From containers to service providers

Andrew Albanese, Institutional Repositories: Thinking Beyond the Box, Library Journal, March 1, 2009.  Excerpt:

In February 2008, the faculty of Arts and Sciences at Harvard University made history, unanimously passing a revolutionary open access mandate that, for the first time [in the US], would require faculty to give the university copies of their research, along with a nonexclusive license to distribute them electronically….

If Harvard’s vision portended a major role for IRs in the future, the reality today is that IRs remain largely empty, ineffective, and hobbled by everything from questions over their mission to lagging technology to the lack of meaningful institutional engagement. If they are to succeed as Harvard envisions, the next generation of IRs will require something of a reinventionâ??and a significantly higher level of institutional commitment. That will be no easy feat, given the current economic collapse, organized publisher resistance, institutional dysfunction, rapidly changing technology, and, most beguiling, the lingering confusion about exactly what IRs are and what they can â??and shouldâ?? do….

IRs have failed to catch on for a multitude of reasons, explains [Caveat Lector blogger Dorothea Salo], not the least of which is that the first generation was hopelessly passive about their collection activities….

If librarians have learned anything from the failure of IRs thus far, it is that â??build it and they will comeâ? is not a viable collection strategy, nor any way to foster the digital library of the future. The next wave of IRs, she stresses, must be reimagined around specific services that have value to faculty and can be marketed to them â??and supported by an administrative mandate….

â??Some IRs opened in the last year to 18 months are avoiding their predecessors’ mistakes,â? Salo says, â??and in that I see the stirrings of hope.â?

The University of Missouri, for example, recently launched its MOSpace repository, with librarians actively soliciting and depositing materials for faculty, thus increasing their authors’ web profiles….

At the University of California (UC), California Digital Library’s (CDL) eScholarship repository has, in the words of a recent Association of Research Libraries task force report, been â??unusuallyâ? successful.

â??I find the term successful fascinating when used around institutional repositories,â? says eScholarship Publishing Group director Catherine Mitchell. â??How do you even measure success with a repository? We have about 26,000 full-text objects in our repository. But our faculty produce 26,000 objects every year. By that measure, our numbers do not suggest we’ve done a good job integrating the repository into the scholarly workflow at UC.â?

UC is now embarking upon an initiative to establish more deeply the eScholarship repository as a suite of publishing servicesâ??not an alternative publishing system, although it is open access and is alternativeâ??but, just simply, a better one….

â??It’s hard to make the case for institutional repositories to faculty,â? Mitchell says. â??We’ve decided we don’t even want to try.â? In fact, eScholarship officials are so wary of the antipathy faculty seem to feel toward institutional repositories, they are planning to ditch the term entirely.

That’s just fine with Salo….â??It’s not about ‘the box’ any more. We can’t be talking about the boxâ??we need to focus on all the stuff that can be in the box and the services we can offer [to faculty].â? …

[CNI’s Clifford Lynch] says,…â??I think the big, important mission for institutional repositories revolves around preserving access to underlying data and things that don’t look very much like traditional publishing,â? he says. â??Open access is an important discussion,â? he adds, but only a small slice of the role repositories must play.

â??The monster I see coming,â? Lynch says, â??is that funding agencies, like the [National Science Foundation], [National Institutes of Health], or [Andrew W.] Mellon [Foundation], are recognizing that data is an important asset that they fund and are starting to get more formal about what’s going to happen to that data, where it will be preserved, where it is going to be put. As this rolls forward, faculty will want help from their institutions in satisfying the requirements of their funding organizations. Well-designed institutional repository services can be the answer there.â?

If Lynch is â??queasy,â? it’s because he questions whether institutions â??in particular, librariesâ?? are biting off more than they can chew and swallow by conflating IRs with an alternative publishing mission….

