Paying to read taxpayer-supported research
The results of taxpayer-supported scientific research is usually published in journals requiring pricey subscriptions or outrageous fees to read a single article. For example, a ScienceDaily.com article (Eat to Dream: Study Shows Dietary Nutrients Associated With Certain Sleep Patterns) discussing Dietary nutrients associated with short and long sleep duration. Data from a nationally representative sample said it was supported by “grants from National Institutes of Health (T32HL007713, 12SDG9180007 and P30HL101859).”
The latter article confirms that “This work was supported by T32HL007713, 12SDG9180007 and P30HL101859. Also, we wish to thank the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] for collecting these data and making them available.”
Tax dollars make the CDC possible. Taxes also help educate scientists and pay for them to work in taxpayer-supported universities that collaborate with taxpayer-funded institutions such as the CDC and other governmental agencies.
When taxes support scientists and their research, shouldn't the people who fund that research—taxpayers—be able to read its results without being shaken down for even more money? I say YES!
Besides the ridiculously excessive current $31.50 fee (with possible taxes) to read that one article, accessing the full article requires a five-step process (six if you include agreeing to their Purchase Agreement Terms and Conditions). If I did that for every article I wish to read, I'd be so broke I'd be homeless and I would spend half the year paying to read the results of research my taxes already paid for. Nuts.
This is an abomination that makes me cheer open-access journals. Fee-based journals inherently favor scientists at universities that pay for journal access, typically with tax dollars. Fee-based journals inherently discriminate against and thwart others, including millions of very bright people in impoverished nations who could do more to contribute to the progress of mankind if they had free access to all journals.
Case study: American Chemical Society
Let's say I joined the ACS to read one of their publications. For $151 per year, would I be able to read all of their articles? If I'm correctly interpreting their fine print, the answer is NO. I'd get “online access to any 25 articles.” What if I wanted more? I'd pay $12 to read each additional one, evidently with access limited to “48 hours from initial article request.”
What kind of sick game is this? Charging me every time I turn around and then limiting access? For what reason?
ACS offers an “ACS Member E-Passport” costing “$1,000 for 500 articles” with a “Limit of 500 articles per membership term.” Ridiculous! What if I want to read thousands more? Am I blocked, period, or do I pay $12 for each additional article? Nuts.
I like to read about 20 articles per day, so let's do the math.
20 articles/day x 365 days/year = 7300 articles/year
7300 articles @ $12/article = $87,600/year
$87,600/year + $151 membership fee = $87,751
$87,751 - $300 (for the 25 “free” articles) = $87,451.
With an ACS Member E-Passport, I'd save $6000 for the 500 included articles but pay $1000 for it, for a net savings of $5000, so my yearly total would be $82, 451.
Gee whiz, for a mere 82 to 87 grand per year, I could read their publications, which are a small fraction of the ones I read. If all publishers were as greedy as they are, I'd pay a few million dollars per year.
That's clearly a ripoff, but I am not the only one being screwed: taxpayers who funded universities, scientists, and their research have access so tightly controlled the information in the information age is bottled up by organizations such as the ACS who parasitize us to benefit themselves. Even if you have the money, no one has the time if you read articles in as many fields of research as I do.
UPDATE: I delayed publishing this for over two weeks to give ACS a chance to deny any of my allegations. I promptly received a canned message (“Please allow us approximately 24 hours to appropriately review and respond to all inquiries.”) and another (“Thank you for contacting the American Chemical Society. I am forwarding your request to our Member & Subscriber Services unit who will be able to assist you further.”). I never heard from them, nor did I receive a reply from any of the other five ACS people or departments I contacted.
I wrote again and received no reply, which manifests their arrogance and corroborates my facts that they evidently cannot refute. By ignoring my accusations, they're using a let's-just-bury-our-heads-in-the-sand-and-hope-sheeple-won't-notice approach to dealing with the reality of the Internet age: we don't need publishers who charge outrageous fees, restricting information to only those rich enough to pay for it; we need open information access for all, from rich to poor.
Information fuels progress and the economy. If you're one of the many millions of Americans either out of work or working for peanuts, you should realize how ACS and other greedy publishers are hurting you by doing what is best for them.
I sometimes scan hundreds of articles per day to find the ones I need. I can't scan them without reading them, and their abstracts (summaries) often provide insufficient information. So instead of 20 articles per day, my above example could grow to 200 to 400 articles per day, and thus over one million dollars per year—just to read articles!
