University employees and students retaining copyright.) I'm planning on going to grad school, and will be submitting my first paper (which I'm working on RIGHT NOW) to undergraduate journals this semester, so the issue obviously interests me pretty deeply...
posted by tweebiscuit at 6:51 PM on November 16, 2002

Bletch: agree with you 100%

And let's not forget CiteSeer for Math/Stats/Comp Science related articles. It's quite good for finding papers that discuss the same idea (bibliography building).
posted by MzB at 8:38 PM on November 16, 2002

Bletch, great comment. One thing to add: in 1999, Harold Varmus proposed E-biomed, which sparked debate and led to the establishment of PubMed Central in early 2000. Three years later, see for yourself how many journals have come on board; also, there is no mechanism for preprint submission, and PMC avoids the copyright issue entirely.

Shoos, a couple of comments:

page charges ... are the exception rather than the rule for commercial publishers
If this is the case, then I would guess that most of the journals that researchers actually publish in are owned by commercial publishers, as I can't think of a single one that doesn't apply page charges.

they recently launched a free service for chemistry research called ChemWeb
Window dressing, IMO. The real money is (considered to be) in biomed research with clinical and biotech outcomes. One of the main reasons why physicists were able to force journals to co-operate in making data freely available is that those journals controlled far less data, and far less money, in the first place. The journals that hold sway over the biomed research community have a lot more money to fight with, and to fight for.

Obdisclaimer: I'm a lab rat biomed researcher by trade.
posted by sennoma at 9:03 PM on November 16, 2002

Shoos, a couple more comments:

Universities aren't helping either
True, but I think this avoids the main copyright issue. If all government-funded research were freely available, that would save universities and their library budgets a screaming shitload of money on journal subscriptions.

A potential part-answer would be to have authors retain copyright over their work
Aye, there's the rub. Journals will not willingly give up that control, because once they do it becomes apparent that they add little value to the researchers' product, and are little more than advertising vehicles with an unfair stranglehold on the flow of information. (To be fair, that stranglehold developed before online publishing became available, when journals could fairly claim to be providing a valuable service just by publishing data.) It became clear in the E-biomed debate I linked above that a free online repository of biomed research, analogous to the physics arxiv, would mean the end of the journal system as we know it. To survive at all, journals would have to provide more added value in the form of editorials, job advertisements and so on, and they would have to shrink dramatically in size (I mean the companies, not the journal pages!) and cost. The few responses that I saw from publishers were of the "try this and you'll never publish with us again" nature, mixed with FUD marketing. Given what a lame duck PubMed Central has turned out to be, that threat seems to have worked. Why? Publish or perish. For those not familiar with the system, it goes like this: researchers, and to a large degree teachers whose job includes a research component, are judged primarily on their publication rate. Other factors are taken into account, but the bottom line is always how many papers you have published, and in what journals. If you don't publish you won't get grant support, and that will put you out of a job. This, together with Bletch's comment about data being invisible if it's not in the mainstream journals, gives publishers immense power. If enough researchers would support low-ranking journals that did not lock up copyright, these journals would rise in the rankings until they could compete with the publications of Elsevier et al., but the immediacy of the threat of reprisal from mainstream journals is an immense barrier to that sort of revolution. Most grants run from one to three years, and the longest I know of are for five years; at the end of that time, a researcher is literally looking for another job if they have not won overlapping grants. Under that sort of time pressure, most researchers will opt for the career-friendly option of giving up their copyright in order to publish in a recognised journal.
posted by sennoma at 9:31 PM on November 16, 2002

Another link for those interested in this issue: the Campaign for the Freedom of Distribution of Scientific Work.
posted by sennoma at 9:38 PM on November 16, 2002

Tweebiscuit: It all depends on the language in the copyright agreement form the journal provides you. It might say just that they get the copyright, period, or it may say you can republish the work on, say, your own web site or for distribution in some other limited forms. I'm not really familiar with undergraduate journals, so I don't know how they work as far as copyright goes.
posted by shoos at 1:15 AM on November 17, 2002

...I can't think of a single one that doesn't apply page charges.
How about Cell, Science, Nature, Nature Genetics, or Nature Medicine? But then again, nobody reads those rags.

