Sunday, September 24, 2006

Open Access: Time to Catch the Wave

The drive for open access at the California stem cell agency moved forward last week with a presentation by University of California officials to the agency's Intellectual Property Task Force.

Following the Thursday session, Ed Penhoet, chair of the Task Force, said the group had heard "strong sentiment" for open access as described by the UC officials. But he noted that UC itself has not implemented open access policies even after three years of discussion. One UC official said he expected they may be approved next spring. Penhoet said CIRM will continue to work on the issue.

Open access means faster dissemination of research, more use of the information by other scholars and a reduction in cost to readers, according to the open access advocates.

Ben Crow, chair of the UC Academic Senate's committee on libraries, likened the impact of the Web and the Internet to the invention of printing, indicating that it was a force impossible to resist.

Francisco Prieto, a CIRM Oversight Committee member, said that sharing of research and transparency is a "bedrock principle" at CIRM. He said that open access is becoming "the standard" and that "perhaps we should push it."

John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumers Rights, said, "We're paying for it. We ought to be able to see it."

But Oversight Committee member Duane Roth said the marketplace seemed to be dealing with the issue of open access. He said he was "not sure CIRM should be doing something NIH isn't."

Because of the impact of open access, Roth also raised the specter of scientific journals changing from a subscription-based business model to the advertiser-based model that newspapers follow.

One faculty member from UC Berkeley noted that young researchers in his lab opposed open access policies because of the likelihood that they would limit their ability to have their research published in the top scientific journals. Publication in such journals is the key to securing good faculty positions, they said.

Coincidentally, a group of senior academic officials from around the country, including Barbara Horwitz, vice provost-academic personnel, at UC Davis, released a letter on Friday opposing federal open access legislation. Their letter contained a link to a Web site supporting the position of scientific journals.

Our comment: Fighting the Web is like trying to fight the tide. No information enterprise can resist it successfully. Newspapers, to their financial pain, have discovered that the hard way with significant loss of revenue. (However, their current sad state of economic affairs has more complex origins and was well underway prior to the widespread use of the Web.)

The choice before the scientific journals is whether to ride the wave of Web or to be smashed into the financial rocks trying to fight it. CIRM too really has no choice. It can only fiddle with the details.

As for the hiring practices at places like UC, changing realities will force some adjustments. Cheap sorting mechanisms such as counting the number of articles a scholar has published in a handful of journals are probably somewhat inappropriate any way. It is time to build a better model for finding good minds.

In addition to Crow, John Ober, director of policy, planning and outreach, Office of Scholarly Communication, University of California, and Lawrence Pitts, professor, Department of Neurological Surgery, UC San Francisco, and former chair of the UC Academic Senate appeared before IP Task Force.. The UC Berkeley faculty member that we mentioned got away before we could get his correct name. For more on open access and CIRM, see "fading print" and "call for open access." Sphere: Related Content


  1. Your comment about UC hiring practices seems to be inconsistent with your other comments about open access.

    The issue is NOT counting the number of articles published. The issue IS getting published in a high impact journal, and then counting the number of citations. Academic hiring committees can't tell a good researcher from a bad one, and rely on the opinions of others (e.g., citations) to make their opinion for them. Google works in a similar way through PageRank. It is perception, not reality; proxy not substance.

    Cheap sorting mechanisms rule!

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