Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, September 06, 2003

Andy Sullivan reports for Reuters that in the next few weeks the House Judiciary Committee and the Energy and Commerce Committee will hold joint hearings on a database protection bill. The bill would prohibit wholesale copying of databases containing factual information in the public domain. It could limit our right to copy real estate listings, directories of doctors and lawyers, judicial opinions, and scientific data. The bill is an end-run around the important principle that facts cannot be copyrighted, and a major threat to the free flow of information and the public domain. Also see the discussion on Slashdot. More details as they emerge. (Thanks to C-FIT.)

Andrew Marks is a Columbia University biologist and editor of the Journal of Clinical Investigation. When he's not in the lab or editorial office, he works to thwart the politically motivated boycott of Israeli scientists. In a recent interview, he described this work in a way that shows its connection to the open access movement: "Academic freedom and preserving open access to scientific information is a universal issue. The concept of excluding a specific group - in this case Israelis - based on politics potentially leads to very dangerous endpoints. The open exchange of ideas is fundamental to biomedical research and the advancement of learning and fighting human diseases. Who decides whether someone's political viewpoints are acceptable in the scientific world? Politics simply cannot be used as a litmus test for who can and cannot pursue scientific research."

More on the WIPO meeting....Drew Clark reports on the current state of the controversy in the September 5 Technology Daily PM Edition.

Felicia Lee, The Academic Industrial Complex, New York Times, September 6, 2003. Excerpt: "Financial pressures, of course, have always existed. But a series of developments over the last 20 years or so --a university's ability to patent and license scientific discoveries, the Internet's potential to market ideas, and a competitive cultural ethos that relies more and more on rankings in many fields of endeavor, including college admissions-- are creating new ethical quandaries. At the same time, government financing for college is decreasing, and tuition covers only a portion of the rising cost, which goes up about 6 percent a year. The university, critics warn, is in danger of selling its soul." (PS: The article does not cover the university's conflicting roles as knowledge producer and knowledge consumer, and hence its dual interest in generating revenue from its research and providing open access.)

The proceedings from the 2rd ECDL Workshop on Web Archives (Trondheim, Norway, August 21, 2003) are now online.

Friday, September 05, 2003

More on the WIPO meeting....Five major US library groups have written open letters to WIPO and the USPTO protesting the cancellation of the meeting and the role of the USPTO in the decision.

Excerpt from the letter to WIPO: "We write to express our surprise and dismay at recent press reports that the World Intellectual Property Organization may not take up an important recent proposal to hold a conference on open and collaborative models for development of public goods. The proposal was made in a letter to you dated July 7, 2003, signed by several dozen distinguished scientists, academics, technologists, open-source advocates, consumer advocates, librarians, industry representatives and economists worldwide. We urge WIPO to hold such a conference in 2004 as proposed. The application of open and collaborative models raises important intellectual property issues for the international community that WIPO should be addressing. These models are experiments in creative use of intellectual property law to achieve socially responsible and productive ends."

Excerpt from the letter to the USPTO: "We are deeply distressed by reports that the PTO, instead [of supporting the idea], expressly reprimanded WIPO, calling for the organization to improve its stewardship of interactions with nonprofit groups and other non-member organizations. The United States has long acted as a leading supporter of public participation at the international level. We highly value this commitment and applaud the efforts the United States has made to enable civil society to monitor, inform and participate in the activities of numerous international bodies. We trust that any statements the PTO may have made were misconstrued, and urge the PTO to clarify and reaffirm its commitment to active public participation at WIPO and to WIPO’s efforts to seek and benefit from the input of civil society." (The letter says that the meeting would have discussed open access to "academic research in the developing world" but in fact the open access discussion would have been limited to the developing world.)

The letters are signed by the directors of the American Association of Law Libraries, the American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, Medical Library Association, and Special Libraries Association.

Nancy Kranich has written an August 27 update to her May article on the ways in which the Patriot Act has curtailed freedom of expression in the US.

