The faculty senate at my university proposed, and the university system administration adopted, a new formal intellectual property policy with a strong presumption of ownership by professors in the copyrightable teaching, scholarly, and multimedia works they produce. Furthermore, all professors are highly encouraged by this policy to make their works available through open-access licenses or to place them in the public domain. Thus, at my university, it is now clear that faculty members do have the power to place works into the public commons.
Let us assume that the Creative Commons project proves to be a great success and hundreds of scientists start attaching open-access licenses to their articles and datasets before submitting them for peer review. I already attach such licenses to my submitted journal articles, and those articles are rejected summarily by most publishers without even being subjected to the peer review process. 1 I receive letters from corporate attorneys telling me why they cannot possibly accept the open commons license. Will increased submissions by other scientists help place pressure on the publishers? Possibly, but my guess is that most scientists will simply buckle.
Therefore, perhaps my university should pass a formal policy stating that any peer-reviewed publication that is not allowed to be within an openly accessible archive six months after publication shall constitute a low-grade publication comparable to a nonrefereed publication. After all, such publications inherently are of less value to the global scientific community due to their limited accessibility. Thus, on any applications or nominations for promotion, tenure, or honors, such a publication could not be listed as a qualifying prestigious publication. It does not qualify as being in the peer-reviewed, open-archival literature. If we impose this requirement at my university alone, we will indeed probably look like a bunch of crackpots. If, however, the Caltechs, MITs, Harvards, Columbias, Dukes, and other elite universities represented in this room start pursuing this approach, it very well may have an effect. However, those are the same elite universities that actually benefit from the current research and publishing paradigms.
Administrators at these first-tier universities have very little incentive to make waves. Ten years ago the Office of Technology Assessment reported that 50 percent of all federal research funding went to 33 universities, and my impression is that those numbers have not changed much. 2 These are the same universities that receive the major share of corporate funding and are the primary beneficiaries of Bayh–Dole. It would take very enlightened administrators believing in a broader sense of scientific peerage and long-term preservation of science to actually risk altering an incentive system of which their own faculty are the primary beneficiaries. 3 Will it happen? Who knows? Hope springs eternal.
Perhaps in reporting the progress of past work when submitting research proposals to the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, scientists should be requested to list only those published articles that are available in openly accessible electronic archives. Right now when scientists at universities in the medium to lower tiers of wealth are requested to peer review research proposals, we have no way of accessing much of the referenced work because our libraries do not have access to those works. This degrades the peer review process and the overall quality of science. In my department, we serve as editors for and regularly publish in journals that our library says it cannot afford to subscribe to. The National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health have the power to fix this situation. However, it is not even on their radar screens. Why not? Because it is not a high priority for the top 50 research universities because those universities will never be cut out of the literature access loop by marketplace dynamics. The current situation, however, is perpetuating a caste system in the ability to do high-quality research in our nation. We can talk all we want to about economic and legal theories. However, to arrive at a sustainable intellectual commons in scientific and technical information, we will need to
1 Self-archiving of an electronic prerefereed version can help circumvent some legal issues. See, by example, frequently asked questions at http://www.eprints.org. However, this approach currently when applied generally results in cumbersome metadata and corrigenda maintenance issues.
2 Fuller, Steve. 2002. “The Road Not Taken: Revisiting the Original New Deal,” Chap. 16 in Mirowski and Sent, eds., Science Bought and Sold, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, p. 447 referring to Office of Technology Assesment, 1991. Federally Funded Research: Decisions for a Decade, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., pp. 263-265.
3 We obviously have some enlightened administrators. By example, Caltech has been a leader in research self-archiving ( http://caltechcstr.library.caltech.edu) whereas MIT has been a leader in making teaching materials accessible (http:// http://ocw.mit.edu/index.html). Yet motivations and constraints vary among universities. Thus, partial solutions by one university in addressing academic literature access problems may be impractical or not as useful for use or emulation by many others.