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“Research is too important to keep it locked up.” (taxpayeraccess.org). Our health, the health of our environment, the drive for energy independence and more depend on scientific research. Government regulators justify their actions with scientific data. Science impacts our daily lives in more ways than most people imagine. Science neither thrives nor can it serve the public interest when much of this research is either withheld from public scrutiny or available only via expensive subscription.

Unfiltered public access to taxpayer funded science is vital because it creates the climate for a credible vigorous science with the checks and balances essential to the health of an open, democratic society.

Skepticism, from the Greek root “skepticos” means thoughtful and inquiring, and is the foundation of modern science. Scientific theories are tentative, subject to modification or even abandonment until proven through independent testing and replication. Scientists must have the means to communicate openly among themselves to validate and refine the results of their research.

Indeed, rapid and easy access to research data is the road to real world applications of scientific discoveries that give taxpayers a good return on their investment. Equally important, open scientific dialog puts the damper on dubious science and controversial theories that can be used to advance special interests at the expense of the public welfare.

Government has the power to require the release of federally funded research into the public domain as a condition of federal research grants. When Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) in May 2006, he said that “Our bill simply says to all researchers who seek government funding that we want the results of your work to be seen by the largest possible audience. It will ensure that U.S. taxpayers do not have to pay twice for the same research – once to conduct it, and a second time to read it.”

The National Institutes of Health took an important step in the spring of 2008 when they implemented a new policy with the mandate that electronic versions of all peer reviewed articles coming out of NIH funded research be made available in PubMed within 12 months of publication.

The actions of the NIH are a positive first step, but it’s not enough. Nearly half of the 57.5 billion dollars budgeted for non-defense R&D in fiscal 2008 remain locked up behind subscription only doors. And it’s not only the taxpaying public who are locked out. Skyrocketing subscription costs are forcing universities all over the country to cut back on their subscriptions, shutting scientists off from their lifeblood of peer reviewed research.

The FRPAA bill has been in limbo for over two years* after being referred to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Subcommittee on Federal Financial Management, Government Information and International Security.

If the proposed legislation was put into the public limelight, brought up to date and passed, all federally funded research would be available for open access.

Government researchers make mistakes too. Controversial science and unproven research methodologies should never become the basis of far reaching, costly regulations without rigorous independent review by the scientific community.

When the Cato Institute published “The Case for Public Access to Federally Funded Research Data” in 2000, they were concerned that faulty science, conducted without independent verification, could become the basis and justification for ill-considered, costly regulations. “Without independent review of scientific data and methodological practices, policy mistakes are inevitable.”

Government regulators can and have caused substantial harm to taxpayers and the economy. They are able to justify their actions because their scientific mistakes often go unchecked and unchallenged. Indeed, the EPA’s handling of the effects of airborne asbestos is a classic case of flawed methodology used to justify mistaken regulations that have cost billions of dollars and hardship to millions with no clear benefit.

For 12 years, between 1978 and 1990, the EPA issued a series of regulations for removal of asbestos containing materials in schools. Suddenly, in 1990, the EPA reversed itself and said that asbestos should be managed in place instead of removing it. Why the reversal? The EPA has never explained but when Congress asked the EPA to measure airborne asbestos in public buildings in the late eighties, the EPA used proper measurement techniques and found no difference in airborne asbestos between the air in the government buildings and the outside air!

Independent review of agency sponsored scientific research by non-government scientists brings balance to the regulatory process and “has had a major positive effect on our knowledge about airborne asbestos, endocrine disrupters, the herbicide 2,4-D, the Dalkon Shield birth control device, and the diet drug fen-phen.” (Cato)

The Shelby Amendment, passed in the late nineties “guarantees, through the Freedom of Information Act, public access to grantee collected data that are used in support of rules or regulations.” But the OMB implementation excludes regulatory agency policies from public scrutiny and that should be fixed. (Cato)

We’re at a critical juncture. The Internet gives us the tools that can lead to a scientific renaissance. All we need is the will to take action. A savvy presidential candidate could bring the debate out into the open, give real meaning to their commitment to an open society and transparency in government and help restore the checks and balances so desperately needed to bring common sense and scientific scrutiny into the regulatory process.

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I received the Sunshine Week Citizen Journalism Award when I originally published this essay on Helium in July-August 2008 during the last presidential election cycle. There’s a new bill in Congress that would lock the door on research paid for with our tax dollars:

New Bill Would Put Taxpayer-Funded Science Behind Pay Walls I decided to re-publish my essay after reading this article, especially since we are well into another presidential election cycle. * I haven’t changed the original text so the time frame needs to be understood in the context of the summer of 2008.

