Chemists Without Borders

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Saturday, July 08, 2006

Open Source Open Thread

Chemists Without Borders has been asked to take a position on open source access. Please let us know your opinions on this in comments. Please sign with first name and last initial.

ELMO

7 comments:

  1. Open source is a noble concept, and CWB should support open access to research that is taxpayer funded. However, many CWB members are also ACS members, and this is somewhat a double-edged sword for us. I look forward to hearing others comments here.

    ELMO

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  2. I would have assumed that everyone here is solidly behind the concept of open source science. Is that not accurate?

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  3. It is important to note that open source and open access are different, but related concepts. I suggest that CWB adopt a leadership position, strongly in support of open source science (including open access).

    The reason it is important to distinguish the two is because the focus of the open access movement is the traditionally published, peer-reviewed journal article. This is what recent policy initiatives are focused on as well. For example, the Wellcome Trust in the U.K., a private medical research funder - the world's second-largest medical research funding agency, and one with a special interest in the developing world - has a very strong position The Wellcome Trust Position Statement in Support of Open and Unrestricted Access to Published Research. Grants are required to make the peer-reviewed research articles arising from their research openly accessible, preferably immediately, but no longer than 6 months after publication.

    Several of the U.K. research funders have also recently issues policy statements requiring OA - details here.

    That's open access.

    As an example of open source, consider the human genome project. By working collaboratively and openly sharing information throughout the research process, not just after publication, the world's researchers and funding agencies succeeded in mapping the human genome in a matter of years - a scientific task that would have taken decades, if not centuries, if pursued in a traditional manner.

    To illustrate why CWB should support open source science, consider: what if we employed these methods to find solutions to global warming, to find environmentally friendly, sustainable energy solutions, solutions to AIDS, Malaria, cancer, water treatment...

    As Elmo mentioned, the ACS, as a publisher, is fighting open access policies. One reason cited is concern about loss of subscription revenues, and hence damage to the peer review system, if articles are free. This is nonsense. Physicists have been openly sharing their preprints (before publicaiton, never mind 6 months after) in the arXiv e-print archive since the early 90's. The peer-review system is physics is doing just fine, and so are the traditional publishers. There is no evidence whatsoever of any loss of revenue from providing open access. This makes sense, because academic publishing in unusual in that the producers and the customers are the same people - research universities, their faculty and libraries.

    There are other reasons for chemists in particular to support open source. The electronic medium / world wide web make it possible for us to do much, much more than we ever could. We can now publish open data of an experiment, for example, or molecules. Cambridge's Peter Murray-Rust did a marvelous presentation on this at the OAI4 Conference.

    ACS members may be interested in an open letter I wrote to E. Ann Nealy, current president of ACS, called Open Access: Transformative Change.

    I cannot imagine why CWB members who are also ACS members would have any concerns about having a different opinion. ACS, after all, is a scientific society, and a publisher. Critique is not only welcome, but necessary in science, right? Is this not the whole basis of peer review? So, how could members of a scientific society possibly be concerned about having a different opinion than the ACS?

    If you are new to open access, a good place to start to learn about it is Peter Suber's A Very Brief Introduction to Open Access. But don't forget - CWB is discussing not just open access, but open source, a broader concept. We may have to write the definition!

    In conclusion, I suggest that CWB draft and endorse a resolution strongly supporting open source science, including open access. Once this position is established, CWB will be easily able to identify the appropriate stance to take when issues such as the current U.S. Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006 come up.

    Comments? Questions?

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  4. I feel very strongly that encouraging open access is critical to an organization such as CWB. One of the potential roles I had envisioned for CWB was helping universities in developing nations establish academic R&D. There are many ways this can be approached, including the financial support of graduate students and post-docs from these countries, as well as CWB members visiting these institutions. Open Access will allow universities and companies in the developing world to work and compete at the forefront of modern science by reducing the burden on their often tiny budgets.

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  5. The Gates Foundation has just issued a press release stipulating open access to the results of research they fund towards an HIV/AIDS vaccine - for details, see Peter Suber's Open Access News

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  6. I continue to be totally in favor of Open Access. My caution has been the implications of Chemists Without Borders' taking a position, as compared with the members themselves doing so. Your various arguments and ideas, and a review of other model organizations, particularly Medecins Sans Frontieres, convinces me that I have been too cautious. Would someone like to draft a position statement for us to review? In addition to the American Chemical Society, where else would you like to see our position published?

    Another aspect to this is that there can be considerable public relations impact to taking such positions, so we must be prepared to handle responses. Such responses may not necessarily be about the position we take but about other aspects of Chemists Without Borders' affairs. Please keep your eyes and ears open for someone experienced enough to take on the role of Public Relations Director.

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  7. I'll draft a position statement on OA for review! Good point about needing someone to answer policy questions - happy to help such a person out with information on open access.

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