Lost over Call for Open Access for all Scientific Papers

I’m at a loss over the recent reports on the requirement for all research publications to be open access by 2020. Open access means that the research papers are accessible openly without a fee. There are plenty of confusing if not outright wrong statements in the press, but I’m not so much concerned with poor journalism than with the actual proposed policies.

Sadly, I couldn’t find more than this one sentence on page 12 of the report linked to from the meetings website:

Delegations committed to open access to scientific publications as the option by default by 2020.

I’d like to understand what this means and then how this is supposed work. Specifically, I’d like to know how this is not going to either break free enterprise or make predatory publishers like Elsevier laugh all the way to the bank.

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Follow-up on the Discussions about Knowledge for Knowledge’s Sake

I’ve been enjoying the discussion around Patek’s recent video argument for knowledge for knowledge’s sake in several forums. I thought I’d summarize my arguments here. To me it looks all pretty straightforward.

From a principled stance, as to funding research, it is the funder’s prerogative who to fund. Often, grant proposals (funding requests) exceed available funds, so the funder needs to rank-order the grant proposals and typically will fund those ranked highest until the funds are exhausted. A private funder may use whatever criteria they deem appropriate. Public funding, i.e. taxpayer money, is more tricky as this is typically the government agencies setting policies that somehow rank-order funding proposals for a particular fund. It seems rather obvious to me that taxpayer money should be spent on something that benefits society. Hence, a grant proposal must promise some of that benefit. How it does this, can vary. I see at least two dimensions along which to argue: Immediacy (or risk) and impact. Something that believably provides benefits sooner is preferable to something that provides benefits later. Something that believably promises a higher impact is preferable to something that provides lower impact.

Thus, research that promises to cure cancer today is preferable over research that explains why teenage girls prefer blue over pink on Mondays and are generally unapproachable that day. Which is not to say that the teenage girl question might not get funded: Funders and funding are broad and deep and for everything that public agencies won’t fund there is a private funder whose pet peeve would be solving that question.

The value of research is always relative, never absolute, and always to be viewed within a particular evaluation framework.

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Internal vs. External Validity of Research Funding

So far, most of my research funding has been from industry. Sometimes, I have to defend myself against colleagues who argue that their public funding is somehow superior to my industry funding. This is only a sentiment; they have not been able to give any particular reason for their position.

I disagree with this assessment, and for good reason. These two types of funding are not comparable and ideally you have both.

In research, there are several quality criteria, of which the so-called internal and external validity of a result are two important ones.

  • Internal validity, simplifying, is a measure of how a result is consistent within itself. Are there any contradictions within the result itself? If not so, than you may have high internal validity (which is good).
  • External validity, simplifying, is a measure of how a result is predictive or representative of the reality outside the original research data. If so, your result may have high external validity, which is also good.

Public grants have high internal validity but low external validity. In contrast, industry funding has high external validity, but low internal validity. The following figure illustrates this point:

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Looking Back on One Year of Public Policy Consulting

2012 was the year when I first did some serious public policy consulting. I found it quite informative to see how politicians work and what the impact of lobbyists is.

I’m a professor of computer science at a German technical university. I also have an M.B.A. from Stanford. I consult on open source, software development, and the software industry. I’m also a civil servant of the state of Bavaria in Germany. Thus, I try to maintain a policy-neutral stance, consulting on mechanism more than on policy. The German people elect politicians, politicians choose policy, and I help politicians choose and define mechanisms that will turn those policies into reality.

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Short Position Paper on Open Source (in German)

Positionspapier zu “Open Source” für die EIDG Projektgruppe Interoperabilität, Standards, Open Source

Prof. Dr. Dirk Riehle, M.B.A. / Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg

Open Source ist eine disruptive Innovation in der Softwareindustrie. Sie hat zu neuen Geschäftsmodellen geführt, mit denen Softwareunternehmen schneller und kostengünstiger bessere Software entwickeln und damit etablierte Spieler aushebeln können. Für die wenigen großen deutschen Softwarehersteller (SAP, Software AG), stellt dies erst einmal ein Problem dar, sofern sie nicht angemessen reagieren (was bisher nur zum Teil geschah). Für die deutsche Softwarebranche insgesamt ist dies aber eine positive Entwicklung, da sie neue Chancen eröffnet und den Stärken unserer Industrie und Kultur entgegenkommt.

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Revamping German Copyright Law #EIDG

The German Enquete commission “Internet and Digital Society” is a multilateral commission instituted by the German parliament to discuss and make recommendations on, well, Internet and digital society. I’m a member of an expert advisory council for one of the parties involved in the commission. I received the following catalog of questions and thought I’d share the questions here and maybe we can have a good discussion. For international readers, it may be helpful to read Wikipedia on German copyright law. So, here are the questions.

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