Salo doesn’t necessarily disagree with Lynch. IRs can â??and shouldâ?? serve as places for faculty to preserve and access all kinds of data. She came to IRs through the OA movement, however, and, given her experience, sees wisdom in repositories retrenching around meaningful publishing services. â??It is a legitimate decision,â? she says. â??Sitting around and waiting for stuff to come in is not working, so becoming a publisher, offering services, and going out and getting this stuff make perfect sense.â? …

In his opening keynote at the 2008 SPARC Digital Repositories Meeting in Baltimore, John Wilbanks, director of Science Commons, spoke about what would move IRs forward: incentives….

Salo says there are openings for IRs to make big strides in the coming years. â??The key stumbling blocks,â? she says, â??are resources and will.â?

Looking at citations from, rather than to, OA journals

Fredrik Ã?ström, Citation patterns in open access journals, and the National Library of Sweden, undated but apparently February 25, 2009.  (Thanks to Jan Hagerlid.)  Abstract:  

Introduction. Along with the great expansion of research being published in Open Access (OA) journals over the last decade, the interest for analysing the OA literature using informetric methods has also increased. Most studies have focused on the citation impact of OA journals and whether OA publishing increases the chances of a research publication being cited. Fewer analyses, however, have investigated whether OA and non-OA journals in the same research fields are citing the same literature; and to what extent this reflects whether it is the same kind (and thus comparable) research that is published in the two forms of scholarly publications.

Method. The analyses were performed on articles from 45 journals in five different fields: three OA journals, three non-OA and a control set of three more non-OA journals. The citation structures in the journals were analysed through MDS maps building on co-citation analyses, as well as a more thorough comparison investigating overlaps of cited authors and journals between the different journals.

Results. The results are not unambiguous: in biology and biotechnology there are signs of differences of research orientation in-between journals, however not related to whether the journals are OA or non-OA publications; whereas genetics and microbiology show a strong core of journals and authors being cited by all journals. Yet another pattern is found when analysing zoology, where the separation of research areas within the field seems more dependent on whether research was published OA or non-OA.

Conclusions. The results of the analyses suggests that it is hard to draw any overall conclusions on the matter of whether research published in OA journals is likely to have a larger citation impact or not. The differences between research fields are simply too substantial to make any claims on a more general level. It should however be noted that the results should be interpreted with some caution. The subject categories used in the analyses are those of Thomson Reutersâ?? Journal Citation Reports, a subject classification that is not entirely unproblematic. And at the same time: using journals as basis for field definitions, and the journal selection process in itself, is also related to a set of different problems.

Digital library and DHQ issue in honor of Ross Scaife

The OA Perseus Digital Library is developing the Scaife Digital Library as a special, OA library distributed among institutional repositories.  From the Perseus description:

Named after the late Ross Scaife, the Scaife Digital Library is being developed as a distributed collection and a method whereby humanists from around the world can automatically aggregate their content. The Scaife Digital Library contains durable objects that (1) have received peer review, (2) are in sustainable formats such as the epiDoc TEI stylesheet, (3) have a long-term home such as an institutional repository separate from the producer of the object, and (4) are available under open licensing for third-party redistribution and/or further development….

For more details, see Christopher Blackwell and Gregory Crane, Cyberinfrastructure, the Scaife Digital Library and Classics in a Digital age, Digital Humanities Quarterly, Winter 2009.

The Blackwell/Crane article appears in a special issue of DHQ in honor of Ross Scaife.  (Thanks to the Stoa Consortium.)


  • The distributed digital library and DHQ issue are beautiful, fitting ways to honor Ross Scaife (1960-2008).  Ross was one of the leading proponents of OA in the field of classics, which has been one of the leading fields of the humanities in exploring the possibilities of OA. 
  • I knew Ross and admired his work.  Although my own field (philosophy) is in the humanities, and I was thinking about OA in the humanities while working for OA in the sciences, it was Ross, and his colleague Barbara McManus, who first nudged me to write about OA in the humanities.
  • See my past posts on Scaife and his OA work.

