Science & the Public

Janet Raloff
Science & the Public

National Academies Press offers free downloads

While digital tomes are free, paper versions will still require a fee.

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Most members of the science and tech communities are aware of the substantive policy analyses and research reviews issued each year by the National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences, Institute of Medicine and National Academy of Engineering. Published by the National Academies Press, these reports tend to be huge, authoritative tomes. On June 2, the press opened its electronic vault to all of us. It now permits free downloads of PDFs for its volumes by anyone willing to free up the gigabytes on his or her hard drive.

"Our business model has evolved so that it is now financially viable to put this content out to the entire world for free," said Barbara Kline Pope, executive director for the National Academies Press.  "This is a wonderful opportunity to make a positive impact by more effectively sharing our knowledge and analyses."

Nearly every volume is available (via http://www.nap.edu) — more than 4,000 to date. Nearly all are searchable, and you can print them out if you’re willing to buy your own pints of ink and reams of paper. (Reading the massive volumes electronically is better for the environment, although that can seriously limit you’re ability to bend back the virtual pages or highlight and annotate your copies.)

These aren’t breezy reads. But some could have broad appeal or relevance, such as: 

    -- Climate Stabilization Targets: Emissions, Concentrations, and Impacts over Decades to Millennia
    -- Learning Science Through Computer Games and Simulations
    -- Direct-to-Consumer Genetic Testing: Summary of a Workshop
    -- Dietary Reference Intakes for Calcium and Vitamin D
    -- Interim Report on Causes of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Blowout and Ways to Prevent Such Events
    -- Hidden Costs of Energy: Unpriced Consequences of Energy Production and Use
    -- Biometric Recognition: Challenges and Opportunities
    -- Genetically Engineered Organisms, Wildlife, and Habitat: A Workshop Summary
    -- and Implementing the New Biology: Decadal Challenges Linking Food, Energy, and the Environment: Summary of a Workshop, June 3-4, 2010

Many other volumes are potentially important but more somnolent tomes. These will likely appeal to a more limited audience, such as:

    -- Research Opportunities in Corrosion Science and Engineering
    -- Strategic Planning for the Florida Citrus Industry: Addressing Citrus Greening
    -- Management and Effects of Coalbed Methane Produced Water in the United States
    -- An Evaluation of the Food Safety Requirements of the Federal Purchase Ground Beef Program
    -- and Evaluating Testing, Costs, and Benefits of Advanced Spectroscopic Portals for Screening Cargo at Ports pf Entry: Interim Report (Abbreviated Version)

Just because these books are available for free does not mean recipients are free to share them with others. In fact, the National Academies explicitly warns downloaders that they “may not distribute, post, or copy our work without written permission from the National Academies Press” because it “not only violates our copyright but it also could proliferate the sharing of non-authoritative versions of our reports.” That seems fair.

So log on and begin filling up your digital bookshelf. Oh, and if you want the dead-tree version of those same reports — they’ll still be available. For a fee.

Citations

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