Click on taxpayeraccess.org for additional links to related articles about this bill.

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The E-Book market is growing — fast. Nikkei Electronics Asia’s August 2009 Cover Story paints a rosy growth picture. The article focuses on electronics and dedicated readers. They report that a recent survey predicts that shipments of dedicated e-readers in the U.S. will hit 28.6 million units by 2013. Only one million shipped in 2008. That’s a huge increase. Yes, but…

Photo by "Alton"

Photo by "Alton"

The real explosion will come when content is compatible, runs on many different platforms (not just dedicated readers) and delivery is easy. One argument you hear often is that people prefer the feel of “real” books and don’t like reading from a small screen. Ya think?? A connected generation growing up with blackberries, smart-phones, laptops and the Internet would beg to differ.

People want simple, convenient and stuff that just works. You don’t need a large screen for recreational reading. People carry their Blackberries or smart phones everywhere they go. Get to a meeting early and have a few minutes to kill? Whip out your iPhone and pick up where you left off in the latest novel you’re reading. Stuck in the airport? Pull out your Blackberry, connect to B&N and you can be reading a novel in minutes.

The ecosystem of content delivery (and compatibility) is evolving quickly.
Sony announced their support for the ePub format. All of the Barnes and Noble E-Books will be in ePub format. ePub is a new standard for “reflowable digital books” developed by the International Digital Publishing Forum. Reflowable means that the text adapts to the screen of the device. It’s a fancy way to say the text will wrap at the edges of the screen.

Back in the stone age of handhelds, I read many books on my palm pilot’s tiny 160 x 160 screen and enjoyed every minute. I even snuck in some reading when I was supposed to be working. The screens on today’s handhelds are far superior and highly readable.

More and more big names are jumping on the e-book train. Google, Samsung, major publishers and rumors of Apple joining the fray abound. What’s needed is a critical mass and I think that will come the adoption of the ePub standard. Proprietary formats (like the Kindle) are doomed.

When people can use the devices they already have and when most E-Books use ePub, a completely free and open standard, the stage will be set for a seamless ecosystem of content delivery for E-Books. The market will decide, not the proprietary dinosaur formats. Self-publishing will target The Long Tail and give people what they want. ePub and the ecosystem it will spawn will be the final nail in the coffin of traditional publishing.

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Competition is healthy. Up to now, Amazon and their Kindle have dominated the E-Book market. Barnes & Noble made two exciting announcements on Monday that will pump new life and energy into the E-Book market. Barnes & Noble Makes a Big Splash Into E-books (Melissa J. Perenson, PC World, Jul 20, 2009 4:40 pm).

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B&N opened their eBookstore on Monday, July 20. All new releases and bestsellers will be priced at $9.99. The virtual shelves add the half-million free public domain ebooks available from Google to B&N’s own stock of 200,000 titles. That’s a lot of books. Not as many as Amazon’s 300,000 Kindle titles, but B&N expects their inventory to top one million titles within the next year.

Todd Weiss, in his PC World article, hopes B&N will get it right and learn from what he calls “Kindle mistakes.” Barnes & Noble: Please Avoid These Kindle Mistakes, (Todd R. Weiss, PC World, Jul 21, 2009 10:11 am).

When you buy an E-book from B&N, it’s yours. You won’t be held hostage to a device. All their books will be in the ePub format and yes they will be DRM protected, but once you purchase a book from them, it’s yours. If you need another copy, all you need do is log in and download. I’ve had a fictionwise account (B&N acquired fictionwise earlier this year) for years and it works well. Content from B&N won’t be tied to their e-reader like Amazon locks people into the Kindle and that’s a good thing.

The ereader coming from B&N is next generation and has me excited. B&N is partnering with Plastic Logic and the device will be available early next year. The new reader uses plastic transistors! It’s thin, it’s light, it will hold thousands of books and it’s 8 1/2 x 11. Plastic Logic says their reader is primarily intended for business users and that’s great because you’ll be able to load the reader with PDF, excel, Word, and other common file formats.

Push buttons to navigate the reader? Nope, it’s touchscreen all the way and has a built in file management system to make life easy for the user. The Kindle is just a reader and proprietary at that. The Plastic Logic reader is a document management system, an electronic storage and reading device and it’s next generation. Sorry Todd, but no backlight. Then again, how many printed books are backlit?

