Galactic Interactions

Fair use? If it benefits the progress of science or the dissemination of scientific knowledge, it really ought to be fair use, no matter what. But when it’s cropping out a piece of a figure for an illustration in an article about a scientific result, with that result fully cited, it fully is fair use, even under the shrinking domain that remains within USA copyright law. Alas, when you are an individual graduate student, and the entity asserting that you’re violating their copyright, knowledge that you are well within fair use is little comfort when you’re faced the travesty that is our civil justice system and the publishing company’s phalanx of lawyers.

Perhaps it is of some help if you have the entire blogosphere on your side, ridiculing the publishing company for their stupid assertion and generally heaping scorn on this company for their awful and borderline unethical behavior.

The situation is doubtless one you’re already well aware of as a scienceblogs reader. Science blogger Shelly Batts wrote a piece about a scientific paper that has been presented in the media as “alcohol is good for you.”. Shelly went and looked at the actual paper, looked at the results, and posted her own analysis. Unsurprisingly, things weren’t quite as clear cut as the media hype. Shelly’s take on it did not quite have the spin of the press releases put out by the publishers of the article. In her article, she used one panel of one figure from the paper.

The result? Shelly gets a lawyergram from Wiley insisting that she’s violated their copyright by reproducing their figure, and that she had better take down her post or face legal action.

Classic schoolyard bully behavior. What are you going to do? If you’re smart, you take it down quickly and avoid facing the legal wrath of a big company whose resources arefar beyond your own. Never mind that this amount of use was for Shelly’s own commentary and was well within the bounds of traditional copyright fair use. When you’re faced with a civil suit, it costs to defend yourself. Even if you’re in the right, you can be stuck when somebody with bigger lawyers comes threatening. This is part of the hidden danger of our current climate of intellectual property contro.l

The simple fact is that this is taxpayer funded research,and should be available for all to use. There shouldn’t even be the possibility of a commercial entity raising the specter of some intellectual property claim in order to squelch an article that is critical of the spin they’ve put on a scientific result. If this sort of thing happens, it can destroy science. Science depends on its results being distributed widely. It’s bad enough that taxpayer funded research is becoming the exclusive property of a censoring private commercial interest, but science simply does not work if people aren’t free to offer criticism of the work of other scientists.

Copyright maximalism in the USA is completely out of control at the moment. Too many people have this idea that copyright is a fundamental right on par with the right of free speech. Too many people are just accepting the claims of the music, movie, and publishing industries that copyright violation is a problem that needs to be dealt with harshly, and that requires stronger laws and protections. Too many people are likely to think that there is anything legitimate at all in Wiley sending out threatening letters like this. This behavior should be considered to be on par with any other corporate misdeed you read about in the newspapers.

Shame on you, Wiley. Shame on you, Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture. Shame on you both for allowing this sort of thing to happen while you claim to be representing the interests of a field of science.

And shame on all of the scientific establishment for allowing ourselves to become so dependent upon and beholden to commercial publishers. Their interests are not the interests of science. We’ve allowed them to have too much control over the dissemination of scientific results. I doubt Shelly’s experience is unique. This kind of crap is exactly the sort of thing you can expect from a commercial publisher which is hyper about intellectual property, and is exactly the sort of thing that represents a threat to the progress of science.

You go, Shelly. Stand up to the bastards.


  1. #1 Panya
    April 26, 2007

    Too many people have this idea that copyright is a fundamental right on par with the right of free speech.

    But … that doesn’t work!

    /fails 3 sanity rolls in a row and falls unconscious for 6d12 rounds

  2. #2 MartinM
    April 26, 2007

    While I don’t disagree with anything you say, it’s probably worth noting that Wiley is British.

  3. #3 Rob Knop
    April 26, 2007

    While I don’t disagree with anything you say, it’s probably worth noting that Wiley is British.

    Nuts. If it weren’t for the fact that our President is in bed with various parts of the copyright lobby, I’m sure he’d be eager to invade.

  4. #4 Marilyn
    April 26, 2007

    *** Multiple Articles ***
    During this century, science has greatly increased our knowledge of the natural world around us. Its telescopes have revealed the awesome wonders of the starry heavens, just as its microscopes have disclosed the amazing complexities of molecules and atoms. The marvels of design in plants and animals, the wisdom reflected in our own fearfully and wonderfully made bodies—this knowledge also comes to us through the discoveries of hardworking scientists. We are not unappreciative.
    But there is another side to science. Not all its practitioners measure up to the image of the objective, passionate pursuers of truth, regardless of where it might lead. There are too many scientists who select the material that supports their theory and discard what doesn’t. They report studies they have never made and experiments they have never performed, and they fake what they cannot establish. They plagiarize the writings of fellow scientists. Many claim authorship of articles they have never worked on and maybe have never even seen!
    Flagrant fraud may be rare, but some of the manipulating of data mentioned above is common. Even more common, however, are two additional kinds of fraud, both involving deceitful propaganda. The four articles that follow examine the problem.

