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Home > Research Articles > Measure Calls for Wider Access to Federally Financed Research

New York Times

Thursday, June 26, 2003


ASHINGTON, June 25 A group challenging the power of established scientific journals says legislation will be introduced to make the results of all federally financed research available to the public.

The group, the Public Library of Science, which includes scientists, doctors, researchers and their public supporters, plans to announce legislation on Thursday that would give taxpayers greater access to scientific data.

The group's objective is an open system of scientific publishing that would bypass the current system, which centers on journals that charge, through their subscriptions, for access to results.

The measure places results of research financed primarily by the government into the public domain so access cannot be prohibited by copyright, said Dr. Michael B. Eisen, a co-founder of the library, and a biologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The bill also calls on federal agencies to improve access to their research results.

Representative Martin Olav Sabo, Democrat of Minnesota, is to introduce the measure, called the Public Access to Science Act. A spokesman said that Mr. Sabo was concerned about patients' access to the latest medical research and that he would seek co-sponsors for the bill.

American taxpayers invest about $45 billion a year in scientific and medical research, and the results should be readily available to them, Mr. Sabo said.

"It defies logic to collectively pay for our medical research, only to privatize its profitability and availability," he said in a statement.

Dr. Harold E. Varmus, president of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and chairman of the Public Library of Science, said the legislation would help get out the message that scientific results should be more easily available to more people.

"Privately owned journals can't tie up scientific information, and people should begin discussing this issue," Dr. Varmus said.

The Public Library of Science, with the help of a $9 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, will begin publishing an online, peer-reviewed journal on biology in October, followed by a medical science journal early next year.

Access to the journals is to be free, and the operating expenses are to be financed by $1,500 fees charged to researchers whose papers appear. Most research grants are large enough to include payments for publishing results, proponents say.

Traditional journals like Nature and Science publish papers at no charge to researchers but recoup costs and sometimes make profits with advertising and paid subscriptions, on paper and online.

Dr. Alan I. Leshner, chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes the journal Science, said everyone concerned with scientific publishing was looking for the best way to improve assess to information on the Internet and elsewhere.

"We are all looking for the best model to assure access to quality scientific information," Dr. Leshner said, "We're experimenting with different methods to do the same thing."

Science magazine, for instance, is giving free online access to institutions in developing countries and providing site licenses to hundreds of universities so that everyone on those campuses has free access.