Making Science Proprietary

I have no idea what is driving this, whether it be a crass payback for campaign contributions (as implied in the full article) or a desire to stop those irritating amateur bloggers from trying to replicate “settled science,” but it is, as a reader said who sent it to me, “annoying:”

There are some things science needs to survive, and to thrive: eager, hardworking scientists; a grasp of reality and a desire to understand it; and an open and clear atmosphere to communicate and discuss results.

That last bit there seems to be having a problem. Communication is key to science; without it you are some nerd tinkering in your basement. With it, the world can learn about your work and build on it.

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.

I continue to be confused how research funded with public monies can be “proprietary,” but interestingly this seems to be a claim pioneered in the climate community, more as a way to escape criticism and scrutiny than to make money (the Real Climate guys have, from time to time, argued for example that certain NASA data and algorithms are proprietary and cannot be released for scrutiny – see comments here, for example.)

  • SpellOutcaster

    It used to be that stuff which the U.S. Government paid for was in the public domain. Thirty years ago, government contractors were able to claim copyright to government-funded work and to keep control of inventions.

    If people want to suckle from public money, the public should benefit. People are forced to pay taxes and they should share in the benefits.

  • JDubya

    Conyers is a total crook. He is a deranged little man with a Napoleon Complex. Look at his hideous wife who by the way is a totally racist whore.

  • morganovich

    it looks to me as thought he discovery article may be mistaken in its assessment. the statement “He is pushing a bill through Congress that will literally ban the open access of these papers, forcing scientists to only publish in journals.” does not seem to be supported by the bill.

    the summary of the bill is as follows:

    “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act – Prohibits any federal agency from imposing any condition, in connection with a funding agreement, that requires the transfer or license to or for a federal agency, or requires the absence or abandonment, of specified exclusive rights of a copyright owner in an extrinsic work.

    Prohibits any federal agency from: (1) imposing, as a condition of a funding agreement, the waiver of, or assent to, any such prohibition; or (2) asserting any rights in material developed under any funding agreement that restrain or limit the acquisition or exercise of copyright rights in an extrinsic work. ”

    http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d111:HR00801:@@@D&summ2=m&

    based on my read of the bill itself, this seems like an accurate summary.

    what this seems to say is that the government cannot take nor require to be forgone any copyright protection upon scientific works produced using government money.

    i see no prohibitions of open access nor requirements to publish in journals. this legislation would certainly give the authors the capability to do just that, but i see nothing coercive. allowing them to keep copyright seems in line with many other broad policies. a defense contractor can keep patent to technologies developed with DARPA funds etc.

    certainly a scientist who fails to disclose data and methodology ought be taken less seriously than one who does, but this discover article seem to go far beyond that and raise fears of an outright ban.

    it seems to me is all it is doing is making the studies private property.

    a scientist who so wished could make his work available anywhere he chose. i do not see where they are getting this notion of a ban. anyone else have thoughts?

  • morganovich

    it does occur to me that one loophole here might be that many journals require exclusivity in publishing and are only prevented, in at least some cases, from so doing by government stipulation that publicly funded research must be rendered openly accessible. assuming journals have power over scientists to force their hands in such matters, this could effectively result in a “ban” but it still seems less of a threat than discovery would have us believe.

    does anyone know how this currently works?

    it poses an interesting question in terms of “shall we support the right of scientists to retain the property of their work” or “shall we support the right of consenting adults to enter into contracts without interference”.

    personally, i tend to come down on the side of the latter. if someone pays you to write a book for them, you may not get to keep it if that’s the deal you struck. saying that no one can pay you to write a book and take copyright would seem foolish (and reduce the number of books).

  • kuhnkat

    Morganovich,

    How about the taxpayer has a right to profit from the work for which they PAY!!!!

    Having Administrators and other Bureaucrats cut deals with, er, enter into contracts with people which may NOT be to the benefit of the taxpayer is not something I see as good. Having politicians do it is probably WORSE!!

    If the taxpayer pays for it, the taxpayer should have access or be REPAID!! If the Scientist or research center does not like that, they should find PRIVATE funding which would ALSO require compensation for funding the research.

    If they want sole ownership for their work they should fund it themselves or find a soft touch who is dumb enough, err, interested in the advancement of science enough that they will allow the Scientist sole ownership.

    I thought the left wasn’t interested in the profit motive???? The Scientist should be working for the greater good and not for profit!!! An acknowledgement of their hard work should be enough!! ;>)

  • Aron

    Make sure the electorate in John Conyers’ state know about this. Best thing to do is starting writing to teachers and scientists in the state and hopefully they’ll raise noise in the local media.

  • Aron

    I hear this is his email john.conyers@mail.house.gov

  • morganovich

    kuhnkat-

    there are numerous examples of taxpayer funded works to which the public does not get access. a defense contractor developing a new radar or a new cockpit cowling or even a new material keeps patent to those technologies. universities using government funds to develop lasers keep the laser patents (mine certainly did). the public does not get to see CIA or NSA of FBI data. we don’t get access to new rocket designs from NASA nor DEA studies of drug trafficking activities. this would certainly not be unprecedented.

    one can say the government ought to keep and publish title to any non security affecting works produced with its funds, but this is a limiting stance. sometimes it may be enough just to get the work done. by allocating funds, they determine what work gets done. this ability has value, and paying for it need not be unreasonable. (is it open to abuses? certainly. but what isn’t?)

    that said, i agree it’s a stupid law, but more because there is no reason to stipulate how interactions between parties need to be than due to a fundamental right to openness. if the government wants to retain access or publishing rights to a work, they ought to be able to do so as long as they stipulate this up front and the other party agrees.

    i really don’t see the point of passing a law forbidding them to do so. it seems capricious. there is no reason to limit contract structure in this way.

    of course, this is a much bigger deal than it would be had government grants not become such a massive portion of research. the politicization of science is very worrying. it’s one thing to fund development of a new spy satellite, but quite another to fund research into areas that drive policy (like climate or one of these incredibly stupid “video games increase promiscuity” studies). the bias of officials allocating funds is very likely to drift into the funding decisions. this skew results toward what they want to hear, giving them more backing for their position, further skewing results. run this loop for several iterations and you can get a real mess.

  • Emergency!!!!!

    Worst case scenario confirmed! Run for you liiiiives!!!!

    http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article5882341.ece

  • SpellOutcaster

    morganovich – What you described does not forbid the scientist from making a study and data public. However, it does forbid the government (source of money) from being able to require access to the work. So someone can take the money, do research, and then not give the government a license to use the results. The researcher can provide exclusive use by someone else and this bill forbids the government from being able to use the material.

    At present the government is granted a license to use the work for the government’s use; the researcher can also make other use of the work. This bill forbids the government from being able to require that the researcher not make an exclusive agreement with someone else.

  • papertiger

    Government funded studies which are counter to the public good, such as doctored up “proofs” of global warming ala Hansen, specially tasked to make profits for the selected few with the proper politics, ala Al Gore and friends, are not to be scrutinzed by the people who pay for them.
    Let’s call it the RealClimate Act of 2009.
    There’s nothing to worry about.

    Trust me.

  • Eric H

    Probably just part of the ongoing mistaken belief that if it is published in a peer-reviewed journal, it must be Truth.

  • SpellOutcaster

    Probably just part of the ongoing mistaken belief that if it is published in a peer-reviewed journal, it must be Truth.

    Like the “Congressional Record”?