I Got A Letter From The White House...
    By Hank Campbell | February 25th 2013 01:42 PM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
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    Because I signed a petition asking for increased open access of studies, I got an email from White House Science Czar Dr. John Holdren today - don't get excited, after all of the mean things I have said about him he is not suddenly writing me personally, it was a mass email - saying they had 'listened' and were making some changes, a letter we all knew was coming.

    It reads, in part:   

    "To that end, I have issued a memorandum today (.pdf) to Federal agencies that directs those with more than $100 million in research and development expenditures to develop plans to make the results of federally-funded research publically available free of charge within 12 months after original publication. As you pointed out, the public access policy adopted by the National Institutes of Health has been a great success. And while this new policy call does not insist that every agency copy the NIH approach exactly, it does ensure that similar policies will appear across government."

    Now, a lot of people think this is a cop out.  Where have they been for the last few years?  When the law to make NIH studies open access was under attack, in summer of 2008, there was one science site that noted the Big Elephant In The Room - namely, that Demcrats were the ones trying to kill it. While the rest of science media was gushing about how anti-science Republicans are and how Senator Obama would heal the planet, they couldn't be bothered to notice the "D" in front of the name of House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, who was leading the charge against open access. 

    Some scientists and science media pundits are complaining about this, but about what, exactly?  This is a big improvement over just NIH studies being open access or, if Democrats had been able to steam roll NIH leader Elias Zerhouni in 2008, nothing being open access.  This is a win.

    If all taxpayer-funded studies should be published 'free' then open access is clearly only a half step - I have long endorsed Open Publication, where no one has to pay a fee of any kind. Either I would do it or the government could do it and charge no one anything. The reason is that replacing a subscription journal that charges taxpayers to read with a journal that charges taxpayers to publish is no great improvement, though it is an improvement. But you can bet if the government floats the idea of creating a repository for all science where researchers can post it free of charge, the open access publishers taking in tens of millions of dollars are going to be writing campaign donation checks to sympathetic members of Congress, arguing that they perform some valuable function to science by having an editor checking some boxes on a form and collecting a thousand bucks in taxpayer money for 'peer review' they somehow do.

    The same way print journals argue about their value to science right now.  

    The same point I made early in 2008 is still true today; the best friend of the open access community in the US is actually the Republican party - they want transparency and access, including in science research. But to get them to listen means science has to shuck off the 'Republicans hate science' feel-good fallacy.


    If open-access is forced upon federally-funded research, do you think the peer review process will be preserved? I wonder how impact factors and H-indexes will change. There's a lot of complications to consider before forcing researchers to publish in open-access journals.

    I think peer review will go up. Science 2.0 was successful early on because it was not corporate media, nor was it controlled by the government. Peer reviewers work for nothing and they know they are working for billion-dollar corporations. Some who wouldn't do that migrated to open access but now those are businesses are tens of millions of dollars and looking pretty corporate. But a government repository where no one gets paid or, if I did open publication I would pay everyone - reviewers, authors, etc. - means a lot more people would be inclined to do peer review.

    Everyone says impact factor is no issue - except for someone else. So if it's not an issue for 90% of researchers, that eliminates the only argument that pay-to-publish and pay-to-read companies use in their 'value added' claims.
    Dear Hank

    Thank you for remembering the 2008 congressional hearings and battle for open access. I indeed had to fight for 3 years to keep the open access policy at NIH primarily against large publishers and their lobbyists.
    You should know however that the attempt to defeat the policy was a bipartisan effort led by Mr Conyers indeed but also by' others including inside the republican administration. The person who personally intervened to help me and should be mainly credited for the policy remaining in force at NIH and preventing the "steamroll" was also a democrat: Mr David Obey then chair of appropriations. ( and a few others from both parties)
    It goes to show that special interests have access to bipartisan support in most cases. The new policy is a good advance nonetheless i feel.
    Eias Zerhouni
    Former NIH director