Congress Considers Paywalling Science You Already Paid For

Photo by Pat Ossa. Full info below.

Should you be able to read research you’ve helped to fund? A few years ago, Congress decided this was a good idea, and approved an access policy that makes most taxpayer-funded research freely available online within 12 months of publication. This modest step toward open access — which, as I’ve written before, is vital to healthy science and science policy — has proven a huge boon to researchers and also to those of us who write about science, while leaving most publisher profits quite healthy.

Now, however, as UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist Michael Eisen relates, a proposed bill threatens to reverse this policy:

The NIH Public Access Policy has been quite unpopular with a powerful publishing cartels that are hellbent on denying US taxpayers access to and benefits from research they paid to produce…. [U]nsatisfied with feeding at the public trough only once (the vast majority of the estimated $10 billion dollar revenue of biomedical publishers already comes from public funds), they are seeking to squeeze cancer patients and high school students for an additional $25 every time they want to read about the latest work of America’s scientists.

Unable to convince the NIH to support their schemes, the powerful publishing lobby group – the Association of American Publishers – has sought Congressional relief. In 2009, the AAP induced Michigan Rep John Conyers to introduce the “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act” which would have ended the NIH Public Access Policy before it even got off the ground. Fortunately, that bill never left committee.

But they are back at it. A new AAP backed bill – the “Research Works Act” – was just introduced by Reps Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Dareell Issa (R-CA). Its text is simple and odious:

    No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that:
    (1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or
    (2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.

This bill would not only end the NIH’s Public Access Policy, but it would forbid any effort on the part of any agency to ensure taxpayer access to work funded by the federal government.

Why, you might ask, would Carolyn Maloney, representing a liberal Democratic district in New York City that is home to many research institutions, sponsor such a reactionary piece of legislation that benefits a group of wealthy publishers at the expense of the American public? Hmm. Wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with the fact that she’s the biggest recipient of campaign contributions from the publishing industry, would it?

Eisen supplies a rather discouraging chart:

According to MapLight, which tracks political contributions, Dutch publisher Elsevier and its senior executives made 31 contributions to members of the House in 2011, of which 12 went to Representative Maloney. This includes contributions from 11 senior executives or partners, only one of whom is a resident of her district.

It is inexcusable that a simple idea – that no American should be denied access to biomedical research their tax dollars paid to produce – could be scuttled by a greedy publisher who bought access to a member of Congress.

He suggests you write your reps.

Some sharp coverage elsewhere:

Congress wants to limit open access publishing for the US government’s $28B/year subsidized research – Boing Boing

The Tree of Life: YHGTBFKM: Ecological Society of America letter regarding #OpenAccess is disturbing

Scientists, the White House seeks your opinion on Open Access –

Cameron Neylon:: Time for scholarly publishers to disavow the AAP


Photo by capturedmoment1 via Flickr. Creative Commons license.


Michael Eisen:  Elsevier-funded NY Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney Wants to Deny Americans Access to Taxpayer Funded Research

Free Science, One Paper at a Time (My feature on open science)

Do We Need New Traits to Live Within Limits? Revkin Asks. Lopez Responds, from 1986.

To start the new year, Andy Revkin, over at Dot Earth at the New York Times, wondered what traits we humans might be able to develop so that we “fall forward rather than down” as we try to deal with resource limits:

The things we don’t know are easily as important as those we do. In such an environment, what qualities can help individuals and communities avoid big missteps? I’d start with literacy, connectedness, empathy, engagement, enterprise and anthropophilia.

The result would be an improved ability to both bend (resilience) and stretch (ingenuity). What’s on your list of helpful traits in a turbulent and incredibly promising era?

This brought to mind a passage that I read 23 years ago in Barry Lopez’s Arctic Dreams; I’m shocked to realize I read it that long ago, and that this luminous, lasting book is 25 years old. It has been on my short shelf of favorites and re-reads ever since. Lopez spent 8 years working on it and produced a deeply researched and considered meditation on humanity’s place on the globe. I read much of it in the Wind Rivers — carried that fat book 70 miles in a pack for 10 days, 2.25 pounds of the 50 I carried, so that I could devour it amid the peaks. Many passages stick with me yet, starting with the epigraph:

Once in his life a man ought to concentrate his mind upon the remembered earth. He ought to give himself up to a particular landscape in his experience; to look at it from as many angles as he can, to wonder upon it, to dwell upon it.   — N. Scott Momaday

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The True Hive Mind – How Honeybee Colonies Think

A honey bee swarm mulls it over

I’m enjoying reviewing my Kindle reading highlights with the “Daily Review” feature, which lets you flick through highlights and notes you’ve made in Kindle books. Amid the LeCarre and Malcolm and Updike and Patti Smith and a way-too-big pile of books on genetics, I find this from Thomas Seeley’s Honeybee Democracy:

We will see that the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of bees in a honeybee swarm, just like the 1.5 kilograms (3 pounds) of neurons in a human brain, achieve their collective wisdom by organizing themselves in such a way that even though each individual has limited information and limited intelligence, the group as a whole makes first-rate collective.

