Free as a verb, not as an adjective. David Dobbs has an engaging article about publishing and modern science up at Neuron Culture.
On Father’s Day three years ago, biologist Jonathan Eisen decided he’d like to republish all his father’s papers. His father, Howard Eisen, a biologist and a researcher at the National Institutes of Health, had published 40-some-odd papers by the time that he died by suicide at age 45. That had been in Febuary 1987, while Jonathan, a sophomore at college, was on the verge of discovering his own love of biology. At the time, virtually all scientific papers were just on paper. Now, of course, everything happens online, and Jonathan, who in addition to researching and teaching also serves as an editor for the open-access, online-only journal PLoS Biology, knows this well. So three years ago, Jonathan decided to reclaim his father’s papers from print limbo and make them freely available online. He wanted to make them part of the scientific record. He also wanted, he says, “to leave a more positive presence” — to ensure his father had a public legacy first and foremost as a scientist.
How hard could it be? Howard Eisen had been a federal employee, so his work rightly lay in some sense in the public domain. And Jonathan, as an heir, presumably owned copyright anyway, along with his brother Michael (also a biologist, and one of the founders of the Public Library of Science, the innovative journal group that publishes PLoS Biology). Yet to the brothers’ continuing chagrin, Jonathan has found securing and publishing his father’s papers to be far harder than he expected.