The university libraries of Cornell, Göttingen, and Michigan have launched a distributed digital library of mathematical monographs consisting of more than 2,000 volumes of important historical (public domain) monographs from their separate holdings. Moreover, they've made the collection full-text searchable, using a protocol "consistent with OAI, borrowed from DIENST". Searches return full citations to the hits, including volume page numbers. Click on a result to see a scanned image of the page. To run a search, use the interface at Michigan or Cornell, which are slightly different. For more details, see the press release.

Elsevier has put some PowerPoint slides on the web summarizing its interim results for 2003. Slide #16 shows that there were 4.5 million full-text articles in ScienceDirect on June 30, 2003, and slide #15 shows that there were 124 million article downloads in the 12 months preceding that date. This means that its articles were downloaded an average of 28 times each during the past year.

For comparison I asked Jan Velterop of BioMed Central what the download figure was for BMC articles during the same time period. He reports that the average is about 2500 per year, which doesn't count downloads of the same articles from PubMed Central. This is 89 times the Elsevier number. (PS: On another subject, note that slide #5 shows that Elsevier's revenues and profits are both up, when expressed in pounds, but both down in Euros.)

Thursday, September 04, 2003

Roy Rosenzweig, Scarcity or Abundance? Preserving the Past in a Digital Era, American Historical Review, June 2003. Rosenzweig goes beyond a very competent overview of the problem of digital preservation to unsettling reflections on how the discipline of history will change, not entirely for the better, the more we succeed in preserving our digital effluvia. Excerpt: "Computer scientist Jeff Rothenberg may have been over-optimistic when he quipped, 'Digital documents last forever —or five years, whichever comes first.'...If historians are to set themselves 'against forgetting' (in Milan Kundera's resonant phrase), then they may need to figure out new ways to sort their way through the potentially overwhelming digital record of the past. Contemporary historians are already groaning under the weight of their sources. Robert Caro has spent twenty-six years working his way through just the documents on Lyndon B. Johnson's pre-vice-presidential years —including 2,082 boxes of Senate papers. Surely, the injunction of traditional historians to look at 'everything' cannot survive in a digital era in which 'everything' has survived." (Thanks to Klaus Graf.)

David Rothman has written a critical response to Bernadine Healy's article in USNews. Excerpt: "So what's her solution to avoid tossing 'the current system overboard in a medical Boston Tea Party'? Pretty Tory-like, if you ask me. She just steers people to the PubMed search engine of the National Library of Medicine at NIH. Then, if the information is overpriced, you're supposed to beg the researchers for the articles. Oh, come on, Doctor. Do you really think that average patients or family members always have both the time and energy to churn out oodles of emails to research questions that may stump even their physicians? Or that researchers and their clerical help are delighted to drop what they're doing to respond to patient requests? Moreover, isn't it possible that with immediate access to the articles involved, someone with cancer or MS could quickly follow leads in one place to go to more complete and relevant information elsewhere--especially if a coherent linking system exists?"

Bernadine Healy, M.D., Power to the People!, September 8, 2003. A good review of the problems solved by open access to medical journals. Healy, the former director of the National Institutes of Health, defends open access, but argues that there's more open access already than many people realize. (PS: She's right about the National Library of Medicine, although most of it is not full-text. She's also right that in principle users can find citations, identify authors, send letters or email, and ask for copies, which authors can provide without violating copyright. But in practice this method faces too many uncertainties and access barriers to count as a solution that makes open-access archives and journals unnecessary.)

I just mailed the September 4 issue of the SPARC Open Access Newsletter. In addition to the usual round-up of news and bibliography from the past month, it takes a close look at the taxpayer argument for open access.

Marian Dworaczek has released the September 2003 edition of his Subject Index to Literature on Electronic Sources of Information. The new edition indexes 1,556 print and online sources.

Wednesday, September 03, 2003

When thinking about the Sabo bill, one naturally wonders how much university research it would affect. The August InfoBrief just released by the NSF Division of Science Resources Statistics (SRS) gives an answer: "Federal funding provided 59 percent of the R&D dollars expended at [US] universities and colleges" in FY 2001.

