Why isn't publicly-funded scientific research freely available?
November 15, 2007 11:15 AM   Subscribe

How does preventing public access to federally-funded scientific research serve the public interest?

The full text of millions of research papers documenting science paid for by U.S. federal grant money is mostly unavailable to me, a citizen of the United States, unless I pay exorbitant journal subscription fees. Help me understand how this situation arose, as well as how it is currently justified, both by scientists and by the peer-reviewed journals in which they must "publish or perish."
posted by killdevil to Science & Nature (39 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
(For what it's worth, your local community college or public university library ought to be able to give you online access to most journals. If you're not a student, you may need to use one of the library's own terminals rather than reading from home. I know it's still not ideal, but it's a way of accessing information you're interested in without paying those subscription fees.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 11:19 AM on November 15, 2007

Response by poster: I know I can gain access through university libraries, certainly -- although this isn't completely true. The only place in Maryland where one can get nearly universal access to the biomedical literature (my particular interest at the moment) is Johns Hopkins. No other institution in the state subscribes to the more esoteric journals.

I know there's some debate surrounding open access to publicly-funded research, and my question is more about understanding the arguments on both sides of that debate.
posted by killdevil at 11:24 AM on November 15, 2007

The only place in Maryland where one can get nearly universal access to the biomedical literature (my particular interest at the moment) is Johns Hopkins. No other institution in the state subscribes to the more esoteric journals.

Actually, there is a place in Maryland that exists primarily to give nearly universal access to biomedical literature. Its called the National Library of Medicine.
posted by googly at 11:27 AM on November 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

Projects funded with federal money should be available in some form through NTIS or some other agency. I think it's a requirement of the funding. I know a lot of people like to moan (and rightly so) about buying papers from them, but unfortunately they aren't really funded and they have to support themselves somehow. The federal government doesn't care about getting information to the people.
posted by kendrak at 11:27 AM on November 15, 2007

In the United States we have a longstanding approach to the commons in which we socialize debt and privatize profit. It isn't just or fair, but it's a matter of practice across almost all sectors of public society. If you doubt this simply consider the notion that we might "bail out" sub-prime lenders, while allowing their officers (and even shareholders) to keep their profits.

That said, you are confusing access with free access. You do have access to the publications of which you speak, it just isn't the type of access you would wish to have. You are free to use interlibrary loan and other resources at your local library to get the articles you want without subscription.

You may also compare this to the works produced by the Government Printing Office, many of which one still has to pay for, although they were produced by public employees using public resources. Many are online, now, but that did not used to be the case, and I remember wandering around the GPO bookstore in the late 80s, vaguely pissed off at my sense that all of the stuff I was seeing should have been free to me as a birthright. It was not.
posted by OmieWise at 11:31 AM on November 15, 2007 [4 favorites]

You should also look at Sailor and ILL @ Enoch Pratt. It doesn't sound like Sailor will have what you need, but Pratt may.

Also, I go to the Hopkins libraries all the time, and they give you a visitor pass at the Med Library, and just copy your photo id at the Eisenhower Library at JHU, so you can go there and find what you want. Have you tried that?
posted by OmieWise at 11:38 AM on November 15, 2007

Keep in mind that when you pay for journal subscriptions or articles, you're not paying the authors. Instead, you're paying the publisher in order to pay editors, etc.

In fact, for most scientific papers, the authors either (a) don't get paid for the work or (b) pay "page charges" to have the work published!
posted by JMOZ at 11:40 AM on November 15, 2007

Sorry to keep on like this, and it's been several years since I've been there, but the Med library annex at Bayview Medical Center didn't even have any kind of id check or anything previously.
posted by OmieWise at 11:40 AM on November 15, 2007

Well, the other side of the coin is the question, "How does forcing scientific journals to give away their product for free help the public interest?"

I believe this situation arose because the primary goal of federally-funded scientific research is not to disseminate cutting-edge science to the masses. (Although one could argue that's a worthy goal.) Rather, it's to encourage technological innovation and knowledge building in specific areas that the government feels are worthwhile to fund. Since the target audience for those findings is other researchers in the field, and any serious researcher will already have access to the most prominent journals in the field (through a university, employer, or their own pocketbook), I'm guessing that the government didn't really care if the journals charged for the content or not. After all, however the research gets disseminated through that field, the funding is accomplishing what it was originally intended to do.

