Information must be free

My little trip distracted me with the perfect timing to miss the amazing fair-use flare-up — I’m back just in time to catch the happy resolution. I guess I’ll say something anyway, but I’ll be brief.

The general question is whether blogs should be restrained from using figures and data published in scientific journals. My position is that we should use them — scientific information should be freely and widely disseminated, anything else is antithetical to the advancement of science. The only constraints I think are fair is that all material taken from a journal should be acknowledged and formally cited, and that dumping whole articles to the web should not be done. It wouldn’t be appropriate for our audiences anyway; we should be explaining and synthesizing, not blindly replicating.

I’m glad it has blown over for now, at least. Let’s hope journals continue to be sensible about letting blogs excerpt portions of published work—they have a specialized audience, we have a more general audience, and we hope that blogging about science will lead to more scientists, which will increase the market for the science journals. Everyone will be happy!


  1. #1 Torbjörn Larsson
    April 26, 2007

    the entity that owns the copyright for the work

    I don’t know if copyright ever made sense for scientific material. Science has other systems (review and slander ;-) that prohibits outright copy theft.

    Online open-access journal PLoS has an interesting copyright:

    Upon submission of an article, authors are asked to indicate their agreement to abide by an open-access license. The license permits any user to download, print out, extract, archive, and distribute the article, so long as appropriate credit is given to the authors and source of the work. The license ensures that your article will be as widely available as possible and that your article can be included in any scientific archive.

    This goes beyond PZ’s sound recommendations on replication, but I think “distribute” encompass linking here.

    Hopefully the lither forms of online journals, archives and copyleft will diminish the old mammoth publishers. This incident shows one reason why it would be good.

    Still another 18 years to go before you can read work from this ‘Albert Einstein’ guy for free.

    Good argument, bad example. AE’s original papers are available at Einstein Archives Online and Einstein Papers Porject.

    The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein is one of the most ambitious publishing ventures ever undertaken in the documentation of the history of science. Selected from among more than 40,000 documents contained in the personal collection of Albert Einstein (1879-1955), and 15,000 Einstein and Einstein-related documents discovered by the editors since the beginning of the Einstein Project, The Collected Papers provide the first complete picture of a massive written legacy that ranges from Einstein’s first work on the special and general theories of relativity and the origins of quantum theory, to expressions of his profound concern with civil liberties, education, Zionism, pacifism, and disarmament.

    The series will contain over 14,000 documents and will fill twenty-five volumes. [Bold added].

    I haven’t checked, but I believe his papers from his “miracle year” has been available online for a while.

  2. #2 David Marjanovi?
    April 27, 2007

    However, Abel at Terra Sigilla mentioned getting tagged for $650 fee, for just one figure.

    We just paid 900 $ for a color figure in Systematic Biology.

    dynaboy: Spoken like a true libertarian!

    Maybe, maybe not. Spoken like one who has never tried to publish a scientific article.

    If you truly want to bury any paper- publish it in an Elsevier journal. No-one will read it, your institution probably won’t have an electronic copy- or if they do, the Elsevier websites are so bad you’ll never be able to find it.

    The universities I know have online subscriptions to most Elsevier journals, and I’ve downloaded lots of papers that way. Where is “your institution”?

    Now, if you want to bury a paper, publish it in any language other than English in the in-house publication of some small local museum. Even the publications of medium-sized regional US museums can be quite hard to get.

    For those crying out loud, haven’t you guys heard about preprint servers?

    Heard we have. There simply is no preprint server in biology.

    I don’t see any reason why peer review and publication can’t be done via the Internet.

    Indeed it can be.

    The Faustian bargain: your copyright for tenure

    Very well said.