Window dressing, IMO. The real money biomed research...
The proof is in the pudding. What do chemists think of ChemWeb? From my cursory look, it seems pretty solid. Or merely because it's not biomed science it's automatically insignificant? Anyways, why make a biomed database service when there's Pubmed?

If all government-funded research were freely available, that would save universities and their library budgets a screaming shitload of money on journal subscriptions.
Research universities - and I don't mean the scientists - thrive on federal funding (so do biotechs, pharma and other industries). It seems that you think it's ok for a university to financially benefit from federal money but not for publishers. Why should universities (or any other commercial entity) be excepted?

From what I gather, PubScience, which this thread was originally about, was virtually the same thing as PubMed, but for papers in physics. Now can anyone name a single biomed or general science journal that does not allow the use of its abstracts on PubMed? Yes, "PubMed Central* hasn't quite taken the biomed publishing world by storm, but PMC is not the kind of thing that Pubscience was.

To continue my role here as Beelzebub's cheerleader, a large number of biomedical and physical science journals also allow free online full-text access through Highwire press. Most of the journals release the articles onto Highwire only after an embargo period, but still they do provide a large portion of their full-text archives free of charge. Highwire also offers an excellent and free full-text search engine.

Disclaimer: I don't work for or have any financial interest in any publishing entity, if you can believe that.
posted by shoos at 1:57 AM on November 17, 2002

It seems there's a lot of confusion about what the various publisher-driven "databases" offer. Let's be clear: very few journals offer free full-text access. Scientists give the journals exclusive copyright: the right to exclude others from having this information. An exclusive right to a work may be morally appropriate for privately created books, music and film, but I have yet to hear a convincing argument to why citizens should be excluded from reading about research which they paid for. Far less, why other scientists should have to resort to obsolete print journals or to inadequate proprietary "databases" in order to read the work of their peers.

Let's look at what the different electronic databases offer. PubMed is simply a very helpful, publicly run abstracts service that does not directly offer any full-text access to journals. PubMed is no substitute for journal access; it is also by no means comprehensive. ChemWeb, which few chemists I know use, is similar: it's just a portal service to various journals. The assertion that Highwire offers access to a large portion of articles is false: a moment's inspection shows that out of 12.3 million articles, only 0.4 million are free to access. Contrast these with in physics and mathematics: free full-text articles? Check. Public access? Check. Easy submission? Check. Intelligent, automatable seach and download? Check. Instant turnaround (contrast to several months for a paper journal )? Check. Online peer review? Not yet, but there's a lot of discussion about this right now. Result: The physics journals are now a vestigial organ solely used for maintaining the CV. When university administrators realise this and start to measure productivity more accurately (e.g., by means of peer review, as proposed recently in Science) the physics journals will disappear. And science will be better off for it.

I'd like to further emphasise what a good thing the arxiv model is, and how stupid we are in the chem/biosciences for getting conned in this way by self-serving publishers. This is a quote from from an APS speaker at the Electronic Publishing in Science conference in 1996:

The Current Role of Physics Journals?
It is ordinarily claimed that journals play two intellectual roles: a) to communicate research information, and b) to validate this information for the purpose of job and grant allocation.

As I've explained, the role of journals as communicators of information has long since been supplanted in certain fields of physics, so let's consider their other role. Having queried a number of colleagues concerning the criteria they use in evaluating job applicants and grant proposals, it turns out that the otherwise unqualified number of published papers is too coarse a criterion and plays essentially no role. Researchers are typically familiar with the research in their own field, and must in any event independently evaluate it together with letters of recommendation from trusted sources. Recent activity levels of candidates were mentioned as a criterion, but that too is independent of publication per se: "hot preprints" on a CV can be as important as any publication.