The American Philological Association is conducting an online survey on "the current role played by electronic publishing in the tenure and promotion processes for classicists." The results will help panelists prepare for a forum on Electronic Publishing and the Classics Profession at the APA January conference in San Francisco. (Disclosure: I'm one of the panelists.)

Research Information has published a supplement called Special 2003 (either print-only or not yet online) in which major scholarly publishers write first-person accounts of their businesses. Most of these are disguised advertisements in which the companies boast about revenues and impact factors rather than access, usefulness, or service to researchers. David Mort wrote an article to introduce the collection, "European online revenues on the rise", in which he gives exactly one paragraph to open access: "There is no consensus yet regarding the impact of emerging alternative publishing models, such as BioMed Central, but most academic information professionals are at least offering titles from these services to their users. It is likely to be another two or three years before the role of these new models becomes clearer. Some initial user concerns about the quality and range of titles available on these services suggest that they will be supporting services to the commercial publishers and vendors unless the range of titles on offer expands." (PS: Note to David Mort: open-access publishing delivers primary literature free of charge, not free add-ons to priced journals, not free spice to priced aggregations, not "supporting services" to "commercial publishers".)

Charles W. Bailey Jr. has released version 50 of his Scholarly Electronic Publishing Bibliography. The new version cites more than 1,950 books, articles, and other print and online sources on electronic scholarly publishing.

More on the Patriot Act....Sarah Whalen, a professor at Loyola University School of Law, was denied access to documents on a puritanical sect of Islam by the U.S. National Archives. The clerk cited the Patriot Act and explained that the documents "may contain information that terrorists can use, like names and addresses and information of U.S. citizens". When Whalen explained that the documents she sought were declassified and over 30 years old, the clerk replied, "I'm sorry, you can't look at the Saudi records even if they are a hundred years old....Ask again, and I will call security to remove you from the building and have you barred as a security risk." Whalen tells her story in the August 12 issue of The Palestine Chronicle. (Thanks to LIS News.)

Tuesday, September 02, 2003

Bloglet is back. Bloglet is the service that delivers blog postings by email. I registered the Open Access News blog (then called FOS News) to use Bloglet soon after the blog launched in the spring of 2002, and it worked without a hitch for about a year. But in April of this year it went offline without explanation and the host didn't answer my emails. But just as suddenly, the service resumed yesterday. If email is your preferred method for staying up to date, then I can recommend that you subscribe. But until I understand what went wrong between April and September, I cannot say that Bloglet is reliable. At least it is harmless, and will either bring you news on open access or nothing. It won't bring you any spam. If you'd prefer not to enlarge your stream of email, then you can read the blog on the web or have your news aggregator subscribe to our RSS newsfeed.

Monday, September 01, 2003

The August 25 issue of Open Access Now is now online. This issue features an interview with Martin Sabo, a proposal by Etienne Joly that would simultaneously evaluate the merits of a scientific paper and set the processing fee required for its open access disemination, a note on the proposed WIPO meeting on open-source software and open-access journals (now probably cancelled), a letter from Dave Ozonoff advocating an open-access condition on research grants, and a profile of SPARC. With this issue, OAN also launches the Open Access Now Forum.

More on the Lucy Maud Montgomery bill....W.J. McLean, The Impact of Bill C-36 on the Archival Public Domain. A detailed look at a bill that would extend the term of Canadian copyright for a certain class of works --namely, previously unpublished works by authors who died between 1930 and 1948 inclusive. Groups defending the public domain oppose the bill. The only apparent supporters are the heirs of Lucy Maude Montgomery, author of the book series about Ann of Green Gables. The bill may be debated in the Canadian Parliament as early as this month. (Thanks to Klaus Graf in Archivalia.)

Sunday, August 31, 2003

OJHAS: The Online Journal of Health and Allied Sciences Update OJHAS- the first online open access biomedical Journal from India is online with a brand new look and feel. This open Access Publication from India has already made its mark in the publishing arena, with many more publishers in the country following its footsteps. OJHAS is a good example of how Open Access Publishing can be effectively employed in the Developing world.