I don't disagree that there are good arguments in favor of open access to federally-funded research. But I also think that many people have become so used to having almost any information they want for free from the Internet that they can lose sight of the fact that sometimes there's a good reason things aren't free. When an organization or business provides an actual value-added, it's a good thing to pay for: after all, if you don't, it won't be available for long. Obviously, enough research institutions and researchers feel that journals provide a sufficient value-added to justify the cost. The real question is, will providing the full text of journal articles for free to everybody drive some journals out of business? And if it does, is the value of more free information to the public greater than the value that those journals added for the scientific community?
posted by iminurmefi at 11:42 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

Well, as a librarian, my answer is that of course it does not. As I understand the arguments of those opposed to open access, the current system of extremely expensive journal subscriptions is necessary to provide the funds to make the peer review infrastructure possible. If you require free access, journal subscriptions plummet, journals stop publishing, the peer review process collapses.

This is of course not an argument I buy, and I think this is a good summary of why it needn't happen that way.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 11:44 AM on November 15, 2007

Publishing and distributing peer-reviewed scientific papers has certain unavoidable costs. Originally, these costs were bore by subscribers similar to any other publisher's business model. Tradition and prestige were built up around the process and around certain journals to the point where the quality of the journal was used as a quick marker for the quality of the research. Attempts to deviate from this standard practice basically penalized the scientist as their work was looked down upon if published in a non-traditional manner (or inferior/cheap journal).

I'm not sure many scientists are happy with the situation (but the for-profit publishers certainly aren't objecting). Some people have tried to start open-access journals which are becoming more popular but struggle with money as they rely on grants, donations, and fees paid by the authors. The internet certainly has brought down some costs so that's helped, and grant writers are sometimes including journal costs to cover publishing in an open-access journal.
posted by Durin's Bane at 11:45 AM on November 15, 2007

When an organization or business provides an actual value-added, it's a good thing to pay for: after all, if you don't, it won't be available for long.

Libraries have been around for quite some time. While I'd love to flippantly laugh at your comment, I do indeed worry that some day it will all come to an end. I really hope that never happens.

The real question is, will providing the full text of journal articles for free to everybody drive some journals out of business? And if it does, is the value of more free information to the public greater than the value that those journals added for the scientific community?

Isn't the real question why taxpayer money produces something taxpayers don't have access to? If taxpayer money was funding mefi, would we think the $25 join fee was okay (because there's no way it would stay at $5).
posted by cashman at 11:50 AM on November 15, 2007

My answer is, why would you assume that it SHOULD be available? What about federally-funded education (any person who received a federally backed educational loan, or attended a public K-12, etc.) or federally-funded medical care (Medicare, etc.)? Would you expect to have access to student school transcript? Medical history? Your taxes fund the CIA, IRS, etc.--should all US citizens have access to intelligence information? Do you want your neighbor to know what taxes you paid? The same reason that you might apply to not allowing access to that information would apply to federally funded research.

But leaving that question aside, the journals ARE available to the public. But you are complaining that it is not FREE public access. Well, again, not sure why you should assume that you should be able to access it for free in the first place. It's like the post office--there's public access, but you have to pay for it, even though your taxes funded the postal service to begin with.

But even leaving that question aside, bulk of the data IS available to you, for free. As others have said above, you need to know how to access it, and need the training to interpret it. Furthermore, the journals are also available to you, FREE. Again, though, you have to make the effort to access it. For you, this might mean waiting two weeks while your library gets a copy for you. Or waiting some more after contacting the author and asking for a copy. You can choose to pay for the convenience of instant access, or not. That's up to you.
posted by peachy at 11:51 AM on November 15, 2007

To expand on Horace Rumpole and Durin's Bane, I think that journals provide two services to researchers in a field:

1. Peer review is (presumably) some assurance of the quality of the paper, so readers can trust that results are not fabricated or a result of a poor study design; and

2. Journals are like an old-school metafilter for the amazing amount of research that is conducted every month. If you're working in a certain field, doing your own research, you can't possibly keep up with everything else that is being published--that could be a full time job in itself!--so it's simpler and more efficient to pay someone else (the editors of a journal) to sift through it all and separate the wheat from the chaff.

I'm skeptical that the prices that journals charge are a real reflection of how valuable the two services they provide are--really, since few people pay for this themselves, it's easy to make an argument that journals overcharge because institutions are less price-sensitive to variations of a few hundred dollars--but I do think they provide a service that is worth something. I'm also skeptical that forcing journals to make articles available after a sufficient lag--say two years--would really harm their core business model and force any of them to collapse. But I do think it's possible that a badly-written law mandating immediate public access to all journal articles could drive some out of business, and I think that's a not bad argument against such a law.
posted by iminurmefi at 11:56 AM on November 15, 2007

FWIW, I don't know any scientists who oppose open access.

