Re: Public Access to Science Act (Sabo Bill, H.R. 2613)

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 2 Sep 2003 14:51:27 +0100

On Mon, 1 Sep 2003, Joseph Pietro Riolo wrote:

> On Mon, 1 Sep 2003, Stevan Harnad <> wrote:
>sh> PRIORITY, TEXT-INTEGRITY. I don't fully understand the notion of making
>sh> one's writing "public domain" instead of retaining copyright, but if
>sh> that puts either the text's authorship or the text's verbatim integrity
>sh> at any risk -- i.e., if someone else could then legally reproduce my text
>sh> without my name as author, or even attaching his own name, or could
>sh> reproduce my text in an altered form, with or without my name -- then it
>sh> is certain that researchers will not want that! It's one thing to give
>sh> away access to one's text for free online, for anyone and everyone to read
>sh> and to use (the *content* of the text, while quoting/citing/attributing
>sh> any actual *words* used from the text itself), and quite another thing
>sh> to renounce one's right to protect the integrity of one's text, or to
>sh> be fully credited with its authorship.
> It is a shame that scientists imprison themselves with the
> fear of losing the credit. It seems that they care about
> their own big egos instead of fostering the true spirit
> of science, to understand the universe.

Blame it on Darwin and our selfish genes. We are survival/reproduction
machines, shaped by the consequences (actual or potential or even merely
fancied) of our actions. We are wired to be inspired to sing for
our supper. Our reward might be pennies or plaudits, immediate or
delayed (even posthumous), but only for the autistic savant are they
inconsequential (or even aversive).

Maximizing research productivity, progress and impact by maximizing
research access is far too important for *all* of us (researchers and
society alike) to delay open access for a microsecond on the faint,
fanciful hope that human creativity might hew equally to the anonymous
hum of generic public-domain contributions -- especially when there
is *absolutely no reason* for resorting to that hope! Self-archiving
provides open access without any need to relinquish authorship, credit,
or text-integrity. This is a pseudo-issue, in a needless wrapper of

The Sabo Bill need only mandate that the full texts of
all refereed journal articles' reporting funded-research
findings should be made publicly accessible for free online.
This mandate could then be fulfilled in either of two ways: (1) by
publishing them in an open access journal (currently feasible for 5%
of research) or (2) by publishing them in a non-open-access journal plus
self-archiving their full-texts in the author's institution's own
open-access archive (feasible for the remaining 95% of research). There
is absolutely no need to mandate that they be made public domain.

> Just look at all the scientific works whose copyright have
> expired

The author has had his full credit (or the hope of it) in his day,
today he is probably dead, and if the work was of any consequence,
his name probably still lives on.

> and look at all the scientific works that are done by
> the scientists that are fully employed by the U.S. Government.

On generic, anonymous salaried works for hire (as I said in my posting)
I plead nolo contendere. University researchers are not government
employees, salaried to do research for hire. Nor does being grant-funded
to do a piece of research make them such. (It usually pays for equipment,
overhead and research assistants with which to do the research.)

> Is there any problem with the loss of credit? No. Is there
> any problem with the loss of authorship? No. Is there any
> problem with misattribution? No. How is this possible? That
> is because honesty always prevails.

Government documents are not (in general) the locus classicus of research
creativity, hence not the place where plagiarists would turn first to
try to steal texts or credit! (It would be interesting, though, to get
some citation and usage-impact measures on those documents, and no doubt
online indicators like that will become part of the reward system of
government employees in the digital future.)

Besides, government researchers *do* publish in refereed journals (without
transferring copyright to the publisher -- but that is not obvious to
would-be plagiarists or text-corrupters), so they benefit from the blanket
security of a mostly copyright-protected, non-public-domain corpus.

To repeat, there is no reason whatsoever to conduct the gratuitous
experiment of testing academic "honesty" by making the refereed-research
corpus public-domain for the sake of open access. It can be made
open-access through open-access publishing (5%) and open-access
self-archiving (95%) while retaining all the copyright protection
from theft-of-authorship that exists today:

> Moreover, the scientists already forget that all ideas are
> in the public domain. A large majority of people give
> proper credit for the ideas that they copy even though
> they are not required to do so.

It is of course much harder to protect priority for content-authorship
than for text-authorship, but text-primacy usually establishes
content-primacy, and we are talking here about text-authorship. Again,
there is no need to sacrifice any existing copyright protection that
the author needs or enjoys today in exchange for making his text
open-access. So this is all moot.

> These scientists need to get out of the box of the mentality
> of the copyright and to stop worrying about their own
> big egos and to start thinking for the public good, for
> the public domain. If they don't, they don't deserve to be
> called as scientists.

Pared of the needless hyperbole, one could repeat the same message, at
less cost and to greater effect: Researchers need to make their refereed
research publicly accessible (via the 5% solution or the 95% solution)
for the public good. There is no need for them to put their writings into
the public domain.

Please don't confuse open access research texts with open source software:

> Your long post overlooked the ethical question about
> using the tax for a scientist's own benefit instead for the
> public good.

Nothing of the sort. The researcher uses the research funding to do the
research and publish the results ("publish or perish"). That fulfills
a double function: the public good (the research conducted and published)
and the researcher's reward (if the research proves to be important and
influential -- i.e., if it is read, used and cited widely).

It is "publish or perish" that needs to be updated (for the public
good) in line with the newfound potential of the online digital era:
It is no longer enough to just "publish or perish": Refereed research
must be published with maximized potential impact, and that means
maximized potential access -- and that means open access (via the 5%
[open-access publishing] or the 95% solution [open-access

No need whatsoever for the public domain in order to serve the public
good in any of this.

> You have to live and breathe in the U.S. to
> understand the troubling issue.

I did, from 1969-1994...

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):

Discussion can be posted to:
Received on Tue Sep 02 2003 - 14:51:27 BST

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