Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Research Works Act in Name Only

The Research Works Act (H.R.3699.IH) does not actually make research work. It allows publishers to charge exorbitant fees to view research payed for by the public that is submitted and edited for free by scientists.    

The fruits of academic endeavor should be available freely for the enrichment of all. Right now, a large portion of academic research gets paid for by the federal government through programs like the National Science Foundation (NSF). In fields that don't have pharmaceutical or commercial applications like my own (paleontology), almost all funding can come from the government. However, when this research is published in peer reviewed journals, the publishing companies are allowed to copyright the data and demand exorbitant subscription fees for other researchers just to read the articles. The journals get free content and free editing by academics yet they charge through the nose for their publications. The result is that researchers from poorer countries or institutions and interested members of the public cannot afford to view actual scientific studies. Rich institutions like Yale can afford subscription fees, but much of their budget comes from grant overhead on these same federal grants. Effectively, the government pays for the research and the editing, and then has to pay again just to read what it already wrote. Publishers do add value to scientific papers by archiving, advertising, and distributing them. But the whole point of publishing your findings is so that others can read and critique your results and learn from your conclusions. Denying people from reading your work, especially if it was publicly funded, is antithetical to the aims of science. This is a small bill but it could greatly limit our access to the latest scientific and medical research. If the taxpayer paid for it, she should own it. Free data is not just good science, it's good economics too.

-Matt Davis
2nd year Geology and Geophysics graduate student

Other links:

New York Times editorial against the bill by UC Berkeley Associate Professor Michael Eisen

Michael Eisen's blog post about the bill featuring good arguments on both sides of the issue

The Copyright Alliance's statement in support of the bill

The Association of American Publishers statement in support of the bill

This post represents the views of an individual author, and does not necessarily reflect the views of Yale Science Diplomats.

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