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December 21, 2007

After All, We Paid For It

Imagine that -- work done with public funds needs to be accessible to the public. What a novel concept.

It is barely a drop of ink in the gargantuan omnibus spending bill that Congress just passed. But a provision that would give the public free access to the results of federally funded biomedical research represents a sweet victory for a coalition of researchers and activists who lobbied for the language for years.

Under the bill's terms, scientists getting grant money from the National Institutes of Health would now have to submit to the NIH a final copy of their research papers when those papers are accepted for publication in a journal. An NIH database would then post those papers, free to the public, within 12 months after publication.

The idea is that taxpayers, who have already paid for the research, should not have to subscribe to expensive scientific journals to read about the results.

That populist line -- spearheaded by patient advocacy groups seeking easier access to the latest medical findings and supported by libraries whose budgets have had trouble keeping up with rising journal subscription costs -- ultimately overwhelmed objections from journal publishers. Those firms had complained bitterly that proponents bypassed the congressional committees that could have carefully compared the new approach to less disruptive systems for making information available to the public, some of which are already being used by other science-funding agencies.

I love the response from one of the lobbyists for the journal publishers -- "It's not over yet."

Yes, it is. It is called FEDERAL LAW. Comply or die when the lawsuits fly.





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