In the biomedical realm, the NIH has been gradually moving forward on the issue, largely for the reasons you state: it is indeed odd that the results of taxpayer funded research can't be accessed by the taxpayers. You can read about their public access policy here. They've established PubMed Central as a repository for NIH-funded manuscripts. At present, it's a bit odd, because uploading to PMC is a "request[ed]" and "strong encourage[d]" rather than a required. HHMI, a major private biomedical funding organization, is making uploading to PMC a requirement for any papers that investigators seeking renewal of their funding wish to include on their list of accomplishments.

Individual journals are gradually opening up their archives, too. A lot of them now give free access to papers older than 6 months or a year. Further, there's of course PLoS, whose raison d'etre is the promotion of open access.

So one answer is that you do have access to a lot of publically funded research and you're going to have access to more of it in the future.

As for why it's not all open already, overcoming entrenched tradition is a big factor. It's long been the case that you communicate science by submitting an article to a journal run by a private organization, and in order to do that, you sign over copyright to the publishing body. People would do this because the journal has something to offer them--the career boost of having published your work in a reputable journal. The journals naturally want to hold on to these entrenched privileges, as then people need to pay them to gain access to their product instead of downloading it to Joe Scientist's webpage. So some of them, especially for profit publishers like Elsevier, have been more reluctant to move in the open access direction than others. Subscription revenues for nonprofit journals sometimes go to support scientific societies, so some have also argued that open access => fewer subscriptions => less active and effective scientific societies.

One more consideration is the editorial services offered by the journals. Clearly, if those are needed, they need to be paid for somehow. If the thought is that open access leads to fewer subscriptions, then you are going to have a harder time paying those editors. This is one reason open access journals typically require the author to pay ~$1500 for PLoS, IIRC. If the subscribers don't pay, then the authors might have to.
posted by epugachev at 12:04 PM on November 15, 2007

Because your tax dollars didn't pay for the publication (unless it's at your library, which it probably is). If you want more taxes and subsidized journals, write that letter to your congressthing.

The "somebody has to pay for it" part is true, but also consider that you have zero interest in 99.99% of published research (do you care what shows up in Annual review of phytopathology? Biomedical & environmental mass spectrometry? Acta dermato-venereologica? Applied immunohistochemistry & molecular morphology?). Making it freely available to everyone would be a waste of resources. The universities and companies whose students and faculty are actually reading this crap are reasonable targets for who should pay.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 12:08 PM on November 15, 2007

do you care what shows up in Annual review of phytopathology?
Annual Review of Phytopathology
Vol. 45: 263-288 (Volume publication date September 2007)

Reniform in U.S. Cotton: When, Where, Why, and Some Remedies

A. Forest Robinson­

Agricultural Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture, College Station, Texas 77845; email: frobinson at cpru.usda.gov


The reniform nematode, Rotylenchulus reniformis, is an emerging problem in U.S. cotton. The impact of this nematode and the extent to which it has and will continue to spread across the U.S. cotton belt are controversial. Long-term changes in cotton production and unique biological attributes of R. reniformis are key factors. Expert opinion surveys indicate that R. reniformis has replaced the root-knot nematode (Meloidogyne incognita) as the major nematode of cotton in Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. In neighboring states the incidence of heavily infested fields has increased during the past 10 years. Estimated annual loss to the U.S. cotton crop is $130M. Crop rotation and nematicides can reduce losses. Introgression of genetic resistance from primitive accessions of other cotton species offers the most promising opportunity to effectively control this pathogen in the long term. Laboratories in several institutions are currently pursuing this goal, with the promise of resistant cultivars adapted to U.S. cotton production regions within three years.

Acronyms and Definitions
1,3-D: 1,3-dichloropropene
LRGV: Lower Rio Grande Valley

"My family has been growing cotton in this field for 100 years, so why am I pickin’ 400 pounds less cotton?"

Query from North Alabama cotton farmer to Extension Nematologist W.S. Gazaway
Yes, yes I do.
posted by cashman at 12:23 PM on November 15, 2007

Help me understand how this situation arose

Before the government started subsidizing research, academic journals cost money to receive.

