NEW YORK, July 3 - In a new TV spot, a man walks out his front door with his briefcase, and stops at the sidewalk to tie his shoe, as a voiceover says "in the year 2003, the Public Library of Science made it possible for people all over the world to have access to the latest scientific discoveries. Shortly thereafter, things began to change." The man stands up. And flies away.
The Public Library of Science, or Plos, is airing this 30-second spot as part of an awareness campaign,this coming fall, in hopes that its own initiative to make all scientific research publicly available online will take off as well.
While the connection between free journal articles and human progress may not be easy to sell to the public, the initiative got some lift recently, in the form of a bill introduced by Representative Martin Sabo (D-MN) that would require research funded by the US government to be freely available without copyright restrictions.
HTHR 2613, "To amend title 17, United States Code, to exclude from copyright protection works resulting from scientific research substantially funded by the Federal Government," is also called the PublicAccess to Science Act of 2003. It is co-sponsored by representative MartinFrost (D-TX) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), and was referred to the Judiciary Committee.
"We must remember that government funded research belongs to, and should be readily available to, every person in the United States," said Sabo in his remarks to the House of Representatives when introducing the bill. "Lifting restrictions that prevent the widespread sharing of federally funded research can only speed scientific advancement."
Michael Eisen, the LBNL researcher who authored the Eisen cluster algorithm for microarray analysis, and the co-founder of PloS, has been outspoken in his support for this initiative. "It's a scandal that anyone is denied free access to the results of research paid for by their tax dollars," he said. "And it's a scandal that the scientific community is denied the free and unfettered sharing of research discoveries upon which scientific and medical progress is built. If the public were more conscious of these problems, there would be tremendous pressure for change."
In a discussion of the Sabo bill on a library licensing listserv, some participants expressed support, while others referred to this issue of public accessibility of research as a tempest in a teapot and noted that there are real costs related to publication (i.e. editors, website servers, production costs) and that peer reviewed journals must be somehow supported financially.
PloS is planning to launch its TV spot in connection with the October launch of PloS Biology, a peer-reviewed scientific journal that aims at competing with Science, Nature, and Cell, but will make all of its published research freely available. Susan Linquist, James Watson, E.O. Wilson, and Kai Simons have backed the venture (but it is not clear who is financially backing it).
The spot can be viewed, and more information is available on the PloS website.