(Updated: I failed to include a good passionate post by Kevin Zelnio, added below. Sorry, Kevin!)
As probably many of you know, I’ve been out of work since summer, and only recently began a part-time freelance writing gig. Being out of the academic loop has really hurt, and not just financially: colleges and universities have library access to journals, lots of ’em. However, if I want to write an article like this one on exoplanets orbiting binary stars, I need to get papers from Nature or Proceedings of the Natural Academy of Sciences or other journals. To download and print many of these papers, I would have to pay relatively large access fees: $30 is not unusual for a journal article.
I’m not saying this to get sympathy: my job at Ars Technica gets me the papers I need to write those particular articles, though my intrepid editor John Timmer. However, for my research or this blog, I don’t have the access. In fact, I don’t have electronic access to one of my own papers, and haven’t since 2005. (Again, I have a paper copy of it, and can get more legal copies if I really need them.) My other papers can be found on the arXiv, a free preprint database for physics and a few other fields currently hosted by the Cornell University library. However, these are not precisely the same as the published versions (though any difference is in formatting, not content). For my most recent paper, which I wrote about yesterday, we chose to publish in PLoS ONE, an open-access journal: you can download and print our paper for free, even if you aren’t affiliated with a university.
In this context, I’m more than a little concerned about the two problematic pieces of legislation in the United States: the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA)/ProtectIP and the Research Works Act. Others have written eloquently about the damage these two bills will do to working scientists, but also to the general public:
- The Electronic Frontier Foundation lays out the problems with SOPA/ProtectIP, with information on contacting your representatives (if you live in the US).
- Why Interlibrary Loan (ILL) isn’t a real solution to the problems caused by lack of access, by librarian Christina Pikas. (As an aside, and carrying on the Beastie Boys theme, is there a library blog titled “Licensed to ILL” yet?)
- The Research Works Act ends up making taxpayers pay for research twice over, explains Janet Stemwedel.
- Public Library of Science (PLoS) cofounder Michael B. Eisen argues passionately for total public access in the New York Times (and the article, unlike many other NYT columns, is open access!).
- Why much of academic publishing is a racket, by Daniel Shoup.
- Added: Another independent scientist, Kevin Zelnio, writes fervently against restriction of access.