So many of us have long been aware that certain physics journals currently play NO role whatsoever for physicists. Their primary role seems to be to provide a revenue stream to publishers, a revenue stream invisibly siphoned from overhead on research contracts through library systems.

The physicists are years ahead of us. In contrast to the arxiv, none of the electronic chemistry or biology journal access services are anything more than window-dressing for a very expensive product: the scientific research which your taxes have paid for. If you were a writer or an artist performing voluntary creative work, would you be happy for a publisher to profit from it by restricting access and selling it at a high price? This is what is happening in science. Before the Internet, this was the only way to disseminate research. But now there is an obvious electronic alternative which can and does work. We should not be distracted from the fundamentally exploitative, parasitic nature of the scientist-publisher relationship by false concessions made by publishers desperate to maintain their cartel.

In any case most of the points about why the science journal industry should be dead, and isn't, have been made. The question is, what can and should be done? General boycott? Start a P2P network for redistribution of copyrighted articles? Persuade arxiv to expand into chemistry and biosciences? I don't know the answer, but like every other biochemist I'm anxious to keep my publication rate up...
posted by Bletch at 8:07 AM on November 17, 2002

And shoos: if you don't think universities should benefit from federal money in preference to private companies who contribute nothing to human knowledge or technological advancement, then you are a lost cause.
posted by Bletch at 8:19 AM on November 17, 2002

Maybe I should have just come out and made my point earlier rather than beat around the bush:
There are far, far greater impediments to biomedical science than commercial scientific publishers. From the perspective of your workbench, it might seem that there's no greater evil on this planet than Macmillan and Academic Press, but in my mind, they are relatively small and benign players. What about the fact that every year the NIH is budgeted about 1% of what is spent annually on health care in the US? There's your travesty. Or that the NIH budget is about 3% of the US defense budget? There's no comparison. Publishers are playing bit parts in this drama and I don't think they are necessarily any more malevolent than the next business. Why focus so much on a couple of typical playground bullies when you've got Jeffrey Dahmer living next door?

And universities are not free of blame. At the university where I work, for every dollar awarded to a lab in grant money, the administration gets 50 cents. My PI currently has roughly $3 million in grant money to spend over the next 3 years, so the administration gets $1.5 million to "host" him for that time. How thoughtful. Neither my PI's department nor school (medicine) get their hands on any of that $1.5 million. It goes into a black hole. And this is regardless of the university's budget needs. Furthermore, for most biomed faculty members at the school, their salary is paid from their own half of the grant money. The university doesn't pay it.

Typical first-year postdoc salaries in biomed science start around $29,000, without benefits, and where I live (LA) this is just about enough to break even each year on a very modest standard of living. For postdocs with families, it's barely doable. This kind of salary would drive most people away from careers in science. A reverse talent vacuum. Where I am, it's the university which caps postdoc salaries around this point. Even though the NIH would allow far higher salaries if the PI requested it, the university wouldn't.
posted by shoos at 12:43 PM on November 17, 2002

None of the points about budget problems are germane to the issue here, which is freedom of information in science. It's certainly true that low budgets, poor pay and bad management hamper research work, but none of these problems are as clearly remediable and as amoral as the exploitation of science and government by the publishing companies. This abuse of power and stifling of innovation is worth focusing on precisely because it can be dealt with.

As pointed out earlier, one of the biggest problems facing universities at present is maintaining budgets and managing information - and the parasitism of the journals is swallowing up precious funds and efficiency here. Why should we get more money if we are not doing the very best with what we have? Physicists have shoestring budgets compared to biomedical researchers which certainly contributed to the comparative pressure on their field to take to the arxiv.

