Tuesday, November 29, 2005

The Royal Society of Microsoft

Two unrelated but related stories.

UK's Royal Society (their equivalent of the US National Academy of Sciences) is issuing dire warnings about making scientific papers freely available on the internet, what is called Open Access publishing (see previous EM posts here, here and here).
The Royal Society fears it could lead to the demise of journals published by not-for-profit societies, which put out about a third of all journals. "Funders should remember that the primary aims should be to improve the exchange of knowledge between researchers and wider society," The Royal Society said.

Its position is a thinly veiled attack on proposals by Research Councils UK - the umbrella body for Britain's eight public backers of research. The body has said researchers should be obliged to place a copy of their work in an online archive, usually connected with a university, preferably at the same time as the work appears in a subscription-based journal. (The Guardian)
The Royal Society is protecting its turf (don't blame them), but not protecting science. Many of us depend on OA journals, of which there are now hundreds (Disclaimer; one of the Reveres is Editor in Chief of an OA peer reviewed scientific journal). The developing world benefits. Scientists benefit because many more people are able to read their papers without having to subscribe to a journal. So if the Royal Society's journals go under because they are the buggy whip of the automobile age, that's too bad for them, but on balance science is better off. Meanwhile rapacious for-profit publishers (chief among them the Dutch company Elsevier) are pricing libraries out of the serials business and making a handsome profit at it.

Physicists and mathematicians have been making their papers available for free and on a timely basis for years via preprint archives. It has taken the medical world much longer because of the distorting influence of advertisers and the profitable business of reprints and copyright. But we are catching up. Some sources for this fast growing field are the website Free Medical Journals, the Biomed Central family of journals and the Public Library of Science (PLoS). More on Open Access at Peter Suber's site. Check them out.

Now the other story. I learned via Slashdot that all references to free software were removed from a UN World Summit on the Information Soceity (WSIS) conference proceedings.
Microsoft asked for references to free software to be removed from a document presented at last week's UN World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) conference, the software giant admitted on Friday.

The Free Software Foundation Europe (FSFE) is unhappy that the document was changed and claims that even though it was on the panel discussing the document, it was not made aware of Microsoft's changes.

The document, known as the Vienna Conclusions, discusses issues around IT and creativity. The original draft of the document discussed how the free software model is changing the way people do business.

"Increasingly, revenue is generated not by selling content and digital works, as they can be freely distributed at almost no cost, but by offering services on top of them. The success of the free software model is one example," stated the original document, according to the FSFE.

But the final version of the document contains no reference to free software. "Increasingly, revenue is generated by offering services on top of contents," states the final version of the document. (ZDnet)
Apparently Microsoft also had a reference to Linux removed.

Open Access publishing is not the same as Open Source computing, but they are philosophical cousins. Microsoft and The Royal Society also share the same instincts. Nothing I'd be proud of if I were the Royal Society.