Like many other biologists, Seeley sees a bee colony as not just a collection of individuals but as a sort of super-organism. Thus the brain analogy above. Thus this:

A colony of honeybees is, then, far more than an aggregation of individuals, it is a composite being that functions as an integrated whole. Indeed, one can accurately think of a honeybee colony as a single living entity, weighing as much as 5 kilograms (10 pounds) and performing all of the basic physiological processes that support life: ingesting and digesting food, maintaining nutritional balance, circulating resources, exchanging respiratory gases, regulating water content, controlling body temperature, sensing the environment, deciding how to behave, and achieving locomotion.

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Money Doesn’t Own the Market on Happiness

Via the ever-surprising Marbury (aka Ian Leslie):

Correlation between the Dow Jones and Happiness:

Note that when the index dropped unexpectedly, so did people’s happiness – but once they adjusted to the new reality, happiness levels went straight back up. More happiness correlates here.

Some of the other correlates Leslie links to are snappy:

  • People who have a college degree are happier than people who do not have a college degree BUT
  • People with advanced degrees are LESS happy than people with just a bachelor’s degree

Here’s the references:

Eric Weiner, The Geography of Bliss, Twelve, 2008.

Fowler, J. H.; Christakis, N. A (3 January 2009).  “Dynamic Spread of Happiness in a Large Social Network: Longitudinal Analysis Over 20 Years in the Framingham Heart Study” (PDF). British Medical Journal 337 (768): a2338.  doi:10.1136/bmj.a2338.  PMC 2600606.  PMID 19056788.

Graham, Carol, Soumya Chattopadhyay, and Mario Picon (2010), “Does the Dow Get You Down? Happiness and the U.S. Economic Crisis”, mimeo, The Brookings Institution, Washington, DC, January.

My Top 5 (or 10) Longreads of 2011

The wonderful site Longreads is collecting “5 Favorite Longreads” from a variety of writers, editors, and other folks. They were kind enough to ask me for mine. They appear at Longreads — and for faithful readers here, below as well. Do check out the other lists at Longreads as well.


Truly we live, as Steve Silberman said, in a time of longform renaissance.  The reading year was notable not just for the rise of many long reads and Longreads, but for the debut of The Atavist and Byliner, two new venues for publishing pieces too long for magazines but too short for books. Both, like Longreads, brought me lots of good reading. And The Atavist, which was first off the blocks, let me publish a story, My Mother’s Lover, for which I had tried but failed to find the right length and form for almost a decade. Cheers to Longreads for helping spearhead this renaissance—and to you, Constant Reader, for doing the reading that in all but the most immediate sense makes the writing possible.

Here are my top 5 longreads of 2011, plus some extras. My filter: a combination of what I thought best and what continued to resonate with me. Writing is hard. I’m moved by the dedication to craft in these pieces.

“Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World,” by Amy Harmon, New York Times

Harmon pulls off something extraordinarily difficult here: she draws on little more than straight reportorial observation to show a young autistic man moving out into a world that struggles to accommodate him. Neither is quite ready for the other; yet they engage, as they must. Gorgeously structured and an immense reward. (Bonus: She later tells how she put it together.)

Janet Malcolm’s “Art of Nonfiction” interview in Paris Review

Malcolm has written several of the best books I’ve ever read; The Silent Woman haunts me more on every reading. Here she reveals how she did it: a rigorous method wielded by a powerful mind and rarefied sensibility. Equally moving and informative were the Paris Review interview with John McPheeand a Chris Jones conversation with Gay Talese. I am now in love with Talese, though he never calls.

“Study of a lifetime,” by Helen Pearson, Nature

Pearson, Nature’s features editor, shows how fine science writing is done, following a set of researchers researching a set of people and they’re all trying to figure out the same thing: How to make sense of their lives. Lovely stuff, true to complex, incredibly valuable science about complex, richly textured lives.

“Climbers: A team of young cyclists tries to outrun the past,” by Philip Gourevitch, The New Yorker

Young Rwandan cyclists try to ride into the future. Some rough road, some find riding (and writing).