Major university associations back the NIH policy

The Association of American Universities (AAU) and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) have released their February 19 letter to the House Judiciary Committee, supporting the NIH policy and opposing the Conyers bill

The online letter is an image scan and I only have time to rekey a short excerpt:

…The memberships of AAU and NASULGC include the major public and private research universities in the United States….

Our associations and their member universities have supported NIH’s PubMed Central from its outset…

Because PubMed Central operates in manner that preserves the ability of journal publishers to continue to play their valuable role in the dissemination of new knowledge and discoveries, the only effect of H.R. 801 would be to deprive the public of the benefit of expanded access to the results of federally funded research….

Comment.  This is important.  It’s the first time that the AAU has weighed in on behalf of the NIH policy, or the principle of OA for publicly-funded research.  The AAU has great weight in Congress on copyright issues affecting research and higher education, and great weight with its member institutions.  NASULGC is an equally significant voice, but this is not its first public endorsement of the NIH policy.  Kudos to John Vaughn (at AAU) and David Shulenburger (at NASULGC) for taking this step.

Another perspective:  With this letter, the major university associations in the US are joining the major library associations in supporting the NIH policy.

RePEc is weathering the storm

How is RePEc surviving the economic crisis?  Christian Zimmermann explains:

…On the revenue side, we are happy to report that it is stable, at zero. On the expense side, we seem to be unchanged, at zero as well. RePEc is completely run by volunteers so that it does not rely on funding and can provide its services for free to everyone….

That does not mean that there are no risks. RePEc services also rely on hardware and hosting services. So far, we have managed to find sponsors for those. We have little slack, though. If a machine were to fail, or a host were to give up a slot, we would have to scramble for solutions. We are therefore always on the lookout for new opportunities. We even have a new project currently looking for a home….

Winter issue of JEP

The Winter 2009 issue of the Journal of Electronic Publishing is now online.  All five articles in the issue are OA-related:

PS:  My piece is a slightly revised version of an article in SOAN for January 2, 2009.

Obama nominates Sebelius to be Secretary of HHS

President Obama has nominated Kathleen Sebelius to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS).  Sebelius is the Democratic governor of Kansas.

Comment.  What’s the OA connection?  As far as I can tell, Sebelius has no public track record for or against OA to research, although she does have a good record on open government.  The OA connection is that HHS is the home of the NIH.  We haven’t had an NIH Director since Elias Zerhouni stepped down last October, and we haven’t had a Secretary of HHS since the regime change in January 2009.  Obama initially nominated Tom Daschle to be Secretary of HHS, but Dashle withdrew when the public learned that he failed to pay $140,000 in personal income taxes until after his nomination.  We have a leadership vacuum at NIH and HHS, and Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) is taking advantage of it by pushing early and hard for his Fair Copyright in Research Works Act (a.k.a. the Conyers bill, HR 801).  Both positions require Senate confirmation, and in practice the HHS position must be filled before the NIH position.  So this is the first of a series of steps needed to restore leadership to the department (HHS) and agency (NIH) responsible for the country’s strongest funder OA policy, at a time when the policy is under aggressive attack from the publishing lobby.  Sebelius is a good person and her nomination is a good development.  Friends of OA have been working hard to protect the NIH policy and oppose the Conyers bill, but there’s no doubt that the Daschle fiasco gave the publishers a month-long advantage in this session of Congress.  That advantage will soon end.

More comments on the Conyers bill, #6

Here are some more comments from the press and blogosphere on the re-introduction of the Conyers bill (a.k.a. Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, HR 801), which would overturn the OA policy at the NIH.  Also see our past collections (1, 2, 3, 4, 5).

From James Boyle in the Financial Times (blogged separately but I wanted to include an excerpt in this collection as well):

It is hard for politicians to do anything that would shock me but I have to say that John Conyers, a US Congressman, has done it. In the process, he has taught us a lot about how far we have to go, all over the world, before we get our science policy right. Since science and technology are major engines of growth, that is a point of pressing interest for governments everywhere.

