Talk:ResearchWorksAct

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[this is a stub for a page that is intended to help explain why we need the Research Works Act. I invite supporters and opponents to try to suss out the reasons there are for this anti-open-access bill, and in particular, to focus on the relationship that money has to this bill]

I'm first in here, so I'm going to muse about the bill briefly. Feel free to hash apart the below in pursuit of an argument.

  • The Research Works Act appears to be written using the perspective of IP protection from government intervention.
  • It omits mention of funding source for a projects that result in research works - which is often government monies
  • Hence, there is the potential for government to pay for research without the public reaping the benefits. Passage of this bill would enable, effectively, theft from the American people.
  • A long-term problem would be that, since the American people don't benefit from public investment in research, there could be politically strong conservative arguments against public research altogether. This could effectively end public research - which would be a tragedy for a country already struggling to maintain its relevance as a world leader in academia.

That's all I've got for the moment. Someone else take the wheel.

With regard to the last argument above ("A long-term problem..."), I think you're touching on a very important point. I'd go even further, however: many biomedical scientists are already getting a considerable percentage of their funding from non-governmental entities (mostly disease-oriented philanthropic organizations but, with increasing frequency, pharmaceutical and biotech companies). If current trends continue--as is likely because budget crises are eating into the federal and state grant monies available--within several years it will be considerably more difficult to argue that the majority of university research (biomedical, at least) is paid for by federal and state dollars. This entire situation points to how much ground academia has lost over the past few decades, and faculty in humanities departments are simply the canary in the coalmine: science is very much instrumentalized, viewed in terms of its ability to bring in money. Of course, Christopher Newfield and others have been explaining for some time that sponsored research produces net losses, not gains, for universities ([1]) .


Possible Arguments In Support of the Research Works Act (and their rebuttals)

  • Without a paid moderating force, it won't be curated or edited appropriately.
    • Counterexample: Wikipedia
    • Better counterexample: The PLoS journals. Founded in 2000 by Harold Varmus, Pat Brown, and Michael Eisen, PLoS (Public Library of Science, http://www.plos.org/) has been a leading force for Open Access. PLoS publications are widely respected among scientists and provide completely free access to all their publications.
    • Direct challenge to the claim: journals do not curate or edit manuscripts: they simply decide what deserves publication in their pages (merit having as much to do with name recognition of the lab and scientific fashion as anything else). The real work of ensuring quality takes place in the universities themselves, thanks to the legions of anonymous reviewers who point out flaws in experiments or reasoning and suggest improvements--all for free. The journals thus make money on the backs of already-over-taxed faculty members, who do not get remunerated for their reviewing or editorial duties. Furthermore, nearly all journals in the biomedical fields charge authors for publishing figures, especially color figures, sometimes as much as $1000 per figure. So not only have the scientists on the paper and their trainees spent thousands upon thousands of federal grant dollars over several years carefully gathering and evaluating data and packaging it into a manuscript, but then they have to pay the journal for the privilege of showing that data to the rest of the scientific world. Then the journal charges the university library those scientists rely on many thousands of dollars each year for a subscription to said journal.
  • Without a paid moderating force, there won't be a centralized search function or a citation standard.
    • Counterexample: Wikipedia
  • The federal government needs the revenues from selling the rights to this research to private foundations and/or the royalties from ongoing usage.
    • Counterargument: This research was paid for, in whole or in part, by American taxpayer money, and should therefore already belong to the American public.
    • Counterargument: Any taxes imposed on the moderating body (like Elsevier) will be passed along to the customer base as fees, resulting in higher costs to access and higher barriers to entry (resulting in this research being available only to well-funded individual and institutions).
  • The public doesn't use or understand research like this. Making it completely open would be like scattering fliers on the streets; it'll be ignored and rendered worthless. We need to control this research so we can ensure that it gets to parties who will actually use and benefit from it.
    • Smacks of medieval cloistering. Research and pharmaceutical industries will have no problems accessing and finding value in this data whether it costs them to access it or not.
    • This argument is akin to a priesthood fretting that the lay public won't know how to interpret scripture properly. In fact, the printing press opened the way for the Reformation, which was largely motivated by the corruption of the ecclesiastical structure of the Church of the day, and particularly the practice of indulgences. The parallel between indulgences and high journal subscription costs is made even more tantalizing by the egregiously corrupt relationship biomedical journals--particularly Elsevier--have with the pharmaceutical industry (see, for example, Harriet Washington's "Flacking for Big Pharma" [2]).

MalignantMouse 11:07, 17 January 2012 (EST)