22 June 2011

Open access and taxes

There are many reasons to argue for open access of scientific research. But this is not the best one:

It’s your taxes that fund the research, you should have access to the results without me or anyone else being a mediator.

That one is from Kevin at We, Beasties. When I protested that this argument omits indie science, Kevin replied that it’s such a small amount as to be not even worth considering.

Here’s how I see arguments going for people who try to link open access to tax dollars.

Open access advocate: American tax payers have paid for this research, so it should be freely available.

Unconvinced person: How will you do that? Put it on blogs? In library archives?

OAA: Oh, no! Real science has to be published in peer-reviewed journals for quality control purposes.

UP: Who runs those journals now?

OAA: Mostly private businesses.

UP: So you want to put those publishers out of business? You’re a socialist who wants to kill private sector jobs.

OAA: Wha...? No! Open access doesn’t mean a journal can’t be for profit.

UP: How are journals supposed to turn a profit if all that intellectual property is given out for free?

OAA: The authors will pay fees to the journal if their paper is accepted.

UP: How much?

OAA: One of the most successful open access journals charges $1,350 for each paper.

UP: And that comes out of the authors’ own pockets?

OAA: Oh, no! That money is budgeted by the researchers into the government grants we get.

UP: So you want even more of my tax dollars to fund your research? You’re a greedy pig at the trough who’ll leave a bankrupt country to my grandchildren.

OAA: Wha...? No! Open access means that scientific progress around the world can progress faster. Scientific research grows economies.

UP: So everyone could read this science funded by our tax dollars?

OAA: That’s right.

UP: You want to give away our best knowledge to countries competing with us in the global economy. You want to destroy our way of life and replace it with a global world government.

OAA: Wha...? No! Open access means that you personally will be able to delve into the world’s best new science!

UP: But I don’t care.

Photo by soukup on Flickr; used under a Creative Commons license.


tshilson said...

Does the argument imply that *ALL* tax funded activities should be public? Diplomatic initiatives? Military tactics/strategy/technology? CIA activities?


Zen said...

No, I don't think so. You have to use different resources in different ways to use them most effectively.

Scientific research operates best when you have sharing and transparency. That, I think, is the best argument for open access policies regardless of who pays for it.

Certain resources are enhanced by confidentiality, such as the ones you name.

Rafael Maia said...

"UP: So you want even more of my tax dollars to fund your research? You’re a greedy pig at the trough who’ll leave a bankrupt country to my grandchildren."

I would argue that no, more tax dollars aren't needed, because if there is a shift in business model to the pay-as-you-publish one, the current funding for these really expensive journal subscriptions could be then channeled to paying for publication in OA journals. Obviously, this would require a considerable shift in business model, not only an added parallel model.

The "but it's going to be open to our competitors" is more challenging, unless one considers that such competitors would also be publishing in OA format and thus their knowledge will also be available to us. (and I use "us" and "their" very liberally here, since I'm not an American myself :P )