Then, the government started subsidizing research, but not journals.

After that, journals still cost money to receive.

as well as how it is currently justified, both by scientists and by the peer-reviewed journals

Journals cost money to run, edit, and print. This money has to come from somewhere, and it doesn't come from the feds.

Free access to journals would be awesome. I'd get lots of stuff I don't care about and heat my house with journal articles all winter.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:32 PM on November 15, 2007

The tag "open access" on Connotea is pretty good, and Peter Murray-Rust is practically the spokesman for Open Access.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 12:40 PM on November 15, 2007

How does preventing public access to federally-funded scientific research serve the public interest?

Almost every scientist in my field would say that it does not.

The crazy thing is that a lot of the money that pays for non–open-access journals ends up coming from the public purse anyway, in the form of expensive institutional library subscriptions. Some of these subscriptions will be paid from indirect costs funds that come with federal research grants. So in the end, the government still ends up paying for most of the cost, but just in a way that the public and developing countries can't get access to it.
posted by grouse at 12:51 PM on November 15, 2007

Open Access News is another well-known site run by another well-known Peter (Suber). I really like his Open Access overview.

The point that someone must pay for journal editorial functions is true. And it would certainly be damaging to the business of publishing if we had to immediately give free access to all journal articles. We should draw the distinction between "make NIH-funded research openly available" and "make all journals give away articles for free".

Government funded research, and science research in particular, is an interesting case. NIH funds the basic research. Then to get it published the grant might have to pay page fees. New research is published, and then government institutions (NLM, Dept. of Ag, whoever) have to subscribe to science journals to see the results of that research. So government entities might be paying for research three times over.

This does not seem like a good deal for the taxpayer.
posted by lillygog at 1:02 PM on November 15, 2007

So government entities might be paying for research three times over.

And of course, not even every government-funded researcher has access to every journal where government-funded research occurs. In those cases, the government has paid for the research twice, but their own researchers still can't get access to it. Let alone the general public.
posted by grouse at 1:15 PM on November 15, 2007

Grouse has an excellent point. The editorial functions of a journal (careful topic selection, peer review) are paid for, already, by institutions (typically the university or the government). In other words, most scientists don't subscribe to these journals on an individual level -- their institution does. Open Access journals, by paying for the editorial function through author fees, typically will not greatly change who funds it. It might change the funding stream, but not where the money's coming from.

I just went to a talk where one of the speakers described it like this: scientific research is a socialist system, and scientific publishing is a capitalist system. When the two collide, you get all sorts of crazy affects.

Honestly, though, this isn't fully touching on the question of WHY publicly-funded research isn't openly available. The why is probably more about entrenched interests (journal-owning corporations), entrenched tenure requirements (you must publish in Nature, you must!), and entrenched culture (scientists are busy and used to working in a particular way.)
posted by lillygog at 1:19 PM on November 15, 2007

I should add -- I'm totally not a scientist! Those out there in the field will know more about the tenure/culture piece.
posted by lillygog at 1:26 PM on November 15, 2007

how it is currently justified, both by scientists and by the peer-reviewed journals in which they must "publish or perish."

It looks like you already know the answer for how it is currently justified, or at least why it's hard to change. You can't get tenure without publishing in prominent peer-reviewed journals, most of which aren't open access. It's all very well supporting open access, but basically the entire tenure system (including the people evaluating tenure cases) has to support it completely before it's going to viably replace the current publication system.

That said, there's movement towards open access journals in probably all fields. My impression is that this has not so much to do with your original concern ("research papers documenting science paid for by U.S. federal grant money") and everything to do with general principles of intellectual freedom, not to mention people being very sick of various aspects of the commercial journal system. Also, prepublication archives are huge right now, and in some fields practically everything current worth reading is or has been in a prepublication archive at one point. In fact, the tenure system combined with annoyances at commercial academic publishing has lead to a dynamic where well-known people tend more and more to just put their papers up somewhere, without bothering to submit them anywhere -- here's some interesting discussion of that dynamic.
posted by advil at 2:00 PM on November 15, 2007

in my experience, most scientific research carried out at universities represents work paid for not only by grants from federal agencies (NSF, ONR, DoE etc) but also from a number of other sources: funds from the university which may be a private or state-funded body, directly from local and state governments, from private corporations with IP interests and from private fellowships. funding for research can get very complicated and rarely is it so simple that "the us government paid for all of this".

