NIH Open Access Policy Under Attack
January 4, 2012 2:22 PM   Subscribe

The Open Access Policy of the National Institutes of Health mandates that NIH funded research is published to PubMed Central. This provides free online full text access to the resulting research. This policy has been very popular. As a result journal publishers have seen their business models threatened. As other government agencies consider similar policies, publishing industry lobbyists have worked to put an end to the practice.. (previously)

The legislation seeks to block agencies from:
  • duplicating the capabilities of privately available research archives which may compete with university and commercial publishers.
  • requiring that publicly funded research published in private sector journals be being distributed for free without authorization.
  • mandating that non-government authors agree to free distribution of works as a condition of receiving grants.
posted by humanfont (33 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah, and what's with NASA giving away all those expensive galaxy pictures for free?
posted by theodolite at 2:26 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh, I would love if the current publishing model was rent assunder. George Monbiot has an excellent dissection of all that is wrong with the current model.

Plus, Elsevier support SOPA. The swines.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 2:33 PM on January 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

By " To End Government Mandates on Private-Sector Scholarly Publishing" they really mean "Reshape Established Law to Preserve Incumbent Income Streams".

You can tell by the weasel words.
posted by T.D. Strange at 2:40 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Evil fuckers.   Btw, the New England Journal of Medicine says the MMSE standardized screening test for cognitive impairment is being eliminated from textbooks, web sites, and clinical tool kits all because the company PAR who distributed it has harassing people over copyright violations. Thankfully, the tests original authors have written another replacement test to work around PAR's ownership of the copyright.
posted by jeffburdges at 2:40 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Free riding rent seekers gonna seek free rides.
posted by euphorb at 2:40 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

The research is expands humanity's knowledge of Life, the Universe, and Everything. The research is funded largely by a government body working with public funds. The results of that research are only available if you can pay into the literary equivalent of the old boys club.

Thanks again, Darrell Issa, you capitalist scum.

Quick question to people who regularly publish under open access (which is PLoS?): are you plagued by reviewer experiments like the guys publishing in the private journals are?
posted by Slackermagee at 2:50 PM on January 4, 2012

Slackermagee, I think unfortunately reviewer experiments are endemic to the human race modern science. But it depends which OA journal, too. PLoS Biology is as exacting as any of the other high-impact bio journals, but if you just want to get something out quickly, reviewers at PLoS ONE are more or less only supposed to evaluate whether the experiments were done properly and whether what you said in the paper is supported by the data. BMC Biology also has an option where you can opt-out of iterative peer review, which is an interesting idea.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:08 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've published in PLoS One and the review process and requirements were the same as for any other journal.
posted by euphorb at 3:09 PM on January 4, 2012

Can anyone else see the links to I'm getting MySQL errors.
posted by endless_forms at 3:10 PM on January 4, 2012

In another thread on this topic someone was saying that science journals needed to charge money otherwise "Who would pay for all the science!?"
posted by delmoi at 3:20 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Euphorb, that's interesting -- my impression was that on average P1 was faster and had fewer rounds of revision, but maybe I'm wrong. Did you end up having to do extra experiments to get it published?
posted by en forme de poire at 3:36 PM on January 4, 2012

In the physical sciences, as long as your work doesn't have commercial value ("worthless") it is commonplace to post it on open-access preprint servers (e.g., arXiv).

ArXiv started as a preprint server for high energy physics ( was a PC under Ginsparg's desk, IIRC), and has grown to encompass a wide range of domains (physics, math, CS, computational biology, even quantitative finance). It is pretty complete in astronomy -- our work is truly worthless, of course -- and it is easier for me to hit arXiv for a paper than to try to sort out my university library proxy server from home or on the road. And even the commercial journals (Nature, Science) have come around to grudging acceptance that astronomy papers will appear on arXiv shortly after publication. (Although afaik, they still refuse to do any press publicity if the preprint is public before it appears in the journal.)

But I think the moment there's some obvious immediate commercial value in the work (e.g. geology, chemistry), open access becomes harder to arrange. (And oddly enough, planetary science papers are not commonly posted to arXiv. Maybe it's the geology connection.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 3:38 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I wrote up precisely what en forme de poire said before seeing his comment on preview, but would add that as far as business models go, open access is proving to be quite viable for both PLoS and for BMC, which both have a family of journals. The big names like Nature and Science are still resistant, and claim that it only works for journals that accept all technically correct submissions, specifically citing PLoS ONE as the way the PLoS keeps its more choosy journals afloat.

I found the statement to be somewhat sickening. These people deserve no spot at the negotiating table.
posted by Llama-Lime at 3:46 PM on January 4, 2012

The problem with arXiv for me is publisher policies and that there are some really productive people out there who would scoop me. Having it out there on arXiv won't stop it from getting repackaged and published.

