Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, November 05, 2007

Editorial in support of an OA mandate at the NIH

Open knowledge, open future, The Journal Times (from Racine, Wisconsin), November 5, 2007.  Excerpt:

It sounds like a nerds-only subject, yet the current debate about who may read the results of publicly funded scientific research has a direct bearing on all of us — on our physical health and our economic health.

Within the Health and Human Services appropriations bill now before Congress is a requirement that scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health publish their research results in scientific journals which will make them available to anyone, for free, after one year.

Most scientific journals now charge hefty fees for subscriptions or for single copies of an article, meaning only a limited group of people can read the information. Naturally the journal-publishing industry has been lobbying aggressively to kill this idea and preserve their revenue stream.

In the past few years, alternatives have arisen, notably the Public Library of Science. This organization publishes research papers, too, but it’s done online, there is no restriction on who can read and copy information, and the costs are covered by a fee paid by the scientist and typically drawn from the research grant. But much research remains locked away in private journals.

This not a small issue. Although the NIH provides only 28 percent of biomedical research funding, it is the principal source of basic research funds – money that industry won’t spend because sheer curiosity doesn’t generate large short-term profits. Yet it is basic research which in a decade or two will be transformed into the technological miracles of the future, just as basic research done decades ago has put a personal computer in your den and a cell phone in your pocket....

Thomas Edison said that inventing is 1 percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. While open access to information won’t eliminate the development work, by continuing to limit public access to the information for which the public has paid, we risk losing that vital moment of inspiration which leads to something that makes our lives easier, or healthier, or to a whole new industry. It’s not a risk we can afford to keep taking.

Comment.  I'm glad to see another editorial in support of an OA mandate at the NIH.  Unfortunately, this one repeats the error made by the Washington Post on Thursday.  Correction:  The NIH policy would require deposit in an OA repository (PubMed Central), not submission to OA journals.  It's about green OA, not gold OA.