Rep. Conyers has introduced a bill, misleadingly called the â?Fair Copyright in Research Works Act,â? that would eviscerate public access to taxpayer funded research. The bill is so badly drafted that it would also wreak havoc on federal information policy more generally. It is supported by the commercial science publishers, but opposed by a remarkable set of groups — ranging from the American Research Libraries, to 33 Nobel Prize Winners, to a coalition of patientsâ?? rights organizations. (One of its many negative effects would be effectively to forbid the the US National Institutes of Health from allowing the taxpayers who have paid for medical research actually to read the results for free, hurting not only the progress of science, but informed medical decisions by patients and their families.)

As a copyright professor, I have to say the bill is a nightmare….[I]ts limitations on Federal agencies are completely unworkable. And as a scholar who writes about innovation, I have to say that it flies in the face of decades of research which shows the extraordinary multiplier effect of free access to information on the speed of scientific development. But speaking as a human being, I just have to wonder what could be going through a politicianâ??s head at a moment like this….

From in Kevin Donovan in The Hoya (the student newspaper at Georgetown University):

[Publicly-funded research] is traditionally published in scholarly journals that can cost tens of thousands of dollars per subscription. Because access to this knowledge is essential to academic research, university libraries spend millions of dollars every year paying for access to these journals.

That cost is passed on to students, meaning that we are paying twice for access to this information. And, given the current economic crisis, those journals will be prohibitively expensive, meaning that taxpayers will not have access to the research they fund. Itâ??s like being forced to pay the toll but not being allowed to drive on the road….

Take the story of Josh Sommer, an undergraduate student at Duke University who suffered from a rare form of cancer. Because he had access to Dukeâ??s extensive library system, he was able to research his condition in hundreds of journal articles and ultimately start the Chordoma Foundation to advance research of his disease. The current NIH policy gives millions of other similarly curious and driven minds the ability to do what Sommer did â?? educate oneself and enact change.

Conyersâ?? bill seeks to stop that. (The great irony is that when Sommers was a freshman in high school, Conyers asked him to speak at a press conference introducing the U.S. Toxic Mold Safety and Protection Act, a bill designed to prevent the sort of mold poisoning that caused Sommersâ?? cancer.) …

Access to critical scientific information is vital to confronting the pressing questions of climate change, disease and hundreds of other areas integral to the betterment of the human condition. As members of the Georgetown community, we are dependent upon the unrestricted flow of knowledge. As American citizens we deserve access to the products of our tax dollars. As both concerned students and citizens, we should demand continued open access to taxpayer-funded research.

From Richard Esguerra at the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

…This [NIH] "open access" policy not only promotes free scientific communication and innovation, it strikes many as fundamentally fair….

With all this operating in favor of open access, we were disappointed to see Rep. Conyers reintroduce H.R. 801, the poorly named Fair Copyright in Research Works Act. The bill’s provisions — written to benefit publishers who view this as an attack on their traditional effective monopolies over scientific expression — would foreclose on all the benefits mentioned above and seeks to prevent the government from expanding the open access approach to research funded by other agencies. That’s why the bill is being opposed by EFF and numerous groups that fight to preserve patient rights and the public interest: Alliance for Taxpayer Access, the American Library Association, the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalitions (SPARC), 33 US Nobel laureates in science, and more.

Open access to research benefits scientists and citizens alike. Shutting it down only helps a few publishers squeeze a few drops of additional revenue from the research that our tax dollars paid for. Our representatives in Washington should straighten out their priorities, put their constituents first, and reject this dangerous bill.

From Esther Wojcicki at Huffington Post:

It looks like Congressman John Conyers needs to do his homework on the impact of science policy on the health care for the average American. Turns out that he introduced a bill that would effectively forbid the US National Institutes of Health from allowing taxpayers (you and me) from reading the results of medical research that we have paid for with our tax dollars.

