Wednesday, November 23, 2005

SciPolicy: The Journal of Science and Health Policy

*Public Service Announcement*

The above journal has decided to go free access and all their articles are now free online. I have no actively perused their articles and editorials as yet, but from their amicus brief they filed on behalf on the plaintiff's in the Dover Case to prevent ID from being taught by stealth in the classroom, it looks very promising. Besides, free peer reviewed papers are never a bad thing.

But there is a larger conflict being fought with regards to these journals between the researchers/scientist, and the journals and the people who fund them (either taxpayer or corporations). And the issue at its heart is about IP and who gets access to the information and at what rates (whether money or time).

The general situation right now is that these journals solicit papers from scientist who are normally very willing to submit them for free because getting published by a reputable peer-reviewed journal pads your resume, gets your research out and gives you bragging rights and the occassional prize. But in turn the journal charges insane rates to anyone who wants to access them. But given that the writers don't get any payoffs (well I heard they get a free copy of the issue they are published in) and the research monies tend to be from the public in the first place, I think there is a very strong prima facie presumption that the information ought to be public domain in the first place and the journals ought not to be profiting from it.

At the same time, these journals do do valuable work in consolidating the material, sending them off for peer review, publishing them and maintaining the online database etc., which is primarily funded from the profits they make. Thus, public domain or not, they do have a right to IP.

So perhaps a compromise could be worked out whereby subscribers pay a premium for early exclusive access (say about six months) following which the information becomes public domain and available free to the public.

It's not just information for information sake. The public has a right to see the fruits of their research in one sense. But also, given the current cultural wars and the political war being waged on science (Conservatives/Republicans being the more egregrious side on almost every issue but the Democrats and certain Liberals have also played up the benefits of stem-cell research), it would not hurt for access to the papers they cite to be made more readily available to the public for scrutiny and review.

The other battle being fought is of course corporate sponsored research and the right fo the paymaster to restrict access and availability of the information. The public domain argument gets a little more strained but still, there is never novel research because all information is built upon prior facts, data and research (which is an argument that Nobel Prize Winners are simply lucky to be favour over the people without which their discoveries would have been impossible). As such, they do not have an absolute right to the information and research. In the commerical media world, the 'compromise' is that the length of the copyright would last for the author's life + 70 years. Patents for 25. I'm not entirely certain what the general situation for this area is but from what I remember from the Economist, the trend is for such information to be released earlier and more completely.

Regardless, there's free data if you click the link. So go read!




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