    *** g90 1/22 p. 3 Fraud in Science—It Makes the Headlines ***
    The image of scientists as invariably dedicated to truth has been tarnished, as these headlined items show. ***
    “Ethics in Science”
    “A fight is building in the U.S. House of Representatives over fraud, misconduct, and conflict of interest in science.”—Science, July 7, 1989.
    “Two New Studies Ask Why Scientists Cheat”
    “It was an innocent enough question: how do scientists behave when no one is looking? But it has produced an incendiary answer: not too well, reports a paper this month in the British journal Nature.”—Newsweek, February 2, 1987.
    “The Case of the ‘Misplaced’ Fossils”
    “A prominent Australian scientist has examined two decades of work on ancient Himalayan geology and alleges it may be the greatest paleontological fraud of all time.”—Science, April 21, 1989.
    “Now It’s the Journals’ Turn on the Firing Line”
    “[He was speaking] specifically about how poorly many [science] journals have handled scientific fraud. . . . The same message previously dispatched to other members of the scientific community has now been addressed to the journals: clean up your act or you may find legislators getting into it.”—The AAAS Observer, July 7, 1989
    “Do Scientists Cheat?”
    “After the initial inquiry by this [congressional] committee into this subject, the committee has had growing reason to believe that we are only seeing the tip of a very unfortunate, dangerous, and important iceberg.”—NOVA broadcast on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) on October 25, 1988.
    *** w90 2/15 p. 28 Insight on the News ***
    “Hijacking Fossils”
    Under that title, the French daily Le Monde reported the case of a paleontologist in India who “for 20 years . . . apparently deceived his colleagues concerning the origin of fossils that he submitted to them for their appraisal.” It is claimed that the “hijacking” consisted of sending them fossils obtained in the United States, Africa, Czechoslovakia, and the British Isles, saying they had been discovered in the Himalaya Mountains. This scientist published his findings in over 300 articles. The fraud was brought to light by an Australian scientist via the British scientific journal Nature. He wondered ‘how it could be that such a large quantity of doubtful findings remained unchallenged for such a long time.’
    One possible reason, according to Le Monde, was the law of silence heeded by many members of the scientific community. The article noted that this fossil “hijacking” has “made useless practically all the facts accumulated [over the past 20 years] on the geology of the Himalayas.”
    Obviously, this new case of fraud in science does not cast doubt on the entire scientific world. It does, however, provide further evidence that arguments of paleontology when pitted against the unfailing accuracy of the Bible record are often nothing more than what the apostle Paul called “the contradictions of the ‘knowledge’ which is not knowledge at all.”—1 Timothy 6:20, The New Jerusalem Bible.

    ***Fraud in Science—Why It’s on the Increase
    “THE competition is savage. Winners reap monumental rewards; losers face oblivion. It’s an atmosphere in which an illicit shortcut is sometimes irresistible—not least because the Establishment is frequently squeamish about confronting wrongdoing.” So opened the article “Publish or Perish—or Fake It” in U.S.News & World Report. To escape perishing, many scientific researchers are faking it.
    The pressure on scientists to publish in scientific journals is overwhelming. The longer the list of published papers to the researcher’s name, the better his chances for employment, promotion, tenure in a university, and government grants to finance his research. The federal government “controls the largest source of research funding, $5.6 [thousand million] a year from the National Institutes of Health.”
    Because “the scientific community shows little stomach for confronting its ethical dilemma,” “has been strangely reluctant to probe too deeply for hard data about its ethical conduct,” and “isn’t keen about cleaning house or even looking closely for malfeasance,” congressional committees have held hearings and considered legislation to do the job of policing for them. (New Scientist; U.S.News & World Report) This prospect wrings from scientists much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Yet, one science journal asks and answers the question: “Is the house of science clean and in order? The bit of evidence that reaches the public invites serious doubts.”
    Some researchers eliminate data that does not support what they want to prove (called cooking); report more tests or trials than were actually run (called trimming); appropriate for their own use data or ideas of other researchers (called plagiarism); and make up experiments or data they never performed or produced (called forging). A cartoon in a science journal poked fun at this last tactic, one scientist talking to another and saying of a third: ‘He’s published a lot since he took up that creative writing course.’
    “What’s the major product of scientific research these days? Answer: Paper,” U.S.News & World Report said. “Hundreds of new journals are being founded each year to handle the flood of research papers cranked out by scientists who know that the road to academic success is a long list of articles to their credit.” Quantity, not quality, is the goal. Forty thousand journals published yearly produce a million articles, and part of this flood “is symptomatic of fundamental ills, including a publish-or-perish ethic among researchers that is stronger now than ever and encourages shoddy, repetitive, useless or even fraudulent work.”


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