He introduced a bill called "Fair Copyright in Research Works Act" that is anything but fair. It is opposed by 33 Nobel Prize winners, a coalition of patients’ rights organizations, and American Research Libraries among others. It should also be opposed by anyone who thinks someday they might get sick and need the latest medical research — which means all of us.

"This bill would forbid us from building the World Wide Web for science, even for the research that taxpayers have funded. And that is truly a tragedy", according to James Boyle professor of law at Duke and co-founder of Science Commons. "We cannot create such a web until scientific articles come out from behind the publishers’ firewalls." …

How to protest? Send a letter to your congressman and tell him how you feel about locking up medical research behind financial walls. Tell him/her we need to open up science research to improve everyone’s access to important medical data. Alert him that even his doctor may not have access to important medical information that may impact his life.

One TA journal’s deliberations about OA

Jonas Nordin, Historisk tidskrift i nutid och framtid: NÃ¥gra reflektioner över läsarsynpunkter, bibliometri och Open Access, Historisk tidskrift, 128, 4 (2008). 

Thanks to Martin Rundkvist for the alert and for this English summary of the Swedish:

Historisk tidskrift, present and future:  Reflections on readers’ reactions, bibliometrics and Open Access

In this article the author recounts his experiences as editor of Historisk tidskrift.
The starting point is a poll of the journal’s readers presented at the triannual
meeting of the Swedish Historical Association in Lund in April 2008. Readers
told that they read Historisk tidskrift primarily in order to be up to date on
Swedish historical research. The journal reflects fairly well the research interests
of Swedish historians. However, concerns for the need to internationalise research
and to improve one’s qualifications increasingly govern how Swedish historians
publish. This affects the attitude to Historisk tidskrift, which is regarded as too
provincial. These and other issues are discussed by the author.

The second part of the article discusses two partly intertwined issues of significance
to the journal’s future: Bibliometrics and Open Access. The author is
sceptical about bibliometric analyses and points to methodological difficulties
in applying such measures to the humanities. Nevertheless, Historisk tidskrift
will have to take bibliometrics into account. The author is favourably disposed
towards Open Access. However, several problems need to be solved before Historisk
tidskrift can become a full Open Access journal. If the journal loses its
subscribers, alternative sources of funds has to be found to pay for editorial work.
Before this is done, the present form of publication has to be retained.

More on the Evans/Reimer study

Stevan Harnad has expanded upon his original comments (February 19) on the Evans and Reimer study in Science Magazine.  (For other early comments, see my own February 19 post.)

From February 24, The Evans & Reimer OA Impact Study: A Welter of Misunderstandings

(Re: Paul Basken [in the Chronicle of Higher Education]) No, the Evans & Reimer (E & R) study in Science does not show that

"researchers may find a wider audience if they make their findings available through a fee-based Web site rather than make their work freely available on the Internet."

This is complete nonsense, since the "fee-based Web site" is immediately and fully accessible — to all those who can and do pay for access in any case. (It is simply the online version of the journal; for immediate permanent access to it, an individual or institution pays a subscription or license fee.) The free version is extra: a supplement to that fee-based online version, not an alternative to it: it is provided for those would-be users who cannot afford the access-fee. In E & R’s study, the free access is provided — after an access-embargo of up to a year or more — by the journal itself. In studies by others, the free access is provided by the author, depositing the final refereed draft of the article on his own website, free for all (usually immediately, with no prior embargo). E & R did not examine the latter form of free online access at all. (Paul Basken has confused (1) the size of the benefits of fee-based online access over fee-based print-access alone with (2) the size of the benefits of free online access over fee-based online-access alone. The fault is partly E & R’s for describing their findings in such an equivocal way.)

(Re: Phil Davis) No, E & R do not show that

"the effect of OA on citations may be much smaller than originally reported."

E & R show that the effect of free access on citations after an access-embargo (fee-based access only) of up to a year or longer is much smaller than the effect of the more immediate OA that has been widely reported.

(Re: Phil Davis) No, E & R do not show that

"the vast majority of freely-accessible scientific articles are not published in OA journals, but are made freely available by non-profit scientific societies using a subscription model."

