NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A group of 33 Nobel Prize laureates has voiced its support for the National Institutes of Health’s public access policy, stating in an open letter sent to Congress last week that it is “one of the most important public access initiatives ever taken.”
The policy, which requires that researchers funded by NIH must submit their articles to the open-access PubMed Central website within a year, is the target of a newly proposed bill that claims it breaches copyright law.
In their letter, the Nobelists lauded the existing NIH policy for providing "unhindered access" to the scientific literature, and noted that "any attempts to weaken or reverse this policy should be halted."
If passed, the new bill would effectively outlaw federal funders from mandating that taxpayer-backed research should be made public, not only at NIH but for all government agencies that support scientific research, according to Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, which supports the open-access policy.
NIH adopted the open-access policy in April after several years of arguments between open-access supporters in the science community and those in the scholarly publishing business.
The new bill, introduced by Representative John Conyers (D – Mich.), would overturn the policy, forcing NIH to return to a voluntary submission policy that it held previously, which, according to Joseph, had low compliance rates.
In a letter of its own last week, the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers praised the newly proposed H.R. 6845, the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, saying it “would recognize the importance of the added value that journal publishers contribute.”
Joseph disagreed, telling GWDN that the proposed amendment could be interpreted broadly in terms of what “value-added” means, and that federal contracting law, not copyright rules, govern NIH-funded data.
“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,” the Nobel scientists said in their letter.
Public access makes it possible for a finding in one field to be combined with another unrelated finding to create “that ‘Eureka’ moment that leads to a groundbreaking scientific advance,” they said, adding that the policy "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 bill’s proponents disagreed.
“The mere fact that a scientist accepts as part of her funding a federal grant should not enable the federal government to commandeer the resulting research paper and treat it as a public domain work,” Patrick Ross, executive director of the Copyright Alliance, said in a statement last week.