Congress is… odd. They introduce odd bills sometimes. But one bill, introduced to the house last week (February 3) by John Conyers, is especially odd… and kind of scary when it comes to open access. The bill has made publicknowledge.org angry because it removes the policy of the NIH that ensures taxpayer access to taxpayer-funded research within 12 months of the research’s publication. Why the heck would Conyers do this?
Supposedly he was just angry that the House Appropriations Committee bypassed the House Judiciary Committee when creating this policy. Conyers thought this was an issue of copyright. And it is… just… like the publicknowledge blog post says, it doesn’t change copyright law at all. Scientists are simply made to work within existing copyright law and put their research online, making it publicly available. I don’t know what Conyers was thinking, but scientists should be all for open access.
Well, first of all, let’s go through what open access is. Open access (and A2k, Access to Knowledge) means that certain resources, mainly journals and scholarly texts, are freely available to the public. Anybody can use the information posted (online) to learn, write a paper, or conduct further research–as long as he or she attributes the original author(s).
Open access is one of those pro-participation things that, really, would make the world better. Jack Balkin, a leader in the movement, notes how A2K is a human rights issue because of its ability to increase health, education, scientific progress, and more.
Today, I went to a talk by Victoria Stodden, who’s a post-doctoral fellow at MIT Sloan School of Management and a fellow with Science Commons. I semi-liveblogged it, but I’ll summarize and go through points that she mentioned.
Basically, scientific communication and publishing isn’t taking advantage of new technologies–as much as scientific research is. Stodden focused more on computational science–not experimental or deductive–based on simulations and modeling. Scientists, when they publish reports, almost never publish their codes or algorithms… which results in low reproducability, even from the scientists themselves!
Science is built on the idea of peer review. This is why open access makes so much sense. As we’ve seen with open source software, putting ‘code’ out in the open and letting others work on it leads to such progress. Scientific works, though, fall under copyright law and are copyrighted automatically, leading to unnecessary IP issues.
Stodden mentioned the purpose of copyright–and we’ve read it many times–is to prohibit copying and provide incentive to create. This–at least the former part–seems antithetical to the fundamentals of science. She proposed that scientists should release published reports under a CC BY license and code under a type of BSD license, modified to include attribution.
This is essentially what the NIH is having scientists do. Sites like PLoS are online journals that champion open access and allow scientists to publish their works with a CC BY license.
Now why would a scientist do this? And why doesn’t the use of scientific works fall under fair use? Well, it might, but we all know how ridiculous fair use is. Also, fair use is using something and not diminishing the value it has to the original copyright holder. Well, as Stodden mentioned, the value for scientists is attribution. And really, an open access system would be awesome for attribution purposes–by publishing your work to the commons, the number of derivative articles that would cite you would increase manyfold. The problem she mentioned is that, in certain cases, tens to hundreds to thousands of scientists could have input on a single paper. But, with newer technologies, this shouldn’t be a problem–one could simply utilize attribution tags of the power of search engines, etc.
In all, this is better for scientists and better for the world in general. Congress, by introducing that bill, is being really silly. And backwards. And potentially harmful to our scientific progress. If anything, they should expand the policy of open access to organizations like the National Science Foundation, which currently funds a lot (if not most?) of research. Unless this has already been done as per this recommendation.
This is the PS section. Basically, I wanted to either blog about this, the Google Book Search project, or the recent wikileaks posting. I’ll talk a little about the wikileaks posting. Notorious recently for posting Scientology documents and hacked pictures of Sarah Palin’s Yahoo account, the website just posted a billion dollars worth of Congressional Research Service reports. These reports, generated in secrecy (kinda) for Congress, are non-partisan, full of data, and in the public domain(!). However, because they’re generated for Congress, people don’t normally have access to them. Now they do. Hooray!