E & R did not even look at the vast majority of current freely-accessible articles (per year), which are the ones self-archived by their authors. E & R looked only at journals that make their entire contents free after an access-embargo of up to a year or more….

From February 25, Perils of Press-Release Journalism: NSF, U. Chicago, and Chronicle of Higher Education:

…[Basken’s post was based on] a press release from the University of Chicago, E & R’s home institution). Here is the NSF/Chicago Press Release, enhanced with my comments….

NSF/U.CHICAGO:  "If you offer something of value to people for free while someone else charges a hefty sum of money for the same type of product, one would logically assume that most people would choose the free option. According to new research in today’s edition of the journal Science, if the product in question is access to scholarly papers and research, that logic might just be wrong. These findings provide new insight into the nature of scholarly discourse and the future of the open source publication movement [sic, emphasis added]."

(1) If you offer something valuable for free, people will choose the free option unless they’ve already paid for the paid option (especially if they needed — and could afford — it earlier).
(2) Free access after an embargo of a year or more is not the same "something" as immediate free access. Its "value" for a potential user is lower. (That’s one of the reasons institutions keep paying for subscription/license access to journals.)
(3) Hence it is not in the least surprising that immediate (paid) print-on-paper access + online access (IP + IO) generates more citations than immediate (paid) print-on-paper access (IP) alone.
(4) Nor is it surprising that immediate (paid) print-on-paper access + online access + delayed free online access (IP +IO + DF) generates more citations than just immediate (paid) print-on-paper + online access (IP + IO) alone — even if the free access is provided a year or longer after the paid access.
(5) Why on earth would anyone conclude that the fact that the increase in citations from IP to IP + IO is 12% and the increase in citations from IP + IO to IP + IO + DF is a further 8% implies anything whatsoever about people’s preference for paid access over free access? Especially when the free access is not even immediate (IF) but delayed (DF) and the 8% is an underestimate based on averaging in ancient articles: see E & R’s supplemental Figure S1(c), right (with thanks to Mike Eisen for spotting this one!).

NSF/U.CHICAGO:  "To test this theory, James A. Evans, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Chicago, and Jacob Reimer, a student of neurobiology also at the University of Chicago, analyzed millions of articles available online, including those from open source publications and those that required payment to access."

No,…E & R only analyzed articles from subscription access journals before and after the journals made them accessible online (to paid subscribers only) (i.e., IP vs IP + IO) as well as before and after the journals made the online version accessible free for all (after a paid-access-only embargo of up to a year or more: i.e., IP +IO vs IP + IO + DF). E & R’s methodology was based on comparing citation counts for articles within the same journals before and after being made free online (by the journal) following delays of various lengths….

NSF/U.CHICAGO:  "‘Across the scientific community,’ Evans said in an interview, ‘it turns out that open access does have a positive impact on the attention that’s given to the journal articles, but it’s a small impact.’"

We already knew that OA increased citations, as the many prior published studies have shown.  Most of those studies, however, were based on immediate OA (i.e., IF), not embargoed OA. What E & R do show, interestingly, is that even delaying OA for a year or more still increases citations, though (unsurprisingly) not as much as immediate OA (IF) does.

NSF/U.CHICAGO:  "Yet Evans and Reimer’s research also points to one very positive impact of the open source movement that is sometimes overlooked in the debate about scholarly publications. Researchers in the developing world, where research funding and libraries are not as robust as they are in wealthier countries, were far more likely to read and cite open source articles."

A large portion of the citation increase from (delayed) OA turns out to come from Developing Countries (refuting Frandsen‘s recent report to the contrary). This is a new and useful finding (though hardly a surprising one…)….

NSF/U.CHICAGO:  "So while some scientists and scholars may chose to pay for scientific publications even when free publications are available, their colleagues in other parts of the world may find that going with open source works is the only choice they have."