Plastic Logic Demos E-Book Reader With WiFi , 3G
(Ian Paul, PC World, May 28, 2009 8:40 am). I want one. No price announced as yet, but B&N will have to compete with the Kindle on price. They win on features. War or healthy competition? We’ll all benefit from B&N’s move into the E-Book marketplace. The market should expand (I bet it explodes over the next few years) and that’s a good thing for readers and writers alike. Plastic Logic is hard at work on a color version. This is exciting indeed.

Update. Zack Urlocker of Infoworld, thinks Barnes & Noble’s new eBookstore lacks significance. Can Barnes & Noble — or Anyone — Dislodge Kindle? B&N and Plastic Logic are doing more than getting out there and creating noise Zack. This is anything but a me too strategy.

The Kindle is only good for reading Amazon’s proprietary ebook format. OK, you can read PDF files too but you have to jump through hoops to install a PDF. What else does the Kindle do? I wouldn’t drop one, the glass might break.

Plastic Logic’s device is next generation and will store common business formats. The owner is in charge of their own reader, not the vendor. All of Barnes & Noble’s titles are being issued in the ePub format and can be read on just about every electronic device with a screen. You buy an E-Book from B&N and you own it. They won’t snatch it back in the middle of the night either.

Me too? Nope. Amazon wants to control the market. B&N and Plastic Logic are betting on people, an open market and real innovation. The Kindle in it’s present form is a dead end.

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Can you see the irony? Amazon removed Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” and “Animal Farm” from customer Kindles this week. Amazon sends Orwell to ‘memory hole’ (AFP) July 18, 2009. Sucked into a black hole and gone without a trace. An Amazon spokesman said the books were removed because the publisher didn’t have reproduction rights. Whoops.

BlackHole

Black Hole -- NASA concept drawing

Amazon Removes E-Books From Kindle Store, Revokes Ownership, by Melissa J. Perenson, PC World, Jul 17, 2009 8:08 pm, compares physical and digital purchases, copy protection and wonders if we are truly purchasing digital content.

My concern isn’t so much what Amazon did, but that they can. Amazon said the system would be changed so “books would not be erased in fututre.” So they say, but they still can. Amazon’s control of copy protected Kindle e-books reaches right into the homes of Kindle owners. They can visit silently in the dead of night and wirelessly remove anything they want. They did it because they could.

Will Amazon do it again? Do purchasers really own their Kindles? Do they own the e-books they purchase? What else can Amazon do with your their Kindle?

When you buy a physical book, you own it. You can read it, write in the margins, lend it to a friend, lose it…  You paid for the book. It’s yours.

What kind of signals will Amazon’s actions send to their customers? How about prospective customers? You’d have to think twice before forking over $299 for a device that you have little or no control over and content that might disappear into thin air.

Some e-books are more equal than others? When someone buys an e-book, they should have all the rights of ownership. They don’t when e-books are crippled with DRM copy protection. What are publishers afraid of? Why do they treat paying customers as potential thieves?

I’m glad this happened. Events like this show the true colors of copy protection and closed system reading devices. I trust people to be honest. My forthcoming e-book will have ZERO copy protection. Most people will do the right thing. They don’t need to be insulted and hamstrung. They buy the e-book, they own it. How hard is that?

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Publishers justify the high cost of E-books and rub their hands in glee at E-book complexity. I ran across these two articles yesterday:  Why e-books aren’t cheaper (C-Net news May 27, 2009) and Ebook complexity: good news for publishers (The Idea Logical Blog June 3, 2009).  I don’t think either one of these guys “gets it.” What were they thinking?

QuestionMarkWoman1922

The first article is a lengthy justification for the high cost of E-books. Gordon Haff uses pre-production, printing, marketing (including  book tour, NYT Book Review ad, printing and shipping galleys to journalists), the wholesaler, and finally author royalties to justify the high costs of E-books.

He seems to think the costs of getting an E-book into the hands of readers would have the same costs that are typical of printed books. He uses a $4.19 royalty paid on a $27.95 hardcover to a best selling author as an example. Huh?

Publishers operate on the star system. They pick and choose books based on potential hits. The $4.19 is a 15% royalty paid to a best selling popular author. How about the rest of us? The average book published in the US sells a meager 500 copies. Hardly best seller status. Unknown authors are lucky to get 5-10% royalties. How palatable is the prospect of a couple dollars per book sold when you might sell 500?

Mike Shatzkin ends his article, Ebook complexity: good news for publishers, with this sentence: “If publishers (and the consultants they depend on) are getting a headache trying to keep all the new stuff straight, imagine how bewildering it is to the wannabe self-published author!”

