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      One of the most amusing things about the 07/8 primary season was how often Obama praised Reagan and how few people took him seriously. Obama thought Reagan was great, and said so repeatedly. “He put us on a fundamentally different path because the country was ready for it. I think they felt like, you know, […]
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Occupy Congress: You had to be there

Marsha found this video.  We scheduled a meeting for several hours while some of the marches happened.

Great video.  The music is The Funeral by Band of Horses.

 

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Thursday Morning Vamp and the Research Work Act Atrocity

Some interesting stuff to read while I get my s%^& together.

Happy Anniversary to us!  Yesterday, The Confluence turned 4.  This blog began as a refuge in the Oort belt of the blogosphere from the rampant Obamaism on DailyKos in mid-January 2008.  I was thrown out of DailyKos for being insufficiently programmable, wrote a polite note of thanks to Kos for all the good times and found my way to WordPress.  Never regretted it.  We would like to thank you for all for your friendship through the last four turbulent years.  We’ve had our ups, downs, layoffs and controversies but we’re still here.  And some of you are still reading, which either makes you dedicated friends or seriously nutz.  Or both.  During this election year, let’s try to break the 12,000,000 unique page hits milestone and not back down for a moment.  Consider this one of the few places on the web where you can feel safe to be unpopular.  Resistance is not useless.  You will not be assimilated.

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Back to the topic of scientific literature.  If you read my last post on the subject and the potentially negative impact SOPA would have on access to scientific literature, you will have learned that the bozos at ACS charge $30.00 a pop for a single paper.  By the way, I just have to take a moment here and point out that scientists get the shaft when it comes to earning money from their own discoveries.  No, companies and governmental entities that hand out grant money act like they’re doing you a favor by giving you money to live on.  Scientists who work for corporations sell their patents to that corporation for a token amount, typically $1.  If the company can successfully navigate the FDA to get approval, that patent could be worth billions.  And, ya’ know, for many years, I thought this was a fair arrangement.  Research is expensive and it’s great to work for a company that foots the bills in terms of lab space, reagents and software licences.  But then they started laying us off when the drugs couldn’t meet the FDA’s increasingly high standards or navigate the political and legal landscapes.  Suddenly, it’s OUR fault that the drugs aren’t perfect as if we have any control over every rebellious cell in the human body.  But whatever.  When scientists who have made a company billions on patents that we sold them for a buck are laid off, we’re going to start to wonder what’s in it for us in future negotiations.  And that, my friends, is a bad development.  But we have to eat too and now that so many of us are unemployed, our overhead costs for staying in science are exponentially increased.  Someone has to pay for that.  Why should we live in poverty while the MBAs live off the products of our creativity?

Anyway, the latest shameful maneuver is from scientific literature publishers like the Wiley and Elsevier.  They want the passage of a bill called, Research Works Act.  Derek Lowe at In the Pipeline sums up what is starting to feel very much like righteous indignation:

Back in December, a short bill was introduced in the House called the “Research Works Act“. Its backers, Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), describe it as something that will maintain the US’s standing in scientific publishing. After looking over its language and reading a number of commentaries on it, I have to disagree: this looks to me like shameless rent-seeking by the commercial scientific publishers.

And it pains me to say that, because I know several people in that business. But it’s a business whose long-term model has problems. (See the Addendum below if you’re not in the field and want a brief summary of how scientific publishing works). The problem is, the work of the editorial staff has changed a good deal over the years. Back when everyone sent in hard copies of papers, in who knows what sort of format, there was a good deal of work to do just turning the good ones into a consistent journal. Electronic submission has ironed a lot of the grunt work out – it’s still work, but it’s not what it used to be.

That leaves the higher editorial functions themselves, and here’s where the arguing starts. Most, and in some cases all editing of content is done by unpaid peer reviewers. There are journals whose editors exist mainly to keep the flow of submissions moving to the reviewers, and from them back into the official journal, while hardly ever laying a finger on the copy itself. They function as Peer Review Mailroom Managers. And while that’s a necessary job, it’s the center of the argument about scientific publishing today. How much, exactly, is it worth?

Scientific journal are expensive. I mean, really, really expensive to subscribe to. And if you’re not a subscriber, access to individual papers is pretty steep, too – typically in the $15 to $50 range. This is the business model for commercial scientific publishing: create a space with value (reputation, name recognition) and charge the maximum that that traffic will bear. And that’s fine; there are a lot of businesses that work the same way – if they can.

The problem is, the information-sharing capabilities of the Internet blow a large hole in some of the traditional publishing model. And another problem is that a large number of papers that come into the journals from US academic researchers have had some (or all) of that work paid for by government grants (NIH, NSF, DOE and so on). As it stands, articles funded by the NIH are available in PubMed Central for free access, no later (by law) than 12 months from the initial journal publication. Researchers can also submit their work to “open access” journals (such as those from the Public Library of Science), which charge a fee to authors to defray editorial costs, but then allow immediate unlimited access to all comers once a paper is accepted. (I should note that some commercial journals get away with “page charges” as well, and some have a model where the authors can pay extra to bring their paper out from behind the paywall).

And here’s where we have the Research Works Act. It would forbid any publication in an open access journal for anything funded in academia by US government grants, and it would forbid any public-access repository for such work. That’s its purpose. Well, to be more accurate, its purpose, as described by the head of the Association of American Publishers, is that it “ensures the sustainability of the industry”. Yep, make my business model part of statutory law, and beggar my competition: what else is a government for, anyway?

Read Derek’s update on this subject too.  He reports that the journal Nature, has come out against RWA.  Nature is one of the most prestigious journals and I am really happy to hear this.  In short, Derek thinks that like the major media conglomerates who are pushing for SOPA and PIPA, the science journal giants are stubbornly refusing to evolve and change their business model, forcing us to pay high rates for content that they get for free.  Without access to papers at a reasonable price, these journal giants will fail and for the scientific community, that’s probably a good thing.  Liberate the discoveries!  We don’t need no stinkin’ RWA to prop the greedy journal companies if they won’t accomodate us.

So, to recap: Corporations are actively destroying their research units, leaving about a hundred thousand scientists without careers and fending for themselves in little startup companies with extremely high overhead costs.  They need to have access to scientific literature in order to just stay alive.  You can’t do science without them.  And along come the big science journal publishers who want to keep their current business model, charging high licensing and subscription fees or $30 a paper on average for papers that were sent to them at no charge.  Yes, friends, you could be charged $30 for the privilege of downloading your own paper.  But wait!  There’s more.  It’s not good enough that they have exclusive access to the papers in their own journals that they can charge outrageous fees for.  NOW they want the government to stop providing free public access to scientific papers that were the result of NIH research grants.  Yes, Wiley, Elsivier and the ACS want to make sure that no one gets access to the science that you the taxpayer have already paid for unless they pay an exorbitant download fees.

I’m really shocked to find that Carolyn Maloney is co-sponsor to this atrocity.  If she doesn’t know what she is doing to the poor (and I mean that literally) scientists out there, someone should tell her.  She may be one of the persons who is going to set American research, what little is left of it, back even further.  We simply can not afford to keep paying through the nose for literature, especially for information we have already paid for.

She should be ashamed.  And this topic deserves as much attention as SOPA, PIPA and NDAA.  It’s outrageous that science that you have already paid for is going to be held hostage behind a paywall.  We may need an Occupy Science working group to look into this.