Advocates for public access to federally funded research made their case before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on Thursday, while publishers' representatives urged lawmakers to proceed with caution for fear of putting U.S. intellectual property—and publishers' livelihoods—at risk.
The subcommittee first heard from publishers' representatives. Allan R. Adler, vice president for legal and governmental affairs for the Association of American Publishers, whose members include both trade and scholarly publishers, argued that it is critical to distinguish between federally financed research and journal articles based on that research, which he described as partly the product of publishers' labor. He repeated arguments often made by publishers about how their work enhances the value of research, and said that the 12-month embargo under the NIH policy is often not enough for publishers to recoup their investment.
Countering those arguments, a panel of scientists and patients' advocates made the case for strong federal public-access policies. Richard J. Roberts, chief scientific officer at New England Biolabs, a company that makes biological reagents, won the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of split genes. He argued that scientific progress depended on timely access to published research.
"Because scientific research critically depends on knowledge of the scientific literature and building on the work of others, access to this literature is the key to progress," Mr. Roberts told the subcommittee. "In my view, the open-access movement is one of the single most important initiatives currently under way within the scientific community."
Mr. Roberts was joined in his support for greater public access by patients' advocates, including Sophia Colamarino, vice president for research at Autism Speaks, and Sharon F. Terry, president and chief executive of Genetic Alliance, which promotes partnerships and information sharing to help people with genetic disorders.
In today’s information age, where essentially anything said by anyone can be made accessible within a matter of moments, it is unfortunate that families have easy access to all BUT the most scientifically valid information, that which can be found in scientifically reviewed research literature. Perhaps twenty years ago, when we still relied on the slow transfer of information through printed format, restricting access to a subset of knowledge had less of an impact. In 2010, families are inundated with information that may not always be credible, and yet they are unable to read the most scientifically rigorous data. It’s time for that to change.