Scientists threatened by demands to share data | Al Jazeera America
"When Christopher Lortie was earning his Ph.D. in ecology at the University of British Columbia in the late 1990s, he joined a small consortium of international ecologists who pooled their resources to study the potential effects of climate change on alpine-plant communities around the world. He spent several months trudging up and down mountains in Kluane National Park in the Yukon documenting the health of plants. In 2002, the ecologists combined their research to produce a paper for the scientific journal Nature. It was widely read and cited. They then published the data supporting their findings. It was an experience that set a precedent for Lortie: 'It feels good to share.' Over the past 15 years, Lortie has shared his data and research papers, and collaborated with other investigators in ways that until recently were deemed counterproductive, or insignificant, to personal success in the sciences. He is part of a growing number of scientists who have encouraged members of their profession to make their research more transparent and accessible under the theory that sharing information will expedite scientific discovery. 'There will be fantastic discoveries, and that’s all that really matters,' says Lortie. In May 2012, some 65,000 people, including researchers, librarians and advocates of information sharing, signed a petition urging the Obama administration to adopt open access policies that would make the results of taxpayer-funded scientific research freely available to the public. In response, the White House issued a memorandum in February to almost two dozen federal funding agencies instructing them to create individual plans for ensuring that research papers will be available within roughly 12 months of publication. It also required agencies to make the data in those papers 'stored and publicly accessible to search, retrieve, and analyze.' The policy marks a turning point in the open access movement, which has fought formidable odds for more than a decade. The movement arguably started in 2002 when a small group of organizers released a statement of principles called the Budapest Open Access Initiative. The ideas it espoused challenged the business model of a lucrative scholarly publishing industry that relied on libraries to pay exorbitant journal subscription fees, as high as $40,000 annually in some cases. In the early 2000s, proponents of open access launched the Public Library of Science (PLOS), an online-only, peer-reviewed scholarly journal that provides all its papers for free. Rather than relying on subscriptions, the PLOS business model requires authors, and by extension their funding agencies, to pay a fee for publication. As of 2012 there were 6,713 open access journals — some online only, others also in print — making papers immediately available. That growth is now driven largely by traditional publishers who have begun to adopt open access models for some of their publications. According to one study, between 2017 and 2021, 50 percent of scholarly articles will appear in open access journals that immediately make their papers available, and that number will rise to 90 percent between 2020 and 2025. 'Open access has become an entrenched player,' John Wilbanks, who helped organize the White House petition, wrote in an email."