In previous posts I have stressed the need for global open access to scientific research. Today I received the email below. Let’s hope that things keep moving forward.
Increasing Public Access to the Results of Scientific Research
By Dr. John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
Thank you for your participation in the We the People platform. The Obama Administration agrees that citizens deserve easy access to the results of research their tax dollars have paid for. As you may know, the Office of Science and Technology Policy has been looking into this issue for some time and has reached out to the public on two occasions for input on the question of how best to achieve this goal of democratizing the results of federally-funded research. Your petition has been important to our discussions of this issue.
The logic behind enhanced public access is plain. We know that scientific research supported by the Federal Government spurs scientific breakthroughs and economic advances when research results are made available to innovators. Policies that mobilize these intellectual assets for re-use through broader access can accelerate scientific breakthroughs, increase innovation, and promote economic growth. That’s why the Obama Administration is committed to ensuring that the results of federally-funded scientific research are made available to and useful for the public, industry, and the scientific community.
Moreover, this research was funded by taxpayer dollars. Americans should have easy access to the results of research they help support.
To that end, I have issued a memorandum today (.pdf) to Federal agencies that directs those with more than $100 million in research and development expenditures to develop plans to make the results of federally-funded research publically available free of charge within 12 months after original publication. As you pointed out, the public access policy adopted by the National Institutes of Health has been a great success. And while this new policy call does not insist that every agency copy the NIH approach exactly, it does ensure that similar policies will appear across government.
As I mentioned, these policies were developed carefully through extensive public consultation. We wanted to strike the balance between the extraordinary public benefit of increasing public access to the results of federally-funded scientific research and the need to ensure that the valuable contributions that the scientific publishing industry provides are not lost. This policy reflects that balance, and it also provides the flexibility to make changes in the future based on experience and evidence. For example, agencies have been asked to use a 12-month embargo period as a guide for developing their policies, but also to provide a mechanism for stakeholders to petition the agency to change that period. As agencies move forward with developing and implementing these polices, there will be ample opportunity for further public input to ensure they are doing the best possible job of reconciling all of the relevant interests.
In addition to addressing the issue of public access to scientific publications, the memorandum requires that agencies start to address the need to improve upon the management and sharing of scientific data produced with Federal funding. Strengthening these policies will promote entrepreneurship and jobs growth in addition to driving scientific progress. Access to pre-existing data sets can accelerate growth by allowing companies to focus resources and efforts on understanding and fully exploiting discoveries instead of repeating basic, pre-competitive work already documented elsewhere. For example, open weather data underpins the forecasting industry and provides great public benefits, and making human genome sequences publically available has spawned many biomedical innovations—not to mention many companies generating billions of dollars in revenues and the jobs that go with them. Going forward, wider availability of scientific data will create innovative economic markets for services related to data curation, preservation, analysis, and visualization, among others.
So thank you again for your petition. I hope you will agree that the Administration has done its homework and responded substantively to your request.
For a blog which tries to add something to philosophy as well, its pauses and unfinished threads strike me as less desirable…sorry! I haven’t forgotten about the threads, but other more pressing matters seem to crop up continually.
In the meantime I think I found a nice non-algebraic proof that S_n is not contractible. The proof only uses some continuous-function theory, specifically the Michael Selection Theorem. I’m trying to expand this to a non-algebraic non-simplicial proof of the general Jordan Curve theorem. The first part I will write down somewhere next month, I hope.
From a post on my art blog 4,5 years ago:
in the end what it boils down to, in my not so humble opinion (imnsho), is that we humans have not got a better `objective’ concept of quality than what i would call generalized pagerank. consider each human to be like a web page, having some pagerank. consider some humans to be expert, these get a high generalized pagerank (gpr). then see what kind of buzz (=gpr) a certain subject (for instance an art work, or an artist) generates to determine its `objective’ quality.
[i apologize to those readers who do not know how google calculates pagerank, but the web overflows with info on this]
obviously, there are many snags behind this way of determining quality. it yet is the current practice in almost all disciplines i know of. one obvious snag is that this gpr-business leads to hypes: things that create a buzz because they create a buzz because everyone is busy buzzing about it…until the hype moves on and people wonder: why was anybody ever truly interested in this for longer than five days?
and this is where i believe pirsigs approach is valuable, on the personal level. because if i drop the prerequisite that i should be able to communicate objectively what quality is, then i can explore quality on the personal, probably non-verbal level.
What I wish to develop from this post is that there are no objective measurements for quality. If you are familiar with Robert Pirsig‘s wonderful book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry into Values, you will see what I meant by the last paragraph quoted above.
Still, both as individual and as society, we need to identify quality and lack of quality. This is a complex philosophical issue, in my opinion. Although this is also a blog on philosophy, I wish to cut that corner in order not to lose the thread on open access and peer review altogether. So, let’s limit ourselves to science for now.
To me the first quality-relevant question in science is: are we asking the right questions? (Yes, this seemingly assumes that we know what questions are`right’, and it is also a sort of paradox, and yes I find that appropriate ).
I fuzzily remember a quote which was pinned on the notice board of our PhD-room: `A talented person discovers solutions, a genius discovers problems’. Which I like better than the related quote from Schopenhauer `Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.’ because the hitting of the target is less relevant than its discovery as a worthwhile target in the first place.
(to be continued)
As with all issues that occupy me from time to time, I find myself wondering if I have anything worthwhile to add to what others have already written. (One well written extensive source is Peter Suber’s Open Access page.).
