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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

33 Nobel laureates write to Congress in support of the NIH policy

Thirty-three US Nobel laureates in science have written an open letter to Congress defending the NIH policy against the Conyers bill (September 9, 2008).  Excerpt:

As scientists and Nobel Laureates we are writing today to support the NIH Public Access Policy that was instituted earlier this year as a Congressional mandate. This is one of the most important public access initiatives ever undertaken. Finally, scientists, physicians, health care workers, libraries, students, researchers and thousands of academic institutions and companies will have access to the published work of scientists who have been supported by NIH.

For scientists working at the cutting edge of knowledge, it is essential that they have unhindered access to the world's scientific literature. Increasingly, scientists and researchers at all but the most well-financed universities are finding it difficult to pay the escalating costs of subscriptions to the journals that provide their life blood. A major result of the NIH public access initiative is that increasing amounts of scientific knowledge are being made freely available to those who need to use it and through the internet the dissemination of that knowledge is now facile.

The clientele for this knowledge are not just an esoteric group of university scientists and researchers who are pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge....

The scientific literature is our communal heritage. It has been assembled by the painstaking work of hundreds of thousands of research scientists and the results are essential to the pursuit of science. The research breakthroughs that can lead to new treatments for disease, to better diagnostics or to innovative industrial applications depend completely on access not just to specialized literature, but rather to the complete published literature. A small finding in one field combined with a second finding in some completely unrelated field often triggers that "Eureka" moment that leads to a groundbreaking scientific advance. Public access makes this possible.

The current move by the publishers is wrong. The NIH came through with an enlightened policy that serves the best interest of science, the scientists who practice it, the students who read about it and the taxpayers who pay for it. The legislators who mandated this policy should be applauded and any attempts to weaken or reverse this policy should be halted....

[PS:  Omitting the 33 signatures.]

Comment.  This is the third time that US Nobel laureates in science have written to Congress in support of the NIH policy.  Also see the first letter (25 signatures, August 26, 2004) and the second letter (26 signatures, July 8, 2007).