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Push For Free Access to Medical Research From Scientists

It's about time!

Buried in the back of this morning's USA Today is an interesting story that will likely affect sites like mine who share news about clinical research with you, however, for the good.

In a letter to Congress and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a group of scientists--all Nobel Prize winners--asked that all taxpayer-funded research papers be available free to the public. Among the cosigners on the letter were former NIH chief Harold Varmus, who supports open access, and James Watson, a DNA co-discoverer.

"As scientists and taxpayers, too, we therefore object to barriers that hinder, delay or block the spread of scientific knowledge supported by federal tax dollars--including our own works," according to the letter.

The business of science is driven by researchers publishing results to communicate findings, collect funding and gain tenure. About 25,000 scientific and scholarly journals worldwide publish studies. Most hold copyrights to papers, charging single-paper access fees as high as $28. Yearly subscription fees rose 226 percent from 1986 to 2000 and averaged $840 this year. Publishers say the fees are necessary for journals to survive, even for taxpayer-funded studies.

An annual subscription for one specific journal--Brain Research--costs a little less than $19,000...

Calling it "the biggest scam ever," 1993 Nobel Prize winner Richard Roberts noted taxpayers pay for researchers to prepare, review and edit manuscripts, while scientific societies and large publishing firms reap the profits.

Current NIH chief Elias Zerhouni is meeting with scientists to discuss a June directive by the House Appropriations Committee to make digital copies NIH-funded research available for free six months after they're publishing starting in 2005. Although Zerhouni wants scientific journals and publishers to maintain their key role in research, he supports the House plan.

USA Today August 30, 2004

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