It would be interesting to hear the authors of this NSF/Chicago press release — or E & R, for that matter — explain how this paradoxical "preference" for paid access over free access was tested during the access embargo period

2009 is Open Access Year in the Netherlands

On February 10, SURF announced the Kick Off (in Dutch) of the Dutch Open Access Year.  (For some reason, Google Translate doesn’t accept the page, but here’s the link to the English translation in case the problem is merely temporary.)

Last November 28, the Vrije Universiteit van Amsterdam hosted a mini-symposium to anticipate OA Year.  The presentations are now online.  (Again, Google Translate doesn’t accept the page, but here’s the link to the English translation just in case.)

Also see Trix Bakker’s article about OA Year and the Amsterdam symposium, in Dutch or Google’s English.

Hacking WTO to support public goods, including OA research

In January, I blogged James Love’s Knowledge as a Public Good: Two Mechanisms, a presentation at the Fórum Mundial Ciência E Democracia (Belém, Parã, Brazil, January 26, 2009).  But at the time I didn’t appreciate the subtle suggestion he made there.  Thanks to David Bollier for pointing it out. 

First, David Bollier sets the stage:

Computer programmer Richard Stallman invented a famous â??hackâ? around copyright law when he created the General Public License, which enables a community of hackers to create their own commons of software code. Copyright law is used as a vehicle to serve the commons.

It sounds improbable, but could something similar be done with the procedures of the World Trade Organization? Could a treaty apparatus designed to serve multinational corporations be exploited in a new way so that it does not just promote free trade in private goods and services, but enables countries to collaborate to create public goods?

That is precisely what James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, recently proposed at the World Forum on Science and Democracy, held in Belém, Brasil….

Loveâ??s brilliant idea is to re-purpose the portion of the WTO agreement that deals with the market for services, and try to use it as a procedural platform that would let different nations cooperate in the creation of such public goods as open source software, shared scientific research on drugs and global warming solutions, the translation of works into other languages, and much more.

Now from Love himself:

…There is much criticism of the GATS [General Agreement on Trade in Services] itself, much of it we share. However, as a model for creating binding commitments for a diverse set of obligations, it is quite interesting. Hence, the earlier reference to the â??hackâ? of the WTO. We are interested in borrowing from the GATS the structure of accepting binding heterogeneous offers to supply — in this case, not liberation of services, but the supply of public goods.

If such an agreement existed with the WTO, several countries could propose a collaboration to fund open source research on malaria. Countries could bind government agencies to require government funded research to be made available, for free, on the Internet, as was recently done by the U.S. NIH and in some other government research agencies. Like-minded countries could agree to make binding commitments to support the development of open source software, fund new databases, share the costs of hosting Wikipedia servers, pay for translations of scientific works into other languages, or for the creation of more accessible formats of books and articles for persons who are blind or have other reading disabilities. The lists of things that could be expanded and supported under such an agreement are endless.

In theory, all of these things could be done without a WTO agreement. The benefits of the WTO agreement would be several, however. First, it is quite costly to set up a separate treaty or agreement, particularly one that can so effectively enforce commitments, as can the WTO. Second, by introducing public goods into the WTO environment – the culture of the WTO would be profoundly changed. â??Asksâ? and â??offersâ? in the WTO negotiations would not longer be exclusively about the private goods market, or about the privatization and enclosure of knowledge itself. There would be an immediate shift to consider the competing benefits of greater openness, and a larger global commons. Knowledge that was produced to be â??freeâ? would have a new value, as a trading chip in the WTO environment.

Comments on the Conyers bill, #5

Here are some more comments from the press and blogosphere on the re-introduction of the Conyers bill (a.k.a. Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, HR 801), which would overturn the OA policy at the NIH.  Also see our past collections (1, 2, 3, 4).

From the Association of Health Care Journalists:

The Association of Health Care Journalists supports full and timely public access to the results of government-funded research. It believes legislation introduced this month by U.S. Rep. John Conyers Jr. and others would constitute a blow to the public’s right to access vital scientific data….

