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Support the campaign to kill HR 3699 by sharing it on facebook and twitter.

Carolyn Maloney is my congresswomen. I am a biomedical scientist, and she is congresswoman to tens of thousands of biomedical scientists. Her district NY-14 includes Weill-Cornell Medical College, NYU Medical Center, Mt. Sinai Medical Center, Memorial Sloan Ketting Cancer Center, Rockefeller Unversity, and Hunter College, not to mention Cornell's future $2 billion science campus on Roosevelt Island.

That is why it is so shocking (well unless you know her) to hear that she had sided with the publishing industry against researchers, by co-sponsoring a bill, the Research Works Act, to prevent the public dissemination of science.

After the squiggle I will cross-post a longer explanation from my blog The tl;dr version is that currently the NIH requires the results of publicly funded research to be made publicly available - so anybody can read the latest cancer research, for example. But the for-profit publishers have been lobbying to do away with this requirement so that they can paywall publicly funded science behind exorbitant access fees. HR 3699, co-sponsored by Carolyn Maloney and Darrell Issa, would do just that - prevent public access to public research results.

Via a NY Times op-ed Michael Eisen, genetic scientist at Berkeley and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, has drawn attention to recent developments in the House of Representatives:

Since 2009, the results of that research have been available free of charge on the National Library of Medicine’s Web site, allowing the public (patients and physicians, students and teachers) to read about the discoveries their tax dollars paid for.

But a bill introduced in the House of Representatives last month threatens to cripple this site. The Research Works Act would forbid the N.I.H. to require, as it now does, that its grantees provide copies of the papers they publish in peer-reviewed journals to the library. If the bill passes, to read the results of federally funded research, most Americans would have to buy access to individual articles at a cost of $15 or $30 apiece. In other words, taxpayers who already paid for the research would have to pay again to read the results.

The National Institutes of Health are the primary funder of biomedical and health-related research in the United States. A branch of the US government, they receive over $30 billion annually in taxpayer support. As publicly funded institutes, one might expect research results to be available to the public. However, until 2009, the vast majority of scientific research was locked away behind the paywalls of private journals. Most publications are thus owned by large for-profit corporations. For example:

  • Reed Elsevier: Cell, Neuron, The Lancet, 2000 other journals
  • Nature Publishing Group (Macmillan Publishers): Nature, 100 others
  • Springer: 2400 mainly smaller journals, e.g. Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences
  • John Wiley & Sons: 1500 mainly smaller journals, e.g. Cancer

These journals retain rights to their publications for several decades, charging exorbitant fees for access to these collections.  According to the University of Illinois library, the cost of journals rose at four times the rate of inflation between 1986-2004, and has continued to rise rapidly since then. This is particularly damaging to small schools and institutes, especially those in developing nations. However the problem has become so pronounced that even Harvard University Library's director has complained that "the spiraling cost of journals has inflicted severe damage on research libraries." For individuals not affiliated with institutions, say cancer patients seeking primary research information about prospective treatments, journals typically charge between $25-$40 per article, even to access research that the public paid for.

The journal costs are especially egregious since their main purpose, peer review, is generally done as a free service by volunteer reviewers. Elsevier alone made $1.1 billion a profit last year. For comparison, the entire NIH budget is only $31 billion. Corporate publishing profits represent a non-trivial and parasitic drain on public research and education dollars.

In order to partially rectify this situation, in 2008 the NIH enacted a public access policy:

The Director of the National Institutes of Health shall require that all investigators funded by the NIH submit or have submitted for them to the National Library of Medicine’s PubMed Central an electronic version of their final, peer-reviewed manuscripts upon acceptance for publication, to be made publicly available no later than 12 months after the official date of publication

Thus, the results of publicly funded research are now publicly available on PubMed Central.