I’m not confused,  I’m not bewildered and I don’t like being patronized. Amazon, B&N and all the other online book sellers are jumping in with their own proprietary ereaders and ebook formats. I think they are the ones who are confused. Wait until netbooks equipped with e-ink technology hit the streets. I like pdf files myself and readers don’t need the aggravation of copy protection either.

Then again, they are doing this for the same reason publishers go for the big hit bestseller books — Profits! They all want to corner the market for their own benefit. Somehow I don’t think they have the best interests of either the writers or the readers in mind.

How about the people who provide the content for the the books they sell? How about readers who are expected to pay through the nose for electronic books that have far lower production and distribution costs?

The only people who need the publishers and the copy protected E-books are the best selling authors. Do you think the average author will be going on book tours, be featured in the NY Times book reviews?

Clearly, these guys don’t understand the potential of the Internet for the average writer. It’s not difficult to publish a professionally formatted E-book yourself. Stay tuned for my book on this subject. The time has come for authors to take matters into their own hands.

Publishers wouldn’t have anything to publish without our writing. Amazon and B&N don’t write their own books — we do. Why should we stand at the back of the line, grateful for (if we’re lucky) 10% royalties? The publishing world is upside down. E-books are our opportunity as writers to finally get our due.

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Tacoma_Narrows_Bridge_Falling

Tacoma Narrows Bridge Falling

E-book pricing looks like it’s in free fall. Amazon started it when they introduced their Kindle ereader. Now, in this July 2nd article, Barnes & Noble Follows the Leader (Amazon) With $9.95 E-book Pricing.

And it’s about time. It’s always bothered me that E-books have been nearly as expensive as “real” books. I wonder who has been taking the huge cost savings to the bank? Writers? I doubt it. The only difference in the publishing model has been the elimination of the production and distribution costs.

In this month’s cover story, Amazon Taps it’s inner apple, FastCompany tells an interesting tale and speculates about the future of books and publishing.

Who do you think will get soaked? I think it will be the traditional publishers. After all, in an electronic world where we don’t need their presses and distribution, why do we need publishers at all?

Why do we need dedicated ereader devices? Can you imagine having to buy special glasses from the publisher to read one of their books? Buy a Kindle from Amazon, a B&N reader from Barnes & Noble and who else wants to sell me their reader and proprietary book format.

No thanks. I saw an interesting online video that has me convinced. A netbook costs less than a Kindle, is a real computer and can read pdf files. The video showed a guy turning the netbook on it’s side. Makes a perfect ereading device.

Bye-bye Kindle, E-reader Screens Coming for Netbooks — PCWorld, May 29, 2009. I can hardly wait for these guys to hit the stores. I want one. Then again, maybe Apple is ready to launch their iBook? This is exciting.

Inexpensive ereaders and self-published pdf E-books have my interest. You could self-publish an E-book for five bucks and walk away with more than double the royalties from a typical $20 book sale. I’m in.

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Blogs and bloggers are positively Medieval and that’s a good thing. Medieval bards were the first citizen journalists, individuals carrying the latest news from place to place with their tales and ballads. People are curious. We’re communicators, we’re social and we’re nosey. We need to know what the neighbors are doing.

Even before the printing press came along, ballads were handwritten and passed around on broadsides (or broadsheets as they came to be known). If the bards were the first news reporters, then the broadsheets were the first newspapers. Today, the term broadsheet refers to the familiar 4-fold newspaper format of the “serious” newspapers. Unlike the tabloids, they print only “proper” news.

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The NY Times motto is “All The News That’s Fit To Print.”
Then again the Boston Globe masthead says: “The World Is Governed Too Much.” I think they’re right about that one. My favorite is the masthead carried by the Scripps newspapers.

“Give Light And People Will Find Their Own Way.”
Those powerful words were placed on a newspaper masthead in New Mexico back in 1922. Carl Magee refused to back down. He provided the light that helped blow open the Teapot Dome scandal in 1923. He suffered personally and financially because of his stance, but never wavered in his convictions.

The modern newspaper institutionalized the gathering and broad casting the news but it has always been courageous individuals like Carl Magee who pull the curtains of secrecy aside to reveal the truth.

Bloggers are the bards of the Internet, shining their light (mostly) at the speed of light and the people can and do find their own way. The world has come full circle. Every day the Internet dilutes the power of institutions and gives power and freedom back to individuals. We have the freedom to decide for ourselves and that is a good thing. It’s The Long Tail wagging.

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