Sunday, March 08, 2009

Oh, look, a really stupid DEMOCRAT!

Rep. Conyers wants science to be secret… or you will pay | Bad Astronomy | Discover Magazine

Recently, government-sponsored agencies like NIH have moved toward open access of scientific findings. That is, the results are published where anyone can see them, and in fact (for the NIH) after 12 months the papers must be publicly accessible. This is, in my opinion (and that of a lot of others, including a pile of Nobel laureates) a good thing. Astronomers, for example, almost always post their papers on Astro-ph, a place where journal-accepted papers can be accessed before they are published.

John Conyers (D-MI) apparently has a problem with this. He is pushing a bill through Congress that will literally ban the open access of these papers, forcing scientists to only publish in journals. This may not sound like a big deal, but journals are very expensive. They can cost a fortune: The Astrophysical Journal costs over $2000/year, and they charge scientists to publish in them! So this bill would force scientists to spend money to publish, and force you to spend money to read them.

Why would Conyers do this? Interestingly, if you look at the bill sponsors, you find that they received twice as much money on average in donations from journal publishers than Congresscritters who don’t sponsor the bill — though to be fair, the total amount is not large. Still, Conyers got 4 times as much.


This amounts to a huge "science tax." It also forces everyone through editorial choke points. I'm all for peer-reviewed science - but not at all for a journal getting to decide whether or not an idea deserves peer review. Considering how often science, business and government become entangled, it is to be assumed that editors will have inherent conflicts of interest - aside from purely disciplinary biasas - that put the question to objectivity.

Therefore, a rich variety of alternate means of discussion is vital to a vibrant and productive scientific community, particularly in areas where political interference is not just possible, but probable.

Frankly, I see no particular way in which traditional journal publication is inherently superior to simply dumping an article onto the web for open examination - and the reaction there will certainly refine anything worth refining.

Let us also remember that science is not the exclusive province of the purely academic community. Anyone willing to do the work to accepted standards and present results so that they may be reviewed and replicated should be able to do so. After all, the costs of internet publication are negligible - as opposed to traditional journals - which are anything but. Indeed, the costs of the literature is one of the most significant barriers to participation in any given field, limiting it to the wealthy or those with access to a good academic library.

There is a great deal of science that is not being done because there is no money to do it- and some evident reluctance to allow anything done outside of accepted circles to be granted any attention.

I concur with the author that this is a damn stupid idea - and one that will impose obvious disincentives to people wishing to do serious science in the United States.

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