Copyright v science

Blog post accuses publisher Wiley of harming science’s ability to self-correct. Paul Jump reports

September 25, 2014

The use of restrictive copyright terms by publishers is harming science’s ability to self-correct, a researcher has claimed.

Julian Stirling, a postdoctoral guest researcher at the United States National Institute for Standards and Technology, made the claim in a blog post that criticised the decision of publisher Wiley not to grant permission for him to reproduce a figure from one of its own papers in an article on which Dr Stirling is first author and which has been accepted for publication by the journal Plos One.

The paper is a critique of the evidence for stripy nanoparticles: tiny particles of gold covered with stripes of other molecules called ligands. Their existence has been asserted in about 30 papers written since 2004 by Francesco Stellacci, Constellium professor at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne in Switzerland. Dr Stirling is among a group of UK-based researchers who believe that Professor Stellacci has misinterpreted microscope images.

Dr Stirling’s paper, a preprint of which was published earlier this year on the arXiv preprint server, illustrates its point by reproducing and discussing several images from some of Professor Stellacci’s previous papers. However, earlier this month Dr Stirling posted an outspoken blog entry in which he complained that Wiley had refused permission for one of them - originally published in the journal Small – to be used.

Pointing out the “oft-repeated mantra” that science is “inherently self-correcting, as all science is up for debate”, Dr Stirling argues in the blog that the incident offers further proof that while journals are happy to publish papers that refute old theories with new experimental data, they are largely hostile to those critiquing previously published papers.

Times Higher Education has previously reported that an earlier paper, with which Dr Stirling was not involved, that criticised the evidence for stripy nanoparticles took three years to be published.

“Apparently, the old guard of closed-access scientific publishers are not interested in the idea that they might have published articles with errors in. Correcting the literature is not important [to them],”
Dr Stirling says.

He says that Wiley’s stance is “petty and short-sighted, but more than that, it shows how we cannot trust the flow of scientific discourse to publishers, who care more about profit and their intellectual property than they do about free debate of ideas”.

Plos One publishes articles under a Creative Commons CC-BY licence, which permits free reuse of content subject to attribution, while Small employs more restrictive terms. Wiley did not respond to a request for comment but, in a posting under Dr Stirling’s blog, Kris Kliemann, the company’s vice-president and director of global rights and permissions, says: “We are happy to grant permission to reproduce our content in your article, but areunable to change its copyright status.”

At the time the blog was written, the Royal Society of Chemistry had granted permission for Dr Stirling to reproduce images from one of its journals, while Nature Publishing Group and the American Chemical Society were yet to respond. Both NPG and the ACS told THE that they had since granted permission. Grace Baynes, head of communications at NPG, said: “This fits with our policy that, in general, we will permit figures to be reproduced under the same licence as the rest of the article where they are to be used.”

paul.jump@tesglobal.com

 

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