The Research Works Act: Asking the public to pay twice for scientific knowledge

I hope that some of you are following the discussions on the Research Works act (HR 3699, sponsored by Reps. Darrell Issa [CA] and Carolyn Mahoney [NY]), which would prevent federal agencies from insisting on open access publishing of research supported by federal funds. An interesting addition comes from Janet Stemwedel on the Doing Good Science blog, who writes about the ethical aspects of the act.

Let’s take this at the most basic level. If public money is used to fund scientific research, does the public have a legitimate expectation that the knowledge produced by that research will be shared with the public? If not, why not? (Is the public allocating scarce public funds to scientific knowledge-building simply to prop up that sector of the economy and/or keep the scientists off the streets?)

Assuming that the public has the right to share in the knowledge built on the public’s dime, should the public have to pay to access that knowledge (at around $30 per article) from a private sector journal? The text of the Research Works Act suggests that such private sector journals add value to the research that they publish in the form of peer review and editing. Note, however, that peer review for scientific journals is generally done by other scientists in the relevant field for free. Sure, the journal editors need to be able to scare up some likely candidates for peer reviewers, email them, and secure their cooperation, but the value being added in terms of peer reviewing here is added by volunteers. (Note that the only instance of peer reviewing in which I’ve participated where I’ve actually been paid for my time involved reviewing grant proposals for a federal agency. In other words, the government doesn’t think peer review should be free … but a for-profit publishing concern can help itself to free labor and claim to have added value by virtue of it.)

Read the complete post here.

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