Science For Sale

I have written about this before, but I am still shocked by the stultifying effect copyright law has on the dissemination of science.  In looking to expand my first attempt at an Android app, EP Mobile, I used “The Google” to look up various algorithms for localization of accessory pathways.  I remembered that there were several algorithms dating back to the 1980s, but I couldn’t remember the details.  ECG algorithms are a great thing to put into an app, because they are hard to remember.  I was shocked to find, with the exception of a figure from Hurst’s The Heart which had been scanned into Google Books,that none of these algorithms was readily available on the web.  None!  All the articles I found required purchase, even dating back to Milstein’s seminal algorithm (from Sonny Jackman’s lab in Oklahoma City) published in PACE in 1987!  It costs $35 to read this article!  Every other article I found on this topic from 1992 to 2008 cost at least $31.50 to download.  Really?!  This is the intended purpose of the copyright law, to prevent easy dissemination of scientific knowledge?  A practicing physician today who wants to improve his patient care by learning a useful ECG algorithm has to pay some publisher $35 to read an article written 24 years ago??  It is the publishers who hold the copyright on these scientific articles.  Authors published by peer-reviewed journals and the peer reviewers themselves are not paid a cent for their work.  The author is required to hand over the copyright to the publisher.  Current copyright law in the United States maintains copyright of published works for 95 years!  While an argument could be made in the pre-Internet era that providing a printed copy of a work does cost a significant amount of money, nowadays providing a digital download is virtually without cost — certainly not costing $35!  There is a movement towards Open Access publishing and there are Open Access medical journals.  This is a great idea.  But it doesn’t go far enough.  Scientists benefit from public and private funding, from universities, from government grants,and from human volunteers who participate in research.  Scientists are also human beings who benefit from the research of other scientists.  Scientists advance the human race, but only if their results can be shared with other scientists, with physicians, and with all of humankind (including publishers).  All scientific papers should be in the public domain.  Period.

By mannd

I am a retired cardiac electrophysiologist who has worked both in private practice in Louisville, Kentucky and as a Professor of Medicine at the University of Colorado in Denver. I am interested not only in medicine, but also in computer programming, music, science fiction, fantasy, 30s pulp literature, and a whole lot more.


  1. I never really understood this either Doc. As someone who was looking for answers re: POTS and various other issues it got extremely frustrating to run up against these
    30-35.00 dollar charges for a single article! I don’t think you see this in the Physics literature (or at least I hope not, its been a long time for me), so why in medicine?

    I’m also puzzled about the whole concept of ‘institutional access’ for free. How many people can actually avail themselves of THAT avenue, do you know?

  2. I can’t tell you how many times, as a student, I would find the PERFECT article to support a paper I was writing but ran into this garbage all the time – pay a ridiculous fee for 24 hours of access. Insanity.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.