If fee-based journals paid to educate scientists, supported their universities and research, then they would have every right to demand payment for accessing articles written by those scientists. But that's not how the system works. Taxpayers pay for most of it, but the whores at fee-based journals hold that information hostage in a world that clearly needs greater knowledge dissemination.
That's why I deeply mourn the loss of Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide at age 26 after he “was arrested by federal authorities in connection with systematic downloading of academic journal articles from JSTOR”—a site that hides information from those who do not submit to its highway robbery and waste-of-time policies. JSTOR says they “are deeply saddened to hear the news about Aaron Swartz.” Sure.
Swartz was a gifted individual “involved in the development of the web feed format RSS” and other Internet innovations. Is the world a better place because the thugs who went after him succeeded in restricting access to information? Obviously not. This was a victory for tyranny, not freedom, so it isn't surprising that the U.S. government prosecuted Swartz.
The USA is supposed to stand for freedom, but our freedoms are being progressively eroded by a government that gives only lip service to it. If our government truly cared about liberty, our freedoms would be maintained or increased, but instead we get more control, more tyranny, less freedom, and less money because of more taxes and fees. And when we try to get free access to information we paid for, we might get federal thugs putting us in handcuffs. Handcuffing taxpayer-supported information is unconscionable, and handcuffing those who make that info freely available is something that only a tyrannical government would do.
Our federal government did not financially hammer, or threaten to imprison, the Wall Street and other fat cats whose greed led to the financial collapse in 2008 that Main Street is still struggling to recover from. The feds looked the other way and even helped them with one bailout after another.
What principle of ethics could possibly explain why it is OK to ruthlessly prosecute Aaron Swartz but give a pass to, or reward, those leeches who screwed hundreds of millions of Americans now and in the future? But that's the reality of our once-great government that has morphed into a monster worse than the one our Founding Fathers fought to get off their backs: King George III of Great Britain. The taxes and controls he imposed were a tiny fraction of what our government imposes—yet we're free?
“There are 27 specific complaints against the British Crown set forth in the Declaration of Independence. To modern ears they still sound reasonable, in large part, because so many of them can be leveled against the federal government of the United States.”
— P. J. O'Rourke
Freedom is increasingly a quaint fantasy in the United States, which is increasingly tyrannical. One hallmark of tyrannies is that they overlook misdeeds of their friends while crushing people who haven't earned their favor (such as with political donations, which is how Wall Streeters and other fat cats bought their exemption from prosecution).
The rule of law stipulates that all people are equally subject to the law, but the rule of law obviously no longer exists in the United States. If more people were awake, we could help our government get back on the right moral track. To do this, don't look the other way as sheeple do; protest the injustice. Hammering Swartz while giving a pass to the fat cats who screwed Americans is a gross injustice.
Henry David Thoreau would be very proud of Aaron Swartz.
We, the taxpayers, paid to support that research, so we shouldn't need to pay money or time (with registering and jumping through hoops) to read it. Anyone who disagrees is a tyrant or otherwise morally defective. The justification for free access to taxpayer-supported research is clear; the justification for restricting it is laughable.
I would like to know what goes on in the minds of those who pat themselves on the back for restricting information access or prosecuting those who fight it. Such people likely exempt themselves from scrutiny by thinking they're robots doing their job, just following orders, but that excuse didn't work for German war criminals in the Nuremberg Trials, the take-home lesson of which is that individuals are responsible for their actions.
Robots unable to think for themselves cannot be blamed for what they do, but we can. Few evils in human history were directly committed by leaders; instead, they were committed by easily-duped automatons who gave too little thought to what they did. Blindly following leaders drunk on power, control, and suffused with the conviction that might makes right is a recipe for disaster. If you want the world to be a better place, stop following leaders and start following your heart and mind by proudly doing the right thing. If you think that people who pay for research should not have free access to it, you need a stat ethical and cognitive makeover.
Our government does not have enough money to find and punish every criminal, so it must wisely target the most dangerous ones. The men who brutally murdered my father were identified but not apprehended or prosecuted. The racists who killed my great-grandfather escaped justice, as do too many thugs who murder, rape, rob, or assault, such as the electrician who assaulted me in my home. I caught part of the assault on videotape, but not that or the wounds on my body led to a prosecution of the thug who obviously broke several federal and state laws.
When I worked as an ER doctor, I learned how many police departments were stretched dangerously thin, such as the Detroit police who told me they'd make a phone call (or two?) to investigate a murder. If that led somewhere, they'd pursue the case; if not, they'd drop it.
