Science Publishers vs Scientists →

Are academic publishers the enemies of science? That’s what a recent Guardian headline says.

At issue for critics is a publisher-backed bill in the US Congress called the The Research Works Act. The bill would give publishers increased copyright control over publicly financed research and the papers and data that come from it.

Via the Guardian:

The USA’s main funding agency for health-related research is the National Institutes of Health, with a $30bn annual budget. The NIH has a public access policy that says taxpayer-funded research must be freely accessible online. This means that members of the public, having paid once to have the research done, don’t have to pay for it again when they read it – a wholly reasonable policy, and one with enormous humanitarian implications because it means the results of medical research are made freely available around the world…

…But what’s good for science isn’t necessarily good for science publishers, whose interests have drifted far out of alignment with ours. Under the old model, publishers become the owners of the papers they publish, holding the copyright and selling copies around the world – a useful service in pre-internet days. But now that it’s a trivial undertaking to make a paper globally available, there is no reason why scientists need yield copyright to publishers.

And so we turn our sites over to the New York Times as they profile the “open science” movement that bypasses the traditional academic publishing workflow in favor of releasing research on various sites for early and immediate peer review and distribution:

Dr. [Michael] Nielsen and other advocates for “open science” say science can accomplish much more, much faster, in an environment of friction-free collaboration over the Internet. And despite a host of obstacles, including the skepticism of many established scientists, their ideas are gaining traction.

Open-access archives and journals like arXiv and the Public Library of Science (PLoS) have sprung up in recent years. GalaxyZoo, a citizen-science site, has classified millions of objects in space, discovering characteristics that have led to a raft of scientific papers.

On the collaborative blog MathOverflow, mathematicians earn reputation points for contributing to solutions; in another math experiment dubbed the Polymath Project, mathematicians commenting on the Fields medalist Timothy Gower’s blog in 2009 found a new proof for a particularly complicated theorem in just six weeks.

And a social networking site called ResearchGate — where scientists can answer one another’s questions, share papers and find collaborators — is rapidly gaining popularity.

If open science sounds a lot like open source, I think that’s part of the point. Online collaboration and peer production disrupts a legacy industry while simultaneously launching something new. To date, venture capital from the same funders of Facebook, Twitter and eBay is beginning to fund these projects, according to the Times.

Both articles are well worth the read. And if you happen to be in North Carolina, the sixth annual ScienceOnline Conference kicks off Thursday at North Carolina State University

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