New Avenues to Knowledge

Science publishing is at a crossroads. On We Beasties, Kevin Bonham says that early scientists “communicated amongst themselves in person or in letters or in books. They shared discoveries freely and it was possible for an individual human to be aware of almost the entire sum of human knowledge.” As the pace of discovery accelerated, scientific journals became instrumental in recording and disseminating knowledge. But today, while earnest researchers must “publish or perish,” and millions of students stand to benefit from open access, publishers themselves are focused on turning a profit. Bonham debunks the antiquated advantages of classical journals, and envisions a future where “distribution of scientific knowledge returns to the model of the 19th century – free and openly distributed – but now also instantly and globally distributed at the same time.” Meanwhile, on Confessions of a Science Librarian, John DuPuis joins the boycott against publisher Elsevier in response to their “excessive commercial avarice” and encourages other librarians to take a stand. And on Aarvarchaeology, Martin Rundkvist outlines his involvement with progressive publishing—and invites us to download his new book, free of charge.

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H.R. 3699 Threatens Free Publications

On Discovering Biology in a Digital World, Sandra Porter imagines the fallout of HR 3699, a bill that would eliminate the requirement for free public access to NIH-funded research papers. Porter writes, “The reasoning behind this requirement is that taxpayers funded everything about the research except for the final publication, and so they have already paid for access.” In small schools and community colleges without costly journal subscriptions, passage of this bill would effectively remove contemporary scientific literature from the classroom. Porter continues, “working in science, and learning about science, requires looking at papers from multiple journals and multiple years from those journals.” With many journals priced more than $200 a year, and single articles more than $30, open access becomes invaluable when “students might need to look at ten papers to complete an assignment.” Mark Hoofnagle also covers the news on Denialism Blog, asking “what did it take to make Carolyn Maloney back the publishers over the public and advance this bill? About $9000 in donations from publishers (Issa only needed about $2000). It’s pathetic how cheap it is to get a member of congress to vote for an industry over the public.” In her original post, Sandra Porter concludes “In an era where the economic benefits of educating students in science are well-known, the idea of crippling science education by cutting off access to the primary literature is puzzling.” We can think of a few less generous adjectives.

Imagining the Future

i-623d2553395dea8ccb96564bd63b94dc-futurebuzz.jpgOn Universe, Claire L. Evans interviews sci-fi world-builder Ursula K. Le Guin. Their conversation centers on the Google Books Settlement, which seeks to “circumvent existing U.S. copyright law.” While Le Guin hopes her books will become more accessible in the future, she says “the vast and currently chaotic electronic expansion of publishing should not be controlled solely by corporations.” On Uncertain Principles, Chad Orzel reviews China Mieville’s new novel The City and the City, which is about two cities that enforce very strict boundaries despite being “co-located” on the same real estate. While Chad appreciates the trickiness of the premise and Mieville’s “bravura show of writing ability,” he wonders why either city “would agree to such a daft state of affairs.” On Pharyngula, PZ Myers gripes about SF’s dependence on humanoid aliens, asking why more creators don’t examine “the diversity within the phylum Chordata, let alone some of the weirdness in other phyla.” And on Collective Imagination Greg Laden wonders if having a chip in his head might make his medical odyssey a bit more efficient.

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