I've got and given substantive reviews for PLoS. Another large set of OA journals is frontiers.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 3:57 PM on January 4, 2012

Unsurprising that scholarly publishers are battling the open-access movement. I think they know that their days are numbered, due to a couple of things:
  1. Distribution of content just doesn't cost what it used to.
  2. The insane, exhorbitant price of journals rising way faster than either inflation or the costs of doing business in that field.
  3. The insane licensing agreements for accessing that content.
  4. Many people not in academia don't realize that publishers not only don't pay for content, but that it's often pay-to-play (if only nominally). Hell, the peer-reviewed journals don't even pay the referees. Furthermore, most researchers don't keep the copyright on their own work. There is resistance to this in the form of open access initiatives.
The whole thing relies on the tenure process continuing the same way it has for a long time. Maybe it's just anecdata, but I keep hearing that there are fewer and fewer tenure-track positions on offer these days. Wonder if that has anything to do with the large number of under-employed PhDs scrambling for any chance to serve as faculty, no matter how little job security there is without tenure.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 4:00 PM on January 4, 2012

It's all a mess. For example, NIH mandates that results of NIH-funded clinical trials should be published in a reasonable time frame. Well, it hasn't been happening for more and more of them. Which leads to duplication of research, to research results not being disseminated and so not benefitting either other scientists, not patients down the road and so on. At this point, it's less than half of all trials that actually get published in accordance with NIH guidelines. In other words, the infrastructure is fraying, even without the attacks from private industry.

Many NIH-Funded Clinical Trials Go Unpublished Over Two Years After Completion, U.S. Study Shows

"In a study that investigates the challenges of disseminating clinical research findings in peer-reviewed biomedical journals, Yale School of Medicine researchers have found that fewer than half of a sample of trials primarily or partially funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were published within 30 months of completing the clinical trial.

These findings appear in the January issue of the British Medical Journal, which focuses on the topic of unpublished evidence.

"When research findings are not disseminated, the scientific process is disrupted and leads to redundant efforts and misconceptions about clinical evidence," said Dr. Joseph Ross, first author of the study and a Yale assistant professor of medicine. "Such inaction undermines both the trial in question and the evidence available in peer-reviewed medical literature. This has far-reaching implications for policy decisions, and even institutional review board assessments of risks and benefits associated with future research studies."

So one way or another, scientific progress is being hobbled and shut down. But I'm sure that private industry will gladly step in, with a nice revenue stream down the road, and extortion for all - and it's funded with taxpayer money for an extra bonus.
posted by VikingSword at 4:00 PM on January 4, 2012 [6 favorites]

In the one article I published with PLoS One last year we conducted several sets of extra experiments as requested by the reviewer. The turn around time from initial submission to final online publication was also unusually slow. And they do omit the final proof step which is slightly annoying. The main difference compared with the higher tier journals is that reviewers are theoretically not screening for significance, just for rigorous science.

Nature has an open access journal called Scientific Reports and a semi-open journal, Nature Communications which suggest that this format is a winning one and the industry is responding, though not at the rate we would all like.
posted by euphorb at 4:12 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've published in BMC Genomics, and am a reviewer for a journal in the Frontiers family. I recently completed a legislative fellowship in the U.S. Senate, and one of the things I did while there was write a small bill that would expand the NIH OA provisions to most federal grant programs. I'm not sure if my former boss is going to introduce it or not, but at least there's some language floating around.
posted by wintermind at 4:34 PM on January 4, 2012 [13 favorites]

Thank you, wintermind.
posted by ltracey at 4:42 PM on January 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

Background on copyright of government documents. Executive summary: In 1976, we had a Congress much more enlightened.

Were the Copyright Act submitted today, I have no doubt that our Congress-critters and Senators would vote en mass to give Disney and/or Fox and/or Jesus a perpetual copyright over all works, past/present/future, produced by the federal government.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 5:23 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Below is the text of a letter I am drafting to my congressman, Rush Holt of New Jersey. Corrections, suggestions and plagiarisms are welcome.


Dear Representative Holt,

I wanted to draw your attention to the recently tabled Research Works Act, H.R. 3699, which aims to limit the federal regulation of scientific publication.

This bill is the product of lobbying by the academic publishing industry. As a scientific researcher, I expect that a fellow scientist such as Representative Holt, will understand the general situation around academic publishing, but I will briefly review it here:

[1] scientists are funded by federal grants
[2] scientists conduct research and write manuscripts
[3] manuscripts are then submitted to privately owned journals, which then send the manuscripts out for assessment ("peer review")
[5] peer reviewers are not paid by for assessing research articles; if they are paid by anyone it is by their own institution or by federal or private grants
[6] if an article is accepted and published by a journal, its copyright is usually handed over to the private publishing houses,
[7] public and private universities must then pay fees to the publishing houses in order to access the research articles that they, as a community, produced!

Federal regulations, such as the Open Access policy of the National Institute of Health, require academics to eventually make their work freely available to the public. This makes sense, because the research is paid for by the public, and is ostensibly conducted for the benefit of the public.

