Should open access be extended to non-publicly funded research?

A recent article by Cory Doctorow in The Guardian has caused me to stop and rethink a basic view I’ve held for a while…
I think it is a no-brainer that the results of publicly-funded research should be required to be made openly accessible. What the public has paid for through taxes belongs to the public – they should not have to pay again to read the results.
…But I have always considered the results of research that private companies invest in to be theirs alone to decide how to disseminate – if at all. However, Doctorow makes a very good point that some private research results should be required to be open for ethical reasons (that could mean life or death!):
“The reason pharma companies should be required to publish their results isn’t that they’ve received a public subsidy for the research. Rather, it is because they are asking for a governmental certification saying that their products are fit for consumption, and they are asking for regulatory space to allow doctors to write prescriptions for those products. We need them to disclose their research – even if doing so undermines their profits – because without that research, we can’t know if their products are fit for use.”
Pharmaceutical companies have long suppressed results that would reflect negatively on their products. They have an ethical obligation to disclose ALL results of drug tests. This is not just their bottom line that we are talking about – but someone’s health and possibly their life.

Guardian Article on the Scholarly Publishing Market

A recent article in the Guardian has generated much discussion online (see the numerous comments on the article itself!). George Monbiot does not mince words when describing the current economics of the scholarly publishing market.
A sample:
” Murdoch pays his journalists and editors, and his companies generate much of the content they use. But the academic publishers get their articles, their peer reviewing (vetting by other researchers) and even much of their editing for free. The material they publish was commissioned and funded not by them but by us, through government research grants and academic stipends. But to see it, we must pay again, and through the nose. ”
” What we see here is pure rentier capitalism: monopolising a public resource then charging exorbitant fees to use it. Another term for it is economic parasitism. To obtain the knowledge for which we have already paid, we must surrender our feu to the lairds of learning. ”
George Monbiot, Academic Publishers Make Murdoch Look Like a Socialist, The Guardian, August 29, 2011

New Study: Very Rapid & Sustainable Growth of OA

A recent article published in PLoS ONE has been receiving a lot of attention lately. Laakso et al studied the growth of Open Access journal publishing from 1993 to 2009 and found…
“Since the year 2000, the average annual growth rate has been 18% for the number of journals and 30% for the number of articles. This can be contrasted to the reported 3,5% yearly volume increase in journal publishing in general.”
The authors’ results also indicate that OA is a sustainable form of academic publishing since a large number of the original or pioneering OA journals are still publishing and growing.
Laakso M, Welling P, Bukvova H, Nyman L, Björk B-C, et al. (2011) The Development of Open Access Journal Publishing from 1993 to 2009. PLoS ONE 6(6): e20961. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020961

Can wikis transform medical publishing?

The Canadian open access medical journal, Open Medicine, just announced a wiki version of a systematic review. See more about this interesting and innovative publishing experiment below.
From the press release:
OTTAWA, Tuesday, March 1—Today, Open Medicine ( is
pleased to announce the publication of a wiki version of a new
systematic review of second-line diabetes drugs. To the best of our
knowledge, Open Medicine is the only peer-reviewed medical journal using
wikis as a publishing platform. “Knowledge is dynamic and a wiki is a
publishing tool that truly reflects that,” says Anita Palepu, MD, editor
of Open Medicine. “Our hope is that this manuscript will evolve as our
knowledge evolves and, ultimately, be improved by contributions directly
from our readers to our authors.”
The systematic review is authored by a team of researchers affiliated
with the Canadian Agency for Drugs and Technologies in Health (CADTH;
Prior to publication as a wiki, this systematic review was peer-reviewed
to ensure it satisfied Open Medicine’s editorial standards. Access to
the wiki version will not be limited to health experts, but readers must
register, state their affiliations and complete a competing-interests
statement before they can contribute. Changes will be monitored by the
journal’s staff and substantive edits will be brought to the attention
of the review authors.
Systematic reviews can become rapidly outdated as new research is
published. Providing authors and readers with an updated document offers
several advantages, yet biomedical publishers have rarely done so. The
advantages include:
1) Changes to a wiki are publicly available as soon as they are made,
2) Wikis create a centralized document for easy editing,
3) Readers can track the changes that have been made to a document,
provided a form of post-publication peer-review;
For a more thorough discussion of the potential role of wikis in
biomedical publishing, see “Medical research and social media: Can wikis
be used as a publishing platform in medicine?” an editorial by the
editors at Open Medicine published in 2009 when the journal first
piloted a wiki.
Citation: McIntosh, B., Cameron, C., Singh, S.R., Yu, C., Ahuja, T.,
Welton, N.J., and Dahl, M. (2011) Second-line therapy in patients with
type 2 diabetes inadequately controlled with metformin monotherapy: a
systematic review and mixed-treatment comparison meta-analysis Open Med
To access the wiki version of this article, visit:

Shakespeare and Copyright

There is an interesting discussion developing online regarding whether copyright helps or hinders artists. It was spurred by a recent op-ed column in the NY Times that basically argues that copyright protects the income of artists therefore allowing them to continue to create. The authors contend that Shakespeare was able to continue to produce his works because of the income from the Globe Theatre’s admissions.
However, as Kevin Smith points out, artists generally survive off their patronages (government grants, academic appointments, wealthy sponsors) NOT the little that might trickle down to them through royalties from copyright.
And the TechDirt blog has posted an even more compelling response: If current copyright laws existed in Shakespeare’s time would he have even been able to create his masterworks? Art inspires art. Shakespeare himself created derivative works based on the products of others. Today’s copyright laws would likely have prevented him from doing so in many cases… and we would be without his cultural legacy.

Science Publishing and the Internet

John Wilbanks, vice president of science at Creative Commons, argues in Seed that “…the Internet is poised to transform science publishing and science itself.”
“The changes wrought by digital networks in other content industries, from music to cinema to journalism, are coming to the scientific publishing industry as well. Libraries are canceling subscriptions; funders—especially tax payers—are moving to ensure access to knowledge produced by their investment; and new business models are emerging to challenge the industry. For scientific publishing the days of securing profit margins through punitive pricing and aggressively enforced digital-rights management are numbered.”
Restricting access to scientific knowledge only stifles innovation and impedes progress. Supporting Open Access to the results of research facilitates the speed of dissemination and ultimately enables broader participation in science.

Robert Darnton on the Serials Crisis

Robert Darnton, Director of the Harvard University Library, recently wrote an excellent column in the New York Review of Books entitled “The Library: Three Jeremiads“. He describes three crises currently facing academic/research libraries – one of which is the serials crisis (his “Jeremiad 2”).
Some excerpts:
“In 2009, Elsevier, the giant publisher of scholarly journals based in the Netherlands, made a $1.1 billion profit in its publishing division, yet 2009 was a disastrous year for library budgets. Harvard’s seventy-three libraries cut their expenditures by more than 10 percent, and other libraries suffered even greater reductions, but the journal publishers were not impressed. Many of them raised their prices by 5 percent and sometimes more.”
“While prices continued to spiral upward, professors became entrapped in another kind of vicious circle, unaware of the unintended consequences. Reduced to essentials, it goes like this: we academics devote ourselves to research; we write up the results as articles for journals; we referee the articles in the process of peer reviewing; we serve on the editorial boards of the journals; we also serve as editors (all of this unpaid, of course); and then we buy back our own work at ruinous prices in the form of journal subscriptions—not that we pay for it ourselves, of course; we expect our library to pay for it, and therefore we have no knowledge of our complicity in a disastrous system.”
This article is a good introduction to the issue that spurred the creation of the Open Access movement.