Public to Get Access to U.S. Research

This was a title of an article in the Washington Post.1 This news is long overdue. Most scientific professional publications are available through publishers and professional organizations. Usually there are discounts for members of professional organizations, but even we usually pay. I do have access to those published by societies to which I belong. Often, there is an article that I would like to read in a publication to which I don’t have access. Sometimes the fees to access these articles are $30 or higher. It is understandable that publishers, who are in the stated business of making a profit, have such charges. But the charters of most professional societies typically state that one of their objectives is to spread technical knowledge. I hope the irony is obvious here.

Bear in mind that the vast amount of this research is funded by the federal government. So we taxpayers are paying for this research. Then why don’t we have ready access to it? According to the article, agency leaders have been directed to develop rules for releasing federally backed research within a year of publication. Some argue that there should not even be a year’s delay in releasing the information. I agree with these people, but my priority is on the implementation of some policy, and I am against any lengthy debate that would delay implementation.

Aaron Swartz was a genius. He was a brilliant programmer with a list of accomplishments, one of which was the development of Reddit, one of the world’s most widely used social-networking news sites. Two years ago, he was indicted on multiple felony accounts for downloading several million articles from the academic database JSTOR. Although it is not known what his motivation was precisely, one idea is that he intended to upload them onto the Web, so that they could be accessed by anyone. Aaron Swartz was a brilliant and sensitive individual. He was indicted by the federal government and subsequently committed suicide. The March 11, 2013 New Yorker (beginning on page 48) does an admiral job of characterizing this fascinating and interesting individual.

This is more than an issue of fairness. The ready access to this information will benefit both science and the economy. An example cited in the Post article was about a teenage scientist, Jack Andraka, who relied on open access articles to develop a five-minute $3 test for pancreatic cancer.
Fortunately, he was successful, but the charged-for article were an obstacle to his progress.

It should be mentioned that progress has been made in this area. Since 2003 there has been a Public Library of Science (PloS). The healthymemory blog has cited publications from this source and finds it most useful. But this progress has been too slow. This is just another example of how extreme economics has plaques us (See the healthymemory blog post, “Extreme Economics.”)

Similar problems exist regarding the costs of books and higher education, but I’ll stop here before I begin that rant. Enter “higher education” into the search block to read previous rants.

1Vastag, B., & Brown, D. (2013). February 23, A5.

© Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Douglas Griffith and healthymemory.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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One Response to “Public to Get Access to U.S. Research”

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