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Call for Commentary: Science and Nature articles

  September, 17 1998 18:06
your information resource in human molecular genetics
CALL FOR COMMENTARY in American Scientist September Forum

The following proposal to change copyright argeements and funding

practises so authors can freely archive their work on the Web has just

appeared in Science, followed by a dissenting Editorial:

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: Who Should Own Scientific Papers?

Bachrach et al.

Science 1998 September 4: 1459-1460


EDITORIAL: The Rightness of Copyright.

Bloom, F.

Science 1998 September 4: 1451.


For the time being, Science is allowing anyone to access both the

proposal and the dissenting Editorial by Floyd Bloom (Editor, Science)

for free (after some signup procedures) at:


See also:

Harnad, S. (1998) On-Line Journals and Financial Fire-Walls.

Nature 395: 127-128. September 10.


and also Chronicle of Higher Education September 18:


Discussion (including quote/comments from the proposal and the

Editorial) is invited in the Forum below



Here are some highlights:

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY: Who Should Own Scientific Papers?

Steven Bachrach, R. Stephen Berry, Martin Blume, Thomas von Foerster,

Alexander Fowler, Paul Ginsparg, Stephen Heller, Neil Kestner, Andrew

Odlyzko, Ann Okerson, Ron Wigington, Anne Moffat*

"...The goals and motivations of scientists writing up their

research are very different from those of professional authors,

although they may be the same people in different settings. The

scientist is concerned with sharing new findings, advancing

research inquiry, and influencing the thinking of others. The

benefits the scientist receives from publication are indirect;

rarely is there direct remuneration for scientific articles.

Indeed, scientists frequently pay page charges to publish their

articles in journals. The world of the directly paid author is very

different. There, the need for close protection of intellectual

property follows directly from the need to protect income, making

natural allies of the publisher and the professional author,

whether a novelist or the author of a chemistry text..."

"...The suggested policy is this: Federal agencies that fund

research should recommend (or even require) as a condition of

funding that the copyrights of articles or other works describing

research that has been supported by those agencies remain with the

author. The author, in turn, can give prospective publishers a

wide-ranging nonexclusive license to use the work in a value-added

publication, either in traditional or electronic form. The author

thus retains the right to distribute informally, such as through a

Web server for direct interaction with peers..."

"...[Some publishers, such as] Science, the New England Journal of

Medicine, and the Journal of the American Chemical Society, have

adamantly opposed authors' posting of their own articles on Web

pages or e-print servers, whereas others, such as the American

Journal of Mathematics, the Journal of Neuroscience, Nature

Medicine, and Physical Review, have considered such distribution

consistent with, and even advertising for, their own journals..."

EDITORIAL The Rightness of Copyright: Floyd E. Bloom

"...[C]opyright transfer is critical to the process of

communicating scientific information accurately. Neither the public

nor the scientific community benefits from the potentially

no-holds-barred electronic dissemination capability provided by

today's Internet tools. Much information on the Internet may be

free, but quality information worthy of appreciation requires more

effort than most scientists could muster, even if able...."

Questions for Reflection [SH]:

(1) Is this a logical or even a practical argument for copyright


(2) Is the only choice really that between free papers, with no quality

control, versus quality-controlled papers in exchange for copyright

transfer and S/SL/PPV?

"...A paper submitted to Science will undergo extensive review and,

upon acceptance, extensive revision for clarity, accuracy, and

solidity. A paper published in Science will be seen throughout the

world by our 160,000 paid subscribers and perhaps two or three

times more readers as issues are shared. More than 30,000 readers

will be alerted to the new reports within hours of the appearance

each week of Science Online...."

(3) How many journals reach 160K subscribers (or even 1/100 % of that)?

(4) Free posting on the Web can reach all 160K (and 100 times that).

(5) Science magazine is a hybrid trade/refereed journal. It publishes

refereed articles, contributed for free, plus commissioned and paid

articles by staff writers and others, for fee. Hence it is in most

relevant requests not representative of the vast refereed literature of

which it (and a few other journals like it, such as Nature) constitutes

a minuscule portion.

"...This degree of investment in the scientific publication process

requires the assignment of copyright. This allows the society

publisher to provide a stewardship over the paper, to protect it

from misuse by those who would otherwise be free to plagiarize or

alter it, and to expand the distribution of information products

for the benefit of the society.

(6) Do we need this degree of investment? Is it worth the consequences

(S/SL/PPV, fire-walls)?

(7) What is "stewardship"?

(8) What do copyright ASSIGNMENT (to the publisher) and S/SL/PPV have

to do with protection from plagiarism or alteration? (Doesn't copyright

simpliciter provide that?)

"...Permissions are granted freely to the originating authors for

their own uses. Science holds the copyright of its authors because

of our belief that we materially improve and protect the product we

create together...."

(9) What if the "own use" is the provision of one's work to others,

through free public archiving on the Web?

(10) Would payment for the cost of the improvements not be sufficient,

without the need for copyright assignment, S/SL/PPV and firewalls?

[Again, this should all be considered in conjunction with the fact that

Science magazine is far from representative of refereed journals, for

the reasons noted above.]


Stevan Harnad harnad@cogsci.soton.ac.uk

Professor of Cognitive Science harnad@princeton.edu

Department of Electronics and phone: +44 1703 592582

Computer Science fax: +44 1703 593281

University of Southampton http://www.cogsci.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/

Highfield, Southampton http://www.princeton.edu/~harnad/

SO17 1BJ UNITED KINGDOM ftp://ftp.princeton.edu/pub/harnad/

Message posted by: Frank S. Zollmann

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