Thursday, December 16, 2010

Introducing Science Leaks

(Cross-posted from RRResearch.)

This venture was triggered by the many people complaining that they couldn't evaluate the 'arseniclife' paper because the journal Science only allowed access to its abstract, not to the full paper or its supplementary online materials.  In response, Science temporarily opened access to people wiling to register at their site, but when the month ends the barrier will go right back up.

This access problem applies to the great majority of scientific papers.  The public pays for the research, but the results are locked behind journal-subscription paywalls, accessible only to people with personal subscriptions or affiliated with major research libraries, or to those willing to pay $20-$40 for access to individual articles.

Most researchers agree that this legacy of the pre-internet days is morally wrong and unfair to everyone.  Those of us who can afford it pay thousands of dollars to the journals to make our own articles open access.  And many of us post PDFs of our own papers on our personal web sites.  But these aren't easy to find, especially for people not working in the field.

So I've set up a web site called Science Leaks (actually a Blogger blog) to serve as a clearing house, providing links to the papers people want to read.  Anyone who's looking for access to a paper can simply post the paper's information as a comment, and anyone who knows where a pdf is available can then post the link.  (Once a link is posted I'll remove the request comment, to keep things tidy.)

This is just a stopgap solution.  In the short term, if there's sufficient interest someone will (I hope) help me to set up a better site.  But the real solution is to change from having subscribers pay publication costs to having granting agencies pay them, either directly or as a line item in grant budgets.

20 comments:

  1. A great idea. But are you sure this won't put you in trouble with the publishing companies? Good luck and thanks!

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  2. The problem is where to store them. There is a billion dollar parasitic industry behind this that will fight to get the pdf files removed. Those of us in the academic community could easily download everything, convert them into PDF and post them cablegate style. Perhaps they could all live on a tor site. Sounds like fun.

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  3. Do scientists get any money out of those costs? Or does that subscription fee only go to the publisher?

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  4. This is what the getarticles email list is for:

    http://groups.google.com/group/getarticles

    It's been fairly successful so far.

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  5. Scientists do not generally get money for writing a submission article. What happens is that to force them to publish in these journals, they must produce significant publications in order to get funding via government and other grants. When applying for a grant they are required to submit also a list of publications, and so they get caught on a hamster wheel of forced publishing for funding, however they never see a dime for the published articles which the publishers make money on.

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  6. This is definitely the right idea, but I think it needs a better implementation, and probably pretty quickly. I might suggest a torrent model, where people could share their personal libraries without having to go through the extra steps of uploading to an anonymous site and then posting a link. (E.g., I'm doing my own background research, I download papers into my own library, which are then shared anonymously via Tor.) Also, I think you want to get your real name off this, and at least have a semblance of anonymity yourself. These are big companies who will absolutely try to protect copyrights.

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  7. The primary issue I see here is that Blogger has not been a very information-sharing friendly environment in the past. There was relatively big news a while ago when they were taking down mp3 blogs, both those posting full CD rips and those linking single mp3s with artist endorsement. I'd advise moving to a different hosting service of somw sort as quickly as possible.

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  8. This is the right idea for sure. Publicly funded papers should be legally required to be publicly available, we need national/federal laws to this regard and the public needs to lobby their congressmen in this regard.

    Authors don't make a cent off publication, and corrupt journals demand copyright transfer as a precondition of publication which is nothing more than a shakedown. Journals are little better than organized crime rackets.

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  9. what about arxiv.org?

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  10. There are much simpler ways to accomplish this.

    If all you want is a PDF of a particular paper, just send an email to the corresponding author and ask for it. Simple, direct, and doesn't violate copyright law. As an added bonus, the author gets the satisfaction of knowing how many people want to see her/his paper.

    And have you heard of PubMed Central? It is a digital archive of papers funded by the US National Institutes of Health. Your tax dollars are paying for it, might as well use it: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/

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  11. Who will alert individuals if there is a correction to a published paper?

    What if a paper is retracted? Are you set up to notify the requestor?

    How do you distinguish between preprints and the final edited article?

    In fact, how do you know that the article being posted is actually the real thing, not some edited pdf which was downloaded and modified previously?

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  12. The comparison to wikileaks is a bit misleading; this idea is more like Science Piratebay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

    The Blogger platform is probably not very good for this purpose, and storing stuff on fileservers probably will soon result in cease-and-desist letters. As another anon said, torrent model would probably be safer.

    Re emailing the author: what if the author of the paper is dead (as is the majority of those I need)?

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  13. "Journals are little better than organized crime rackets."

    I am not sure the numerous highly respected scientific societies, such as the American Society for Cell Biology, AAAS, ASBMB, and EMBO, who operate journals would agree.

    Naive, tar-all comments like this demonstrate a complete lack of understanding of the complexities involved in trying to maximize both the accessibility and the utility of scientific communications.

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  14. Isn't the point of publishing in expensive journals that the journals peer review their content?

    If you smash the peer review model you will end up with academics competing with creationists and homoeopaths for scientific funding based on google ranking.

    I would prefer to see a model where the mainstream media have to cite sources and pay a few thousand dollars to open up access to an individual piece of work.

    That way the integrity of the peer review model is maintained, people reading about science in the media have access to the original work and the, ahem, somewhat lax standard of newspaper/tv publishing is improved.

    If you think a newspaper paying a few thousand for an article is too steep, bear in mind they regularly pay those sums to paparazzi for a photograph of a celebrity out shopping...

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  15. I have a question:

    In my (third world) country they have just published a set of national building regulations drawn up by a certain parastatal body. Building industry professionals can now obtain a copy (on one DVD) of that but the price tag is about $970 (about 708 Euros). In terms of the currency of my country, the price tag is enourmous - smallscale operators just cannot afford to buy a copy, and yet they cannot legally operate without it. Ordinary citizens, in my opinion, have a right to have FREE access to all legislation that affects their lives. Setting such an astronomical pricetag in effect denies the less wealthy free access to that information.

    Would ScienceLeaks therefor publish such a document, were it leaked to them, seeing that it is not strictly speaking a 'scientific paper' originally published in a scientific journal, but nevertheless is a technical document that should be freely accessible to all concerned citizens in my country, including scientific researchers?

    If not, should not a separate organization/website be created to provide for the need, maybe call it something like GovDocLeaks or something similar? Does such a website perhaps already exist?

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  16. A better solution:
    http://science.shouldbefree.org/

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  17. Wow, Scienceshouldbefree looks great!

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  18. You will be in breech of copyright and probably get sued!

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