January 13, 2012, 12:59 pm

The Cost of Research

By Henry Woodbury

As the rumble between intellectual property and free speech advances into the ring drawn by SOPA (the Stop Online Piracy Act), Michael B. Eisen draws attention to a fight on the undercard. Eisen, professor of molecular and cell biology, critiques The Research Works Act which, in his words:

…would forbid the N.I.H. [National Institutes of Health] to require, as it now does, that its grantees provide copies of the papers they publish in peer-reviewed journals to the library. If the bill passes, to read the results of federally funded research, most Americans would have to buy access to individual articles at a cost of $15 or $30 apiece. In other words, taxpayers who already paid for the research would have to pay again to read the results.

Supporters of the bill include many traditional publishers of medical research (ironically, one of its sponsors, Darrell Issa, Republican of California, is one of SOPA’s most prominent opponents).

Dynamic Diagrams has a long history of working with scientific publishers going back over 15 years. We worked with major journals like Nature and JAMA to bring them fully online; we’ve also worked with research aggregators such as HighWire and Publishing Technology. We’re well aware of the technology and information management demands required just for online presentation, let alone the physical and specialist costs of creating a print publication. Now consider the editorial investment required to guide content to a publishable state (even if, as Eisen points out, peer review is provided voluntarily, often by researchers at publicly-funded institutions). Just for example, at a tactical level, most journals require an access-controlled transactional web space for authors and editors to exchange drafts.

This is not to take sides in the argument, but to draw attention to the real costs associated with managing and presenting electronic information. These should not be disregarded. At Scientific American, the comments section to Michelle Clement’s call for opposing the bill offers some back-and-forth (hopefully Clement won’t follow through on her threat to delete those comments she doesn’t like), including a link to the¬†Association of American Publisher’s competing point of view.

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Filed under: Current Events, Scholarly Publishing, Technology

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