Imagine that: a murder of a precious human worth only a phone call, but the alleged crime of Aaron Swartz—downloading “too many” journal articles … sheesh!—warrants a massive federal investigation and a draconian punishment? What the heck is wrong with our leaders? Are they bereft of common sense? Don't they know how to prioritize things? Once the murderers and other dangerous criminals are behind bars, and once our national debt (which will eventually collapse our economy) is repaid, THEN consider prosecuting lesser offenses after legislators get in touch with reality.
The reality is this: if Aaron Swartz succeeded in his mission, the United States would be a better place. All scientists and others would have free access to journal articles they need to accelerate their research and catalyze our economy. Free open-access journals would flourish, and the others would go away. Their time is past; we no longer need them, nor do we need their fine print and legal threats they use to drain exorbitant amounts of money from us so we can read the results of research our taxes already paid for. They are execrable, while Aaron Swartz was ahead of his time in seeing how they are hurting others in myriad ways by going way overboard in restricting access to information.
Aaron Swartz was courageous and principled enough to do the right thing. He deserves praise for being a Founding Father of Free Information. He didn't deserve being hounded by the American Gestapo who think we're all better off when information is priced so outrageously than even doctors such as myself can't afford more than a small fraction of it. Sure, that's what patients want: their doctors unable to afford to read articles that could help them deliver better care and advance medical science. That information came from research and scientists supported by tax dollars, but the whores at paid journals who parasitize society think it is better to hold that information hostage. What kind of monsters are they?
Why publish in the pricey paid journals?
Why do scientists publish in journals that block information from those who don't pay their astronomical fees and agree to their outrageous terms?
First, many scientists work for universities that pay for journal access. If it costs an arm and a leg, who cares? It's the taxpayers or students paying for it, not them. (Ever wonder why taxes and tuition are so high? Here's one of the many reasons.)
Second, many scientists are so myopically focused on their research they don't give a second of thought about how information from other scientists is bottled up by greedy publishers.
Third, some people—even scientists—are sociopaths who don't care about others; they care about themselves, period.
Fourth, most scientists work in only one field. People like me who need information from many fields are particularly stymied by moneygrubbing publishers.
Finally, scientists are human and susceptible to common human foibles, such as the desire to inflate one's ego. Many scientists do that by submitting their findings to the old prestigious journals instead of new open-access ones that will eventually be held in higher esteem than the journals that prosper at the expense of Americans and others around the world. It takes time to change attitudes and opinions. It also takes time to change reflexive behavior: there is no need to publish in paid journals; there is just a want, as in scientists who want to feed their egos. They are not serving humanity; they are serving themselves.
Universities are purportedly dedicated to disseminating information, yet they have largely been silent and even complicit in restricting access to it. That's odd only if you think they're more focused on education than profit.
Ironically, universities are often hotbeds of far-left liberalism that maligns capitalism and profits, but hypocritical professors espousing that drivel are often greedier than the businessmen they excoriate. They pat themselves on the back but put a chokehold on information, burden students with massive debt, and actively resist innovations to make education better, faster, more convenient, and vastly more affordable.
- From Paul Allen, the Idea Man genius who cofounded Microsoft: “… we confronted a pivotal issue. Should we charge for access to our [Allen Institute for Brain Science] database? … The more widely the atlas was used, the greater the chance of a breakthrough. Charging for access might limit use to elite universities and the largest pharmaceutical firms, while shutting out some talented researcher[s] … who couldn't come up with the fee. We decided to place our data in the public domain, with free Internet access and a powerful, user-friendly interface. No registration would be required.”
- Scientists 'Bad at Judging Peers' Published Work,' Says New Study
- Nearly all of our medical research is wrong
Comment: One root cause of this: give pharmaceutical and other companies an incentive to cherry-pick data, and the data they cherry-pick isn't reliably representative of reality. Beyond the corporate chicanery are scientists eager to discover something, prove something, or just make a name for themselves. The author acknowledged that by admitting “the fault lies mainly with perverse incentives” but tried sugarcoating the inimical effect of those incentives.
POP QUIZ: I say “Theranos Lab.” You say?
Hint #1: Deficiencies Found at Theranos Lab
Hint #2: Theranos lab poses 'jeopardy to patient health': regulator
- Andrea Kuszewski: What Happened To Creativity In Science?
Excerpt: “Collaboration, open source data, and new types of 'peer review' that includes some type of crowdsourcing, is where we need to be headed. Open Access journals, such as PLoS One should be the standard, not the exception, for data sharing.”