Open Access policies will lower the costs for individuals and educational institutions seeking access to research articles. This means less income for the publishing houses, and threatens their (essentially parasitic) business model.

The transition to open sharing models is well underway. For example, in some journals a one-off publication fee covers services provided by the publishing houses, copyright is maintained by the academic authors, and access is open to all. This is happening at the same time that the more traditional, private publishing industry is undergoing a painful transformation, largely due to developments in information technology. Academic journal subscription and access fees have been increasing over the past decade, despite the fact that the staff, production and (digital) distribution costs of academic publishing have fallen.

It is understandable that the publishing houses are seeking to protect their businesses via the Research Works Act, H.R. 3699, but I hope that Representative Holt will oppose this bill. The bill would (temporarily) protect the jobs of a small number at great cost to the federal research budget and to the global scientific enterprise.

Yours ...
posted by cjh at 5:42 PM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

cjh, not all journals are privately owned, so you might want to change [3].
posted by wintermind at 6:03 PM on January 4, 2012

Btw, the New England Journal of Medicine says the MMSE standardized screening test for cognitive impairment is being eliminated from textbooks, web sites, and clinical tool kits ...
posted by jeffburdges

posted by StickyCarpet at 6:09 PM on January 4, 2012

thanks, wintermind. you're right.

two related thoughts:

[1] i tend to associate "nonprofit" with "open access" but they don't always go together. i had supposed that journals like "journal of neuroscience" that are run by non-profits would have less reason to oppose the OA regulations. but maybe not. the journal of neuroscience does indeed make a profit that can subsidize the rest of the activities of the society for neuroscience... so perhaps some nonprofit journals would still be on board with the legislation.

[2] are there any journals that are federally owned...?
posted by cjh at 7:33 PM on January 4, 2012

cjh- Don't forget step [6B] After the paper is accepted but before it can be published, the author often has to pay page charges to the journal, using grant money.
posted by rockindata at 8:01 PM on January 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Honest question, is there any real private research? Isn't every big companies receive a shit load of money from the government for R&D?
posted by zouhair at 8:18 PM on January 4, 2012

I don't know of any federally owned journals, cjh, but even though I'm a scientist for a federal agency there could be one I haven't heard of. The non-profit publisher of the Journal of Dairy Science recently entered into some sort of arrangement with Elsevier, where in the latter party provides publication services. Clearly there's enough money in the deal for Elsevier -- probably the most venal of the major scientific publishing houses -- to want in.
posted by wintermind at 8:43 PM on January 4, 2012

cjh: are there any journals that are federally owned?
Two examples are CDC's Emerging Infectious Diseases, and the Department of Veterans Affairs has the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development. There are probably others.

nonreflectiveobject: The whole thing relies on the tenure process continuing the same way it has for a long time
Somewhat relevantly, Retraction Watch recently put forth an opinion piece in Nature on the state of scientific publishing with some context about how the perpetuation of flaws in the peer review process all fits in with the tenure process. (Ironically or perhaps not so much so, the actual opinion piece is behind a paywall.)
posted by gubenuj at 8:53 PM on January 4, 2012

i tend to associate "nonprofit" with "open access" but they don't always go together. i had supposed that journals like "journal of neuroscience" that are run by non-profits would have less reason to oppose the OA regulations. but maybe not. the journal of neuroscience does indeed make a profit that can subsidize the rest of the activities of the society for neuroscience... so perhaps some nonprofit journals would still be on board with the legislation.

I used to work for a nonprofit organization that publishes a number of well-regarded scientific journals. Most such organizations are quietly-but-steadily freaking out. Scientific conferences, professional development resources, all that stuff is run at a loss (despite the fees to participants) in order to further the mission of the organization. And it can't just be replaced by fundraising. Philanthropy and sponsorship by pharmaceutical companies has changed on both sides -- the companies require more restricted and complex gift agreements now, and as sponsors, they must abide by much stricter conflict-of-interest guidelines that make their marketing departments cranky.
posted by desuetude at 8:58 PM on January 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

"Having it out there on arXiv won't stop it from getting repackaged and published."

Huh? That's precisely what it does.

From the legal angle, you hold the copyright to your ArXiv papers.

From the scholarship angle, your ArXiv paper establishes priority.

Maybe your field doesn't have this notion of professional embarasment, but anyone caught mining the ArXiv for stuff to publish under their own name would be quickly blacklisted as a plagiarist. A stupid plagiarist.
posted by erniepan at 10:50 PM on January 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

cjh: You skipped [4]. (Maybe that's the one where the owners of the paid journals cackle manically while swimming in a vault filled with gold bullion?)
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:22 AM on January 5, 2012 [1 favorite]

I don't mean that people would actually just republish it, but that groups in close competition on related material would take essential insights and improvements. Those happen by coincidence enough that nobody could tell.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 7:02 PM on January 5, 2012

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