if you've ever gone to a talk the last slide is generally a list of funding sources which the PI is obligated to acknowledge. as such the research carried out does not belong to the public; the public funds the research for the indirect benefits it provides.

even research carried out at, say, the national research laboratories (sandia, los alamos, brookhaven etc) is for the most part fully funded by the federal gov't, but it is rare for every single dollar spent on a project to come from federal sources. however national labs will generally make their research public unless it is of a sensitive (defense, cryptography, national security) nature. the scientists doing this research may also choose to publish in a normal peer reviewed journal as publications are the currency of the realm.

so, basically, the work you are talking about is, in general, not a publically owned resource even if part of the funding came from the government.

nevertheless, i don't know any scientists who will not gladly share their results after they have been published. (sharing them before publication is a totally different story, as people are worried about being scooped by other groups, and patenting a new technology requires "no public disclosure".) the peer-review process is important and it has to be paid for somehow, but i dont think anyone likes how much it costs.

for what it's worth, if you are interested in reading papers published in non-open journals, just write to the PI or first author - email addresses are always given - explain that you dont have access to such and such journal and would they mind sending you a PDF reprint of the article. almost everyone would be happy to see that people are interested in their work and that it's reaching a broader audience.
posted by sergeant sandwich at 2:04 PM on November 15, 2007

Life Sciences have not traditionally used the preprint archives like physics and CS has, but there is a fledgling, free, repository called Nature Precedings.

Unfortunately, this is run by a major publisher and clear guidance regarding whether submission of your manuscript to this repository counts as prior publication for the purposes of sending your manuscript to someone else isn't available.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 3:02 PM on November 15, 2007

People are hitting on an important issue--the conflict between the ideals of the scientists (generally pro-open access) and the desire to advance their careers. If you publish your paper in Cell, which is as "closed access" as they get, that's a pretty good guarantee that your work will be highly read and cited, that promotion and tenure committees will look favorably upon you, and that granting agencies will give the money you need to do more research. Similar things cannot necessarily be said for some newly-founded open access journal with no clear reputation.

So if you're a young, less-established scientist and you have the opportunity to publish in Cell, you're likely to take that opportunity despite your open-access ideals. In principle we could force all the journals to be open access by only publishing in OA journals, but if you're a young scientist, do you to take that potentially risky step? Is it worth trading the certain benefits of a high profile paper for the sake of your ideals?

So what likely needs to happen is for the whole community to defect en masse to OA, so that no one has to be on the vanguard alone. To some extent this is happening with PLoS Biology, which made sure they had a bunch of big shots sign on at launch. PB, in fact , now has a highly respectable Impact Factor (average number of citations in per paper over the past two years) of ~14. But Cell has an IF of 29 and presumably has more stringent standards for acceptance (at this level it's all about the novelty and sexiness of the research, as well as the names on the paper sometimes). I think a lot of people, and in particular young PIs, are going to grab that extra prestige jif they have a chance (everyone seems to hate that they judge papers by the journal they're published in but everyone seems to do it anyway) rather than stick with their ideals.
posted by epugachev at 3:23 PM on November 15, 2007

You're assuming that the people doing the restricting have the public interest at heart, which they don't. When you publish something, that costs: time, printing materials, etc, etc. The publishers, which are private companies, recoup their publishing costs by charging for the published items. If they didn't get money for the publications, they wouldn't bother doing it and there wouldn't be (well, 50 years ago there wouldn't have been) an outlet for learned discourse.

There are alternatives beginning to spring up, for example all PhD theses in Australia go into a national digital thesis archive that is publicly available. And of course we have the internet now, so don't be surprised if free online publications start to appear where authors do not have to give up their copyright; the only reason these free journals haven't taken over is credibility.

The reason you publish in the closed/expensive journals is because they carry old-school credibility, which is very important. Once high-quality academics begin reviewing papers for online journals, they may reach the same level of respectability; I reckon it'll happen in about 5-10 years unless the paper publishers put a stop to it via some social (legal, political or plain old FUD) backchannel.
posted by polyglot at 4:18 PM on November 15, 2007

So government entities might be paying for research three times over.

Only in the same way that an Army training base is THE KILLBOT FACTORY!!!!

An admittedly less alarmist way to say this would be that the government pays some money for the research, and is rewarded when the researchers learn something.

Then the government pays very small fraction of the grant award to help publicize what the researchers have learned, and through indirect costs helps others learn what the researchers have learned.