The NIH Public Access Policy provides millions of Americans, including health care providers, researchers, patients and their families, and journalists, with critical health data funded by taxpayers. The Conyers bill would choke access to these crucial public resources. AHCJ believes more public access, not less, is required.

From Charles Bailey at DigitalKoans:

According to data from, Reed Elsevier Inc. made contributions to eight House Judiciary Committee members during 2007-2008.

  1. John Conyers, Jr., (D) Michigan, 14th, Chair: $4,000
  2. Howard Berman, (D) California, 28th: $3,000
  3. Howard Coble, (R) North Carolina, 6th: $4,000
  4. Darrell Issa, (R) California, 49th: $1,000
  5. Sheila Jackson Lee, (D) Texas, 18th: $1,000
  6. Jerrold Nadler, (D) New York, 8th: $1,000
  7. Lamar Smith, (R) Texas, 21st: $2,000
  8. Robert Wexler, (D) Florida, 19th: $2,000 …

From John Hawks:

I think the existing [NIH] policy is not nearly as open as it should be. The free availability of most NIH-funded research after a year is very important; even scientists at most institutions may not have immediate access to research findings, since journal subscriptions have become so high….

[The bill’s sponsors are acting] at the behest of scientific publishers’ interests, naturally. Public open access to the products of the public’s money is nowhere near as important as Congress’ open access to lobbyists’ money.

From Nathan Georgette at Open Access Blog:

I…began investigating the money trail on Conyers’ campaign contributions…What I came upon sank my heart. According to Open Secrets, Conyers’ third single largest campaign contributor in 2008 was the American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA), whose "Key Bills of the 111th Congress" include HR801. Surprised? Shouldn’t be. Money talks, and big money talks that much louder….

But of course this private organization [AIPLA] has the interest of its members closest to its mission; I only had hoped that Conyers would do the same for his constituents….

From the open letter to Rep. Conyers on behalf of

[The bill] would harm Internet companies and retard innovation and economic recovery….

It is the mission of NetCoalition companies to help their users locate and access the information they need. The NIH public access policy furthers this mission by placing valuable publicly funded medical research in an online location where search engines operated by NetCoalition members can index and link to it. The public access policy thus simultaneously assists the broad dissemination of important healthcare information and promotes the growth ofthe Internet.

These benefits would be multiplied if other federal agencies adopted similar policies. For example, the broad availability ofpublicly funded research concerning energy generation, storage and conservation would accelerate the discovery, development, and adoption of solutions to the global warming and energy dependence crises. Unfortunately, H.R. 801 reverses the NIH policy, and prevents other federal agencies from adopting similar policies.

It appears that H.R. 801 is premised on the notion that the public access policy is inconsistent with copyright law because it requires the involuntary transfer of copyright. This argument threatens to disrupt the fundamental relationship between authors and the entities that pay them for the creation of content. A wide variety of entities, including Internet companies, book and magazine publishers, and marketing departments, pay authors in advance to create works such as articles, novels, and photographs. In exchange for the advance, the author agrees to transfer the copyright to the entity, or to grant the entity a license to use the work.

This system is beneficial to both the author and the entity….

From T. Scott Plutchak at T. Scott:

…[T]he argument isn’t about making articles freely available — [Heather] Joseph [opposing the bill] and [Martin] Frank [supporting the bill] agree on the importance and necessity of doing that.  It’s about whether or not we should enable the government to dictate the terms under which this happens.  But this is not the way that SPARC has framed the public debate.

For me, personally, I’m somewhat more inclined to give the government the edge here.  Having started my career at the National Library of Medicine and being steeped in the history of that amazing institution, if I had to choose between relying on NIH/NLM to maintain the permanent archive of research publishing or relying on independent organizations, worthy though they might be, I’d go with NLM.  But that doesn’t mean that I must therefore think that the NIH Public Access Policy, as currently implemented, is the best way to do that….