SciencePunk

This entry is part of the Science and the European Election series, a collaboration between SciencePunk and the Lay Scientist blog to encourage public discussion of the science policies of the major parties standing at the forthcoming European elections.

Although the EU distributes billions in research funding, the results are often locked in pay-for-access journals. How will you improve open access to publicly-funded research findings?


Tim Worstall, UKIP:

A typical result of the EU’s misguided thinking. Public subsidies for research are justified on the basis that science itself is a public good. If the results are locked away in pay for access journals then those results are not in fact public goods (for the obvious reason that they are excludable). Billions spent in failing to reach the objective: very European Union that. The obvious answer is that those so incompetent should no longer be in charge of distributing the billions in the first place. But then we in UKIP are prone to making that argument, it is true.

Scott Redding, the Green Party:

Freedom to information is a vital component in any democracy. I would work with colleagues to open access – particularly for research that has been funded by the taxpayer.

Euan Roddin, the Liberal Democrats:

The same point could be made about UK Government funded research. But the fact that research is published in journals which have to purchased (not unreasonably, to cover their costs) rather than being free does not in practice constitute much of a barrier – in these days of online discussion any matter of particular interest or controversy very quickly moves into the free public domain.

Ann Rossiter, the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills (via the Labour Press Office):

The Government’s aim is to facilitate a level playing field to enable the market to develop without any institutional barriers being put in the way of any particular publishing model and to support the best scientific outputs.

DIUS looks to Research Councils UK (RCUK) to provide the lead in this area and their guiding principles are that publicly funded research must be made available and accessible for public examination as rapidly as practical.

This question is perhaps a little more unexpected for our candidates, but it’s an issue that’s central to science and how well research findings find their way into practical applications. Cutting edge research into tropical diseases is failing to make an impact where it is needed most because often health workers in the developing world cannot afford the journals it is published in. Similarly, the costs of publishing can be a barrier to the dissemination of successful local initiatives and research. Euan Robbin of the Lib Dems misses the beat on this slightly – quite often important research isn’t moving into the pubic domain. There are a myriad of different publishing models for scientific research – it’s high time we had a discussion on which is best for publicly-funded research.

Comments

  1. #1 Valueaddedwater
    June 1, 2009

    Euan Robbin (Or is it Roddin) of the Lib Dems Seems to think that we all work in Universities, and have site wide access.
    “does not in practice constitute much of a barrier”.

    Yes it DOES Euan. As part of my job, I have to assemble responses to scientific literature, and how it effects my business very quickly. I cannot afford £30 pay per view, PER ARTICLE.
    If I the Tax Payer pay for the research, I the Tax payer should be able to get free online access. As they do in the states.
    Obviously the Lib-Dems have paid researchers.

    (On expenses Natch)

    (But at least he replied, unlike the tories)

  2. #2 gimpy
    June 1, 2009

    Blimey, Tim Worstall is a bit obsessed with blaming the EU for everything. The reason why journals are not always publicly available is due to the nature of capitalism, publishers have to profit. For an arch capitalist such as Worstall to suggest that maybe the EU, a public institution, should subsidise an industry to make it’s endeavour free is a little hypocritical. Or maybe I’ve misinterpreted him, and he’s just blindly flailing and railing against the EU.

  3. #3 Julius
    June 2, 2009

    gimpy, obsessively blaming the EU for everything is just UKIP in a nutshell, isn’t it? And he doesn’t seem to be suggesting that the EU should subsidise this industry, he seems to be saying that the EU shouldn’t be funding any research at all. Completely failing to answer the actual question, as well.

  4. #4 villain?
    June 2, 2009

    Hi there
    I actually work for a (society) journal publisher. Some of our stuff is open access, some of it isn’t. Some of it is also available free or low-cost in developing countries via HINARI (http://www.who.int/hinari/en/), though you may wish to wonder why some low-income countries are excluded.
    Many of us would love to make all our content free, even if it meant membership of our society (featuring free journal access) became less attractive. However, we do have significant costs to cover (editors, meetings, submissions handling, peer review, hosting, printing – yes we still do – and mailing, proofreading of manuscripts, technical drawing, web hosting), and any profit we do manage to make goes into funding fellowships and other non-profitable activities. And you might be aware that ad revenue is tanking at the moment.
    There does need to be an alternative funding model, but what? Funding body pays? (And, potentially, the richest funders get the most publications.) Some kind of global fund? (Paid for by…) And how do any of these models work without pouring public money into the pockets of the big publishers?
    All answers welcome (so long as I get to keep my job)

  5. #5 Valueaddedwater
    June 2, 2009

    Hi Villian, nice to have some feedback from the other side of the fence.
    I accept that you are not a charity, but I will raise a few points that I feel strongly about regarding the current model, Prehaps you could furnish us with your perspective?

    Certainly online access at present is not great. 90+% is paywalled, even material that in theory is way past copyright. This is to me unacceptable, as this is not cutting edge stuff, that has a premium attached, it is stuff that should be readily available. An analogy is saying that the works of Shakespeare can only be viewed paywalled.
    Also the cost. Often from an abstract, you cannot tell if a paper is worth the time or relevant. To pay £30 for a PDF, is excessive, especially as the costs of online publishing are per unit not great.
    I would suggest (prehaps as a national or EU project) that papers over a certain age be available online from an agency outside the publishers. This would release them from the costs of maintaining an archive, whilst allowing them to concentrate on making money on current stuff.
    A good example of this is Espacenet. Run by the patent offices across the EU, it is the best worldwide resource of patent information I know, as it handles not just EU patents, but US, Japan, China etc etc. It beats the USPTO version hands down in both user friendliness, and completeness.
    Just a thought

  6. #6 villain?
    June 3, 2009

    Hi there VAW
    Thanks for the response. First – you are right. Science should be as free to the consumer as possible. In fact, scrub the ‘as’ parts.
    I like your idea of the independent online depository – perhaps an extension of pubmedcentral? It would be particularly handy for us, as we make old stuff free after 18 months on our paid-for sites. And I hate it when companies don’t. There really is very little excuse.
    I also agree that one-off access is a rip-off, in pretty much every case. There are parallels with the high cost of software – it’s probably easier to charge a few people a lot than to work out how to make sure everyone pays a little.
    Sooner or later, the likes of PLoS and so on are going to force us all to rethink our models. And there are, almost definitely, less expensive ways of publishing all the science that needs publishing, with an acceptable degree of rigour. That might mean more use of volunteers, less remuneration for reviewers and editors, outsourcing of editorial office functions to low-cost countries (we do a lot of our typesetting in China), finally ditching paper or even just cutting out some of the gloss (fancy websites, re-drawn figures). Or maybe it will be something even more radical. I look forward to it with interest and nerves. I’m quite an expensive part of the process…
    Love the Espacenet thing by the way. Particularly their competitions. Now if only EUdraCT can get its act together on making public clinical trials.
    All the above is, of course, my personal view – anecdotal evidence at best. . .