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Update on 12/3/14: Nature re-ignited the access debate when they announced that they will make all their articles “free to view” (but if you read the fine print: it makes the “dark social” practice of #icanhazpdf and other access work-arounds illegal). To catch up, see my Storify: Five-alarm fire in Open Access Land

Original post:

Marketplace aired a story last week entitled, “Publicly funded research for a price,” which echoed the story of Edwin Murphy, who in 1994 had to impersonate his doctor in order to read the risks and benefits of a medical procedure he was considering. (Hat tip to Carol Torgan for alerting me to the story.)

From the Marketplace introduction:

A lot of the scientific research that goes on in this country is really expensive. And, as it happens, a lot of it is publicly funded. But when taxpayers want to read a particular study that has been paid for with their money, they have to pay again to read about it in, say, The New England Journal of Medicine.

Congress is about to take up a bill that would help companies that publish those kinds of journals protect their business models. But it would also limit general access to publicly funded research.

Things have improved since 1994, but read the comments associated with the Marketplace story:

…there is nothing stopping any law abiding citizen from walking into our library and access all the scientific literature that I have. The only limitation is that you cannot do it at home in the comfort of your pajamas.

When I posted this to Twitter, Gilles Frydman answered: “Commenter with PJs doesn’t live in rural or poor area.” Indeed, many times in my research I have heard personal stories about people who do not have the means or wherewithal to get to a medical or science library which could provide access to journal articles. So I asked a question on Twitter: “What % of sci/med library users are laypeople?” Shamsha Damani, a medical librarian in Texas, replied: “our library sees v. few laypeople, prob. b/c of our location.” Then: “public access to scientific literature not easy. as one commenter said, u have to jump thru hoops. doable, but not easy.” Exactly. That’s why I was skeptical about the “let them eat cake” attitude of the commenter. published Jennifer McLennan’s essay on the NIH public access policy last fall – what other resources are available for those who want to educate themselves about this issue?


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