I'll admit that I'm biased because I work in political science, where essentially all of the major journals are run by national or regional associations and an expensive journal might run a library $500/year.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 5:06 PM on November 15, 2007

cashman: are you a nematologist, a cotton farmer, or an agricultural policy maker? If not then I would suggest that the abstract which you just quoted is adequate, and available freely online. The table of cotton yield by Alabama county doesn't add too much.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:01 PM on November 15, 2007

The journal system is an historical relic. In many fields, access to articles is free despite the journal system, because authors always put their articles on a "preprint archive" like arxiv.org. Journals don't try to stop this because, frankly, if they did it would mean their end.
posted by hAndrew at 8:31 PM on November 15, 2007

Only in the same way that an Army training base is THE KILLBOT FACTORY!!!!

I'd call it a strong rather than alarmist statement. And I wouldn't disagree that the government pays only a small fraction of the grant to publicize it. (That's actually one of the major arguments for Open Access journals, that the author fees would be a very small portion of total grant rewards, and not put a noticeable burden on the grant system.)

I'm a little confused by the idea that the government "through indirect costs helps others learn what the researchers have learned". Do you mean by subscribing to high-priced journals and then making them available in various government libraries? Because in that case, the government is paying into a system (via subscription) that limits access (via subscription). The government could pay into a system (OA journals, PMC, etc.) that opens access, get the research out there, and get a lot more bang for the buck.

As an aside, it's late and I'm being a little sloppy and mentally using "government" to stand in for non-profit/public interest funding agencies in general. Wellcome, for example.
posted by lillygog at 8:43 PM on November 15, 2007

Interesting, last weeks nature has an article about a measure attached to the (recently vetoed) NIH funding bill, which would make all NIH funded research open access one year after publishing (imo, a sensible compromise for now) - but I guess you don't have access to it.

Several pay for access journals (PNAS being the big one) already have this policy, and the public library of science and biomedcentral journals which are open (and creative commons licensed!) are getting more and more popular.
posted by scodger at 9:14 PM on November 15, 2007

lillygog: "indirect costs" refers to money that comes with a research grant but that goes to the control of the institution rather than the principal investigator. It is used to pay for things like administration, facilities, and libraries, which the PI's research benefits from, but the PI is not charged for directly.
posted by grouse at 11:43 PM on November 15, 2007

Cancer Research UK, who are a major source of cancer research funding in the UK, have recently made it their policy that any research funded by them (PDF) in any way must be deposited into the UK PubMed Central within 6 months of publication and preferably be in an open-access journal from the start. I think this will go a long way in pushing the UK cancer research community to the kind of en-masse move to open access that epugachev mentions above, even though this is a charity and not a public funding body.
posted by penguinliz at 6:19 AM on November 16, 2007

My first reaction to the question was, "it's not?" I've been accessing this stuff since high school. No, I couldn't have done that for free without having to go to the library, but I've always had access in some way. I've only had to pay for the photocopy. Perhaps it's more a matter of knowing where things are. There is no single comprehensive database that can tell you the location of everything published in the world since the beginning, but there are some pretty darn large databases. Those are not free to build and maintain, so they are also not free to access; libraries pay for access. The public accesses through the library for free. That's how I see it, anyway. Scientists don't really think about this stuff very much because their research institutions normally have the relevant subscriptions.
posted by zennie at 7:20 AM on November 16, 2007

grouse: thanks for the specification. That's basically what I was assuming, although focused on the library piece as an example, since that's what I know most.

I get fanatical about the potential for those indirect costs to support open access, instead of the current relatively closed system. I'll start repeating myself. It's quite obnoxious. It's already happening!

My favorite speakers on the topic talk about "information ecologies" or "system efficiencies", which for me is one of the most useful ways to think about it. Helps cut down on my fanaticism. So to the original poster: I think those are the more illuminating ways to approach the discussion. If I knew my head from my elbow in economics I'd probably have even more to say.
posted by lillygog at 8:36 AM on November 16, 2007

As far as I can tell, nobody has mentioned this, so I will. Scientists are interested in sharing information. You can always email the author of a paper (if not actually included in the source you found the citation, their email address can be found by googling their name and university) and ask them to send you a copy. If it's available electronically, and your author checks email frequently, you can have a free PDF in a few minutes. This is legal, ethical, and awesome.

Which is to say: publicly-funded (and privately-funded, and not really funded at all) scientific research is freely available, just not from the journal publisher.
posted by hydropsyche at 9:09 AM on November 16, 2007

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