Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Kill [This] Bill in Congress: The Research Works Act

Back in December 2007, I wrote a blog post entitled "2007 Seasons Greetings from U.S. Congress!" where I shared some news that after many years of advocacy efforts and outright lobbying of lawmakers in Congress, U.S. lawmakers had finally put into policy that U.S. taxpayers must be able to access research results published in academic/scientific/medical journals that taxpayers had already paid for with no additional fees or charges for access. In particular, that legislation allowedg the public (patients and physicians, students and teachers) to read about the discoveries our tax dollars had already paid for.

Historically speaking, medical journal publishers (which at one time were the actual medical associations, but in more recent years, for-profit publishers such as Reed Elselvier, Wiley-Blackwell, and Wolters Kluwer have acquired the publishing rights to countless academic, scientific and medical journals) charge very handsomely for subscriptions and even for individual article access (a single journal submission, for example, may cost anywhere from $30 to $50, while subscriptions to medical journal publications may cost several hundred dollars (or in some cases, thousands of dollars) per year. These fees are collected in spite of the fact that U.S. taxpayers had already paid for the underlying research. What's more, the journals actually receive billions of dollars in subscription payments derived largely from public funds. The value they say they add lies primarily in peer review, a process through which works are assessed for validity and significance before publication. But while the journals manage that process, it is carried out almost entirely by researchers who volunteer their time.

Recent History of Access to Taxpayer-Funded Scientific and Medical Research

Back in 2005, under growing pressure from a number of advocacy groups, the U.S. National Institutes of Health established a strictly voluntary policy meant to encourage (but not require) NIH-funded scientists to publish the findings from Federally-funded studies in open-access journals. As noted, the NIH Public Access Policy was a strictly voluntary measure and resulted in a deposit rate of less than 5% by individual investigators according to The Washington Post, hence we can conclude that the VOLUNTARY submission policy had very clearly failed  some would argue abysmally.

Academic scholars and patient advocacy groups realized that valuable research findings — already paid for by U.S. taxpayers  were effectively being hidden from the very taxpayers who had actually PAID for this research, and what's more, keeping the findings hidden was not advancing the fields of research as intended. So a number of groups began lobbying lawmakers for more "open access" to this research. Federally-funded biomedical research [in PubMed Central] could be accessed via the U.S. National Library of Medicine, which is funded by National Institutes of Health using a link in PubMed.

Many people, including myself, found that was frequently confusing because several links to the citations were listed, including links that actually required subscription (paid) access as well as the "free" (note: it wasn't FREE, as taxpayers already PAID for the research itself) links which were known to work very inconsistently, especially for documents hosted by Dutch specialty publishing giant Elselvier, which clearly did not like the policy based on statements made by company management in Amsterdam. A bill now in Congress (http://1.usa.gov/zSEqmv) which was lobbied for by for-profit journal publisher Elselvier, whose products include such medical and scientific journals as The Lancet, Cell and the subscription-based online archive ScienceDirect, threatens to undo all that patient advocacy groups worked for years to get: access to the research our tax dollars paid for!

Even more troubling than that is the fact that keeping these works locked up in a vault only accessible with high-priced subscriptions also threatens to advance the science. In effect, the same mistakes will be made unless we open access to these works, while others will effectively be prevented from advancing these scientific and medical discoveries. You also have a right to know if your lawmakers in Congress are working against you and the quest for diabetes cure-related research. The bill is being sponsored by Rep Darrell E. Issa from California's 49th Congressional District, which is just south of Orange County but north of San Diego in Southern California. The bill was co-sponsored by Rep Carolyn Maloney who represents New York's 14th Congressional District, which is sometimes euphemistically referred to as the "silk stocking district", including most of Manhattan's East Side; as well as a few parts Mrs. Maloney has reportedly not stepped foot into for several years, including Roosevelt Island, Astoria and Long Island City in Queens.

Maloney co-sponsored the 2009 reintroduction of the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act (H.R. 801, originally introduced as H.R. 6845 in 2008) as well as the Research Works Act (H.R. 3699) introduced in 2011. Both bills aim to reverse the NIH's Public Access Policy, which mandates open access to NIH-funded research. The Association of American Publishers-backed Research Works Act has been heavily criticized by many scientists. In a New York Times op-ed (see HERE), Michael Eisen described how that bill would force the public to pay $15–$30 per paper to read the results of research we have already paid for as taxpayers. (Such results must now be published in Pubmed Central [PMC]) after an embargo period of up to 12 months: this embargo period was imposed to minimize financial harm to publishers who were concerned that their readership might diminish if the results appeared concurrently in PMC, although authors of the paper are required to submit their papers to PMC as soon as their paper gets accepted for publication by a peer-review journal).

Some have suggested that Mrs. Maloney supports the measure because she's been the recipient of campaign contributions from Elsevier, the largest scholarly publishing company. On February 27, 2012, following a boycott of the organization, Elsevier officially withdrew it's support (see HERE) for the legislation, although most still believe that the organization's management still unofficially supports it.

It has been a few years since I have written about matters like this, but this is one that I would urge ALL of my readers make sure dies a painful death in Congress. The bill should not even be voted on. Write to your Federal lawmakers in Congress and make sure it does die.  There is also a petition to the White House, which you may sign by visiting http://wh.gov/6TH.

1 comment:

js290 said...

Seems like an argument against publicly funded research.