This shows that Quality considerations (for me) are everywhere, and certainly already at the very beginning of any creative undertaking. Too much perfectionism and apprehension `is what I have to say worthwhile’ can be very blocking. Yet if what I wish to say has already been said more clearly by others, then I would do myself and others a favor by going for a walk instead of writing my jumbled thoughts. (Except that maybe some would find solace in seeing a fellow jumbled thinker… ).
So this blog is written in a compromise vein: recognizing my jumbled-thinking limitations but allowing for the possibility that somewhere in these musings someone may find something worthwhile. But what does that mean, worthwhile?
Quality, I mean to say, is paramount.
But I have not yet come across a sharp definition of quality, in any field. We seem to rely on a limited number of mechanisms to identify say `high quality’, `fair quality’, `passable quality’, `mediocre’ and `crap’, and anything beyond and in between.
Let me list some of these mechanisms, the ones that come to my jumbled mind at this moment:
- Personal appreciation
- Creators’ peer review (`expert’ review)
- Consumers’ peer review (what do my buddies think, what does my boss think, what do my children think, is this `cool’ or what…)
- Result matching objective (winning a sports event, turning a business profit, building a nuclear bomb that works, a portrait from which the portrayed person is recognized by others,…)
Clearly these mechanisms overlap, being interdependent and in constant state of re-evaluation etc. Estimate the complexity, exponentiate this and you are still probably short of what really takes place here. This amazing complexity helps to explain why hardly anyone ever seems to question the validity of our Quality-Assessment Framework (QAF) which I tried to outline with the above mechanisms.
And yet, our history shows that our past QAF’s have been wrong more often than not…in the long run, viewed from our current QAF
From the happy-go-lucky daily life point of view, this is hardly a new insight. But scientifically, it should raise more than one doubt about the validity of current peer review practice. In other disciplines where experts dominate the QAF similar doubts should be raised, I think.
One other issue which I will try not to forget in subsequent posts is that `result-matching-objective quality’ to me often appears as narrow-sighted (short-sighted if you wish), which I tried to exemplify above with the working nuclear bomb.
(to be continued)
On any subject, I usually learn a lot by reading Wikipedia. Therefore I was surprised to find that I had not done so on the subject of open access (link goes to Wikipedia).
I understand from this recent reading that the subject is still debated on more than one ground. Peer review seems to be one of the issues which in my eyes are muddying the waters.
Muddying the waters? Yes. The primary objective of scientific research is Knowledge. Such Knowledge in my eyes belongs to all of humanity. Suppose one would trademark the Pythagoras theorem? It would be like patenting the production of oxygen from photosynthesis.
However, there are always people who will translate any fundamental issue into money and status. Oh no, Open Access!!! But then anyone can publish anything, how to maintain scientific rigeur, how to finance the costs of peer review, and of the publisher’s business?
Fact is that publishing scientific articles is lucrative. Elsevier is one of the most profitable businesses around. From Wikipedia:
In 2010, Elsevier reported a profit margin of 36% on revenues of $3.2 billion. Elsevier accounts for 28% of the revenues of the Reed Elsevier group (₤1.5b of 5.4 billions in 2006). In operating profits, it represents a bigger fraction of 44% (₤395 of 880 millions). Adjusted operating profits rose by 10% from 2005 to 2006.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out why some people oppose Open Access, now does it? Or do you really believe that with this type of money involved, all people will have altruistic considerations as their prime motivation?
So to me it is not surprising that any related issue such as peer review will be turned into an obstacle for Open Access. It is a surprisingly common cliché that people in power/status positions will cling on to the status quo using any miserable excuse they can think of. This is perhaps the single most important reason why societal change is so slow.
However, apart from status, the subject of peer review is closely related to the subject of quality also. I might find the energy to write something on that subject on this blog also (I wrote about quality already quite extensively on my art blog).
(Also see previous post) With the kind help of an endorser, I managed to put Natural Topology on arXiv:
This serves selfish and unselfish reasons alike, I suppose. For me, the benefit is that the book will remain accessible even if for some reason my website will disappear. It can now be officially referenced by others, whereas I am spared the hassle of looking for a publisher etc.
On the other hand, the unselfish benefits lie in (reasonably permanent I hope) open access for everyone.
I wrote a previous post about open access regarding also a boycott of Elsevier, I haven’t heard much lately on this front. I still think open access to knowledge is essential for a) bringing around improvement of the harsh living conditions in many impoverished countries b) the better and faster development of new knowledge and insights.
One downside of not taking the trouble to have someone publish the book physically, is that book presses are in the end environmentally friendlier than printers…but for now I do not think to reach thousands of readers, so…:-)
I really hope to hear some more action on the open access front in years to come.
I’m happy to announce the second revised edition of `Natural Topology´, which is available online at:
In the second edition, we have rectified some omissions and minor errors from the first edition. Notably the composition of natural morphisms has now been properly detailed, as well as the definition of (in)finite-product spaces. The bibliography has been updated (but remains quite incomplete). We changed the names ‘path morphism’ and ‘path space’ to ‘trail morphism’ and ‘trail space’, because the term ‘path space’ already has a well-used meaning in general topology.
On this day it is 100 years ago that Brouwer delivered his inaugural address `Intuitionism and Formalism´ (14 October 1912). It seems fitting to post on this day, since the book can be seen as a big tribute to Brouwer’s topological mastership, which he used in building intuitionistic mathematics. Brouwer’s work has permeated throughout topology, constructive mathematics, computer science and foundations, yet the Netherlands seem wary to acknowledge his genius (compared for instance to the Turing commemoration this year…).
Any and all comments have been and will be greatly appreciated.