Comment on the article, not the quote: More money than ever given to scientists; fewer big ideas in return.
- Who Killed the PrePrint and Could it Make a Return?
Excerpt: “… it was not until decades into the 20th century that peer review became more standardized. … Famously, Watson and Crick's double-helix paper from 1953 in Nature was never peer-reviewed. And Nature did not routinely practice peer review until 1967. This suggests that science was able to progress quite well for centuries despite the lack of a rigorous vetting system prior to communicating research.”
Comment: Articles can be peer reviewed and free, but as this discussion indicates, peer review is not essential to communicating valuable information.
Another excerpt: “Before the Internet, there were substantial costs to spreading knowledge through printed journals.”
Comment: Now it's essentially zero.
Another excerpt: “Surely there must be a way to satisfy the genuine concerns of some, with the greater good of the many?”
- PeerJ PrePrints
- Free advice for journal big shots: Print Media's Digital Malpractice
Excerpt: “The implications are clear: business models no longer last, in media especially. Rather than try to fit new technology into an old model, publishers need to embrace the new reality and reinvent their business. … At the root of the problem is that many publishers seem confused about what business they’re in. After all, the function of media is not to build a subscriber base, but to spread ideas.”
- Social Media Brings Academic Journals to General Readers
Excerpt: “… the majority of journals have yet to embrace social media and so lag behind professional organizations and patient advocacy groups in their ability to disseminate information in a culturally relevant way.”
Comment: Their greedy business models manifest how most journals care more about profits than disseminating information.
- Scientific Insurgents Say 'Journal Impact Factors' Distort Science
- Beyond Peer Review: Finding a Way to Manage Errors in Research Data
Excerpt: “Traditional peer review is not enough to ensure data quality amid the recent boom in scientific research findings, according to results of a 10-year collaboration between the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and five technical journals.”
- Publication Of Flu Vaccines Studies In Prestigious Journals Are Determined By The Sponsor
- Gender Bias Found in How Scholars Review Scientific Studies
- Experts Propose Restoring Invisible and Abandoned Trials 'to Correct the Scientific Record'
- Business Models and the Singularity
- The Business Model Innovation Factory: How to Stay Relevant When The World is Changing
- Aaron Swartz's Girlfriend Accuses MIT Of Dragging Its Feet On Investigating His Suicide
Commenting on that, Andy wisely noted, “The papers are paid with public money and should be public. Why should knowledge be available to the rich only? When M.I.T. became a slave of the rich and the government?”
- Aaron Swartz's Girlfriend Has A Damning Theory About The Young Reddit Co-Founder's Suicide
Comment: This is one reason I am now less conservative. Years ago, I'd argue with friends or anyone else who criticized our government, which I now realize is a thug determined to sweep its misdeeds and atrocities under the rug while it gives itself the right to crush anyone it deems less than perfect, even if they pursue noble ends, such as Aaron Swartz. Our government operates on the might makes right principle: the same one favored by Hitler, Stalin, murderers, rapists, and thugs everywhere. I once thought our government was the greatest thing since sliced bread, and now I don't think it is even legitimate. If you can change my mind, I'll give you $100,000.
- Remarks by Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman on Aaron Swartz's life and death.
- Did The Federal Prosecutors Treat Aaron Swartz Too Harshly?
A commenter astutely asked, “[they ruthlessly prosecuted Swartz but] not a single Wall Street banking executive who lied to investors and secured a bailout for activities that have angered the entire US population has been prosecuted by the the US attorney. Funny, isn't it?”
- Prosecutors May Have Wanted Aaron Swartz In Jail To Justify Arresting Him In The First Place
- Rep. Issa Slams Prosecutors For How They Handled The Aaron Swartz Case
- Full text of Aaron Swartz's Guerilla Open Access Manifesto
- Aaron Swartz's Death Is A Tragedy — And There Are Some Questions That Need To Be Answered
- Aaron Swartz's Father Says His Son Was 'Killed By The Government'
- We the People: Remove United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz
- Research Funding Has Become Prone to Bubble Formation
- The review of scientific studies in journals is subjective and quality is variable
- Pressure to 'publish or perish' may discourage innovative research
- Simple errors limit scientific scrutiny
Excerpt: “… more than half of the public datasets provided with scientific papers are incomplete, which prevents reproducibility tests and follow-up studies.”
- Scientists warned of costly impure chemicals