The new policy did not come without a fight. The Association of American Publishers (AAP) formed a new lobbying group, the Partnership for Research Integrity in Science & Medicine (PRISM), and hired Eric Dezenhall, a PR consultant famous for representing the likes of Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling and Exxon/Mobil. Dezenhall's leaked email advice to the lobbying group gives an overview of the tactics the publishing industry was considering in 2007:

Rhetorical Campaign Points
  • Develop simple messages (e.g., Public access equals government censorship; Scientific journals preserve the quality/pedigree of science; government seeking to nationalize science and be a publisher) for use by Coalition members
  • Develop analogies that put the public access issue in a context whereby target audiences will understand its pitfalls and perilous implications not to mention the hypocrisy of science leaders getting salaries and honoraria but declaring the publishing industry’s need for capital as being somehow immoral
    • Paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer reviewed articles.
    • In theory this may provide free taxpayer access to research that they fund, but they will pay eventually with substandard articles and their money being used to develop and maintain an electronic article depot rather than to fund new research.

Enlist Think Tank Support

Seek studies, white papers and public commentary from think tanks that may quantify the risks, the societal price tag of public access. Groups that may be considered include the American Enterprise Institute, Brookings, Cato, Competitive Enterprise Institute and National Consumers League.
Media Briefings and Placement

Conduct a fresh round of media briefings with high-end editorial, health and science writers and reporters. Conduct op-ed article placement.
Targeted Advertising

To trade journals and Beltway publications (e.g., The Hill, Roll Call) emphasizing key rhetorical points.
Estimated Budget

$300,000 – $500,000 for a six month program.

According to First Street, which the New York Times bills as "a bit like a Facebook for lobbyists", the AAP has spent $3.4 million lobbying since 2007. Currently, they are "represented by 5 lobbyists 3 in-house and 2 from outside firms, including a former member of Congress who is an in-house lobbyist for the AAP."

When their interests were dealt a blow by the NIH public access policy, the industry dug in their heels for a fight. In 2009, John Conyers (D-MI) introduced the "Fair Copyright in Research Works Act" to reverse the policy. The bill was co-sponsored by both Maloney and Issa, Republican Trent Franks, as well as a trio of ostensible 'progressives': Steve Cohen, Chaka Fattah, and Robert Wexler. Despite the industry greasing the House Committee on the Judiciary with $110,950, the bill died in subcommittee.

Evidently Maloney and Issa still haven't got the message that both the public and the science community prefer the sharing of knowledge to corporate profit. They have introduced a new version of the bill, entitled the Research Works Act, that would overturn any federal regulation that "authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work." The wording of the bill is deliberately misleading. I confirmed with Rep. Maloney's office that "private-sector research work" refers to any and all research published in a private sector journal. Thus, an end to any policies that require dissemination of public research published in private journals - an end, to the NIH public access policy.

The AAP was quick to praise the bill, channeling Dezenhall's nonsensical talking points about peer review being jeopardized:

€œThe professional and scholarly publishing community thanks Representatives Issa and Maloney for supporting their significant investments that fund innovations and enable the essential peer-review process maintaining the high standards of U.S. scientific research,” said Tom Allen, President and CEO, Association of American Publishers.

While this behavior is to be expected from an unethical big business pol like Darrell Issa, it is especially galling from Carolyn Maloney. As a representative for New York's 14th Congressional Distrct, she represents Memorial Sloan–Kettering Cancer Center, Weill-Cornell Medical College, Mt. Sinai Medical School, Rockefeller University, CUNY Hunter College, and the newly announced Cornell science campus on Roosevelt Island.

When I brought up the local research community to an aide in Rep. Maloney's office, he pointed out that the publishing industry was also well-represented in New York, and that the current legislation was designed to strike "a balance" between research and publishing. Really, a balance that completely prohibits any public access to privately published research?

Eisen points to the $8500 that Reed Elsevier executives have donated to Carolyn Maloney in this election cycle.

Fortunately, the bill is receiving a good deal of attention in the scientific community. In addition to Eisen's editorial, a number of scientific blogs have brought widespread attention to the bill, including Razib Khan at Discover, Cameron Neylon, Scientific American, The Chronicle, Boing Boing, The Atlantic, and Wired. Hopefully this will be enough to rouse the scientific community to some level of activism in the broader struggle against the corporate takeover of the commons.

Support the campaign to kill HR 3699 by sharing it on facebook and twitter.

Originally posted to kindofblue on Thu Jan 12, 2012 at 08:25 AM PST.

Also republished by SciTech and Science Matters.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Access fees are ridiculous (6+ / 0-)

    I've seen $35, $65, even over $100 to download and print an article.  Journals get