Fight the Conyers Bill

Politics often seems sharper in the US that over here – the issues are more clearly lobbied and lobyable in Congress (though remember the software patents European directive?). PRISM may not be using the name much but it’s the same crew of vested interests. US citizens can and should lobby on this… [from Open Access News]
Richard J. Roberts, Protect our access to medical research, Boston Globe, March 23, 2009.  An op-ed.  Roberts won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.  Excerpt:

If you think this is the era of e-government and transparency, it’s time to think again. Hard as it is to imagine, there’s a move afoot in Congress to take away the public’s free online access to tax-funded medical research findings.
That would be bad for medical discovery, bad for patients looking for the latest research results, and another rip-off of the American taxpayer.
Today anyone who wants to investigate a medical topic or see the outcomes of the $30 billion annual taxpayer investment in the National Institutes of Health has simply to visit PubMed Central, the agency’s popular online archive. It provides free access to the knowledge recorded in 80,000 journal articles published each year as a result of NIH grants, plus many other peer-reviewed, open-access research papers.
Under the current policy, which is similar to practices of other funders worldwide, researchers who accept NIH funds must deposit their resulting peer-reviewed scientific articles in the PubMed Central archive. There the articles are permanently preserved in digital form, made searchable, linked to related information, and offered free to all on the Web. It’s a fair deal: Researchers get financial support for their work; taxpayers get a resource that will further advance science and address the public’s need to know.
But a group of well-heeled scientific journal publishers is trying to turn back the clock. They’ve backed legislation to rescind this widely hailed NIH policy. Elsevier , publisher of The Lancet, for example, is part of the Association of American Publishers, which has joined with the so-called DC Principles Coalition to ramrod the bill in Congress.
The giant American Chemical Society is another vocal advocate of the bill.
Not all publishers support the bill, but those who do are among the richest and best connected on Capitol Hill. If the pending legislation passes, public access will take a back seat to publisher self-interest….
PubMed Central is vital for researchers and the public alike. Only through free access can everyone find out where the cutting edge of research lies. With access to the latest studies, patients and their families have a much-needed piece of the puzzle as they consider treatment options and potential outcomes. Educators and students at rich and poor schools alike have an unmatched resource for teaching and learning about the life sciences. Small businesses can put advances in knowledge to work and drive American innovation.
Health advocate Sharon Terry of the Genetic Alliance, whose children have a rare genetic disease, contends that before NIH put its research online, her own search to understand her children’s situation ran into a “wall around published scientific research. Information was being held hostage by outmoded publishing practices.”
The publishers are pulling out all the stops to overturn the current NIH policy….
It is time that publishers stop trying to rob the public of access to NIH research. Instead of rolling back the current NIH policy, we need to strengthen it. For example, NIH should shorten the present one-year wait for public access, which was implemented in response to publisher pressure. Also, public access requirements should be extended to all federal research grants, not just those of NIH.
Just as big financial firms don’t seem to understand that public obligations come with their government bailout funds, some publishers seem clueless about the public’s right to public research. NIH and agencies throughout government owe it to taxpayers to share the findings of their research investments as widely as possible.
Handing publishers the right to lock up research isn’t a government giveaway taxpayers can afford.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Fight the Conyers Bill

  1. Rich Apodaca says:

    Peter, I know there’s been a lot of back and forth on this, but I’ve seen very little in the way of hard data on the subject. Have you?
    For example, since the ACS appears to be one of the main opponents of the NIH policy, where can we find a breakdown of the percentage of papers that would be eligible for the mandatory program currently and retroactively? Is it 10%? 20%? 50%? What if you throw NSF funding in there as well?
    How do those figures break down by journal?
    It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to see a very dim future indeed for a subscription-oriented journal in which 75% of its content needs to released for free. 10% may not make a dent at all.
    I think most chemists would respond rationally to the idea that their favorite grant-producing journal of choice would stand a real chance of going belly up under the NIH policy, but only when presented with the data to back it up.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *