Friday, January 13, 2012

Entering the Fray

The vast majority of biomedical research conducted in the United States is funded by taxpayers through grants distributed by the National Institutes of Health.  This includes investigator-initiated laboratory research (the work we do in our labs) as well as clinical trials, both large and small (NIH is a large supporter, for example, of the Children's Oncology Group).  In the not-too-distant past, the results of all of this research were published in scientific journals which were available to anyone who could gain entrance to a medical library.  With the rise of the internet, journals began publishing online, and charging a fee for viewing these articles on their websites.  Those of us who work at academic centers generally have free access to most (but not all) of these websites because our universities buy institutional subscriptions.  Others, including people who work at smaller centers and the general public, have less (or no) access to this work.

All of this changed in 2008, when the NIH instituted a Public Access Policy that stated, in brief, that results of research funded by the NIH had to be made freely available to the general public.  Along with NIH's Public Access Policy came the advent of the Public Library of Science, a non-profit organization co-founded by Michael Eisen, a professor at UC Berkley (and blogger), dedicated to open access to scientific research.  I have published in one of their journals, PLoS ONE.  I am a strong supporter of open access to the results of research, mine and everyone else's.

This concept of free access to taxpayer-funded research is under attack by a bill introduced into the House of Representatives last month, the Research Works Act.  In essence, this bill would forbid the NIH to require that its grantees provide copies of their papers to the National Library of Medicine for online, open access.  There are innumerable reasons to oppose this bill, and Dr. Eisen discussed them far more eloquently than I ever could in an Op-Ed piece published in the New York Times. 

If you agree that the results of research paid for by your tax dollars should be freely available, please contact your congressperson and express your opposition to the Research Works Act.  As the PLoS journals have demonstrated, high quality research can be published online and made freely available to all, and the research enterprise will flourish because of this, not suffer. 


Mindi Finch said...

Dr David~

Thank you so very much for bringing this topic to light. As a Momcologist, access to this information is vital to my community.

I will be contacting St Baldrick's, CureSearch and American Childhood Cancer Organization and ask them to add this to their agendas for Childhood Action Day, this June 4 & 5 in Washington, DC.

With love, love, love.....

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