Furthermore, it's not a "travesty" if politicians want to spend more on defense or on health care than on research. Scientists and academics are, or should be, servants of the public; we offer a service, the generation of knowledge, that has a value set on it by the economy and the government. There's nothing wrong with Joe Public (via W. or Tony) telling us how much we can spend. And three percent of the US defense budget is still $15 billion. Go ask a physicist what her budget is.
posted by Bletch at 1:57 PM on November 17, 2002

Furthermore, it's not a "travesty" if politicians want to spend more on defense or on health care than on research.

No it's not necessarily a travesty, but it is if over 100X more is spent on defense & healthcare than on research.

You might watch yourself. There may be some other parasites public servants lurking among us "scientists and academics" as well.
posted by shoos at 5:23 PM on November 17, 2002

Before I paint myself (or get painted) into a corner, I should say that I would fully support the development of a more effective means of collecting, reviewing and archiving biomed science work. It's just that I object to the juvenile portrayal of publishing companies as eViL.
posted by shoos at 6:27 PM on November 17, 2002

Hey, shoos, I hope I haven't given the wrong impression -- I mean, sure, I think you're a lame apologist for the Evil Publishing Empires™ and will surely Burn in Hell, but we can still be friends -- right? :-)


How about Cell, Science, Nature
Point taken. *blush* I've never even read their Instructions to Authors -- I've never had a reason to. (For the nonscientists still reading: those are all very high-ranking journals.)

Or merely because it's not biomed science it's automatically insignificant?
That wasn't what I meant at all, and I think that was clear. In case it wasn't: it is my opinion that the money involved in, and potentially to be made from, biomed research far exceeds the potential profits arising from research in physics and chemistry, at least in the short term (which is the only term that many investors, most of the public and nearly all politicians ever consider). This makes it harder to establish a "biomed arxiv", because the publishers have more resources to fight with and more to lose if their biomed journals become redundant.

Anyways, why make a biomed database service when there's Pubmed?
PubMed is primarily a database of abstracts, since as Bletch pointed out the actual amount of data made available online is very small. The abstract database is extremely useful, but why can't I get at the actual data from all of those federally funded studies?

It seems that you think it's ok for a university to financially benefit from federal money but not for publishers. Why should universities (or any other commercial entity) be excepted?
I can only think of one private university here in Aus, so we are possibly looking at an issue of cultural divide there. When I think "university", I assume "state institution". Mea culpa. To be clear: I think that any research investment the govt makes, whether it be in one of its own institutions or through a business, ought at a very minimum to result in data that are published in a timely manner and freely accessible to the research community and the public.

Regarding your points about other directions in which to point accusing fingers, I pretty much agree with everything you said, except that I don't consider the publishing companies to be bit players. They're right up there with the short-sighted bean counters who won't fund research worth a damn and the universities who know damn well that they can keep squeezing because the researchers will squeal but they won't quit. As you or Bletch quite rightly pointed out, few people go into science to get rich.
posted by sennoma at 8:40 PM on November 17, 2002

I don't really don't consider myself an apologist for publishing companies per se. I just think the evil in the world tends to be a bit more evenly distributed than some (and I'm sure publishing has it's share). Hell, I think a good number of people I work around in research are far from doing what could be considered a service for humanity. That's another story, though.

And, again, I never said things wouldn't be better off in science using a completely different method of publishing. That's probably the case.

Sure, even though I'm lame and damned to Hell, we can be friends.
posted by shoos at 11:56 PM on November 17, 2002

I don't really don't consider myself an apologist for publishing companies [...] even though I'm lame and damned to Hell

Argh, now I'm worried that I gave more offense with what was supposed to be a joke. I gotta stop going for the funny. I didn't mean any of the "apologist" stuff: quite the opposite. Our views are very similar, I just think the publishers are a bit worse than you seem to. This thread has been the sort of thing that keeps me coming back to Metafilter.
posted by sennoma at 3:17 AM on November 18, 2002

No problem. I knew you were joking :)
posted by shoos at 1:43 PM on November 18, 2002

Good news - last week the Senate approved doubling the NSF's annual funding by 2007!
posted by shoos at 7:20 PM on November 18, 2002

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