“California and Bust,” by Michael Lewis, Vanity Fair

California as a formerly developed country. Includes deftly rendered bicycle ride with former governor Schwarzenegger. Lewis is writing some of the best stuff out there right now.

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Why Musical Genius Requires Apple Pie (A response to Roger Ebert)

In a typically graceful post, Roger Ebert wonders how prodigious genius, particularly in math, chess, or music, rises so early from the brain:

It may be that among the countless cells in our brains a process of arrangement and simplification goes on, by which these cells find more and more satisfactory ways to–Communicate? Align? Organize? If they were a random arrangement, could they even “think?” Perhaps our human brain cells have been continuously improving their lines of communication for thousands of years, and that by Darwinian evolution more efficient lines have been tested, and prevailed. It may be that Jay Greenberg is unique, but I think it just as likely that he is simply drawing on access to abilities many of us were born with but have lost track of. Are we born with a vast command of abstract logic, and lose it in the distraction of incoming noise? How possible is it to concentrate on the variations of the Ruy Lopez when our little ears are being hammered with coos and sweetness?

The Jay Greenberg he speaks of is a 12-year-old composer whose teacher at Julliard ranks on the level of Mozart in his compositional powers: He composes symphonies in his head, and by his own description they arrive fully formed: He hears them, and the complex musical structure beneath is there waiting to be written down.

In the endless and often silly debate over the root of expertise — Is it something inborn or the 10,000 hours of practice ?  — I’m equally intrigued by both the clear extra edge some brains and/or bodies must have at birth and the baroque conversation that goes on in those 10,000 hours as someone masters something.

But while I love this piece and consider Ebert a treasure, I think he stretches a couple things. For one, he overstates the possibility that this sort of talent is more or less hard-wired, and that these people are drawing on something the rest of us lost. Clearly their brains come into the world (after 9 months of obviously productive conversation with the womb) in ways that let them more quickly grasp certain structures and rule systems: the grammars of math, music, language, chess. Atop that foundation they build much faster than the rest of us do and ultimately to a higher plane. But they’re building all the same; they create something we don’t, rather than retain something the rest of use lose.

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Power Chords, Bobby McFerrin Style

The world’s just bringing me too much good stuff right now. Here Bobby McFerrin, responding to a comment about expectations in music, gets a crowd at the World Music Festival to essentially read music. Beautiful.

Thanks and big fat kiss to Jennifer Ouellette for relaying this via G+.

K gotta get backtowork bye.

See Also:

  • “It's Just a F**king Little 16th Note. But You Have to Play It.”
  • How Led Zeppelin + Franz Schubert = Writing
  • How to Make a Subway Make Music
  • Wonderful Horrible Histories, the Music Vid Versions
  • Crowd dynamics, music, and magic at Fenway
  • Music, Mood, and Genius (not) — or RockNRoll meets neuroscience …

Astronaut Plays Baseball by Himself in Space

As a child I watched Bugs Bunny once play tennis with himself, hitting from one end of the court and zipping down to return his own stroke. Wished I could do it. Now I have a new hankering: I want to hit my own pitches, as Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa does here in the International Space Station during mission 28 & 29. Guy was alone and decided to use his time well. Nice change-up. But with his quick bat, he’s too good for his own stuff. In Game 2 I want to see him field the thing and throw himself out.

Hat tip AtlanticTech

See Also:

  • Switch Hitter v Switch Pitcher
  • Why Koufax and Curveballs Reign
  • How Box Scores Are Like Gene Sequences: The Geek Path from …
  • How Fast Is a Throw From Center Field?
  • The Tight Collar: The New Science of Choking Under Pressure …

How Box Scores Are Like Gene Sequences: The Geek Path from Baseball to Bio

How is a box score like a genome sequence? This starts a wee slow, but go with it: Noted computational biologists James Fraser (UCSF) and Michael Eisen (Berkeley) explain how obsessions with baseball stats led them — and can lead others — to be data-heavy biologists. First lesson, for example: Predictions are stronger based on (open) data. This takes theminto  good stuff like “How many home runs will Dustin Pedroia hit in 2012?” My only beef there: Fraser has to glance at a cheat sheet to recall home run records of several slugging second-basemen. I’ll cut him some slack: He’s been busy with biology, plus a Blue Jay fan would probably suppress memory of Chuck Knoblach anyway.

So who’s going to write a dissertation on the role baseball plays in creating America’s strength in biology?

Add some rotisserie, stuff like this could get you through the winter.

From UCSF’s iBioMagazine. H/t to Jonathan Eisen (Michael’s brother, and also a biologist), who marked it as his Tree of Life.