Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Berkeley perspectives on OA

Barry Bergman, Free-science movement gains a foothold at Berkeley, UC Berkeley News, February 14, 2007.  Excerpt:

When the journal Nature reported last month that a group of scientific-publishing goliaths had enlisted a "PR pit bull" to "take on the free-information movement"...the move was widely viewed as a declaration of war....

At Berkeley, though, one scientist at the heart of the so-called open-access movement which aims to apply that principle to the highly specialized realm of scientific and medical research was thrilled to hear that big commercial publishers were circling the wagons to defend their for-profit, subscription-based model.

"I think it's fantastic," exults Michael Eisen, an assistant professor of molecular and cell biology and a genetics researcher at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. "It's just evidence that open access is working."

Eisen, who received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers at a White House ceremony in 2004, is a co-founder of the San Francisco-based Public Library of Science, a leading advocate for free, online dissemination of scientific research....

With subscriptions for many scientific journals running to thousands of dollars and some single-article downloads priced at more than $50 apiece proponents of open access argue that vital medical knowledge, for example, is prohibitively expensive for individuals and families seeking reliable information, as well as for health workers caring for patients in developing countries. And as rising subscription fees force many libraries to constantly scale back their collections, even university-affiliated researchers can find themselves in the dark....

Many scientists, he adds, need not only access to printed text, but the ability to more fully exploit computer technology by manipulating and massaging other researchers' data as was done, in one prominent example, with the Human Genome Project.

"It's completely ridiculous that I, a publicly funded scientist, am unable to get access to the articles written by my colleagues and to download them onto my computer," says Eisen. "I'm not trying to steal their ideas, I'm not trying to do anything but make that information which they've spent their lives generating, and the government has spilled billions of dollars into funding much more robust, much more dynamic, and much more useful...."

[B]ecause so much of the money for scientific publishing derives from the federal Treasury in the form of direct research grants to scientists and indirect funding to publishers for printing their work the result, Eisen says, "is a business that for decades has basically been allowed to print checks from the government to themselves with very little restraint." ...

From the sidebar:

For Berkeley's library, 'serials crisis' means shrinking access to information

When the 10 UC libraries joined the Public Library of Science as an institutional member in 2004, Beverlee French, systemwide director for shared digital collections, called the move an effort at "directing some of our scarce dollars away from overpriced journals and toward innovation."

With budgets flat and scholarly-journal prices rising far faster than inflation, however, what's known as the "serials crisis" remains a pressing problem here at Berkeley and at universities and research institutions throughout the nation. Chuck Eckman, associate University Librarian and director of collections at Berkeley, warns that without increases to its budget, the campus library faces a shortfall of roughly $1.4 million in 2008 with a commensurate reduction in journal, book, and digital-resource acquisitions and a still-larger deficit in 2009.

"There's normal inflation and excessive inflation," Eckman says, referring to skyrocketing prices for serial journals. According to the Association for Research Libraries, serials costs jumped 226 percent between 1986 and 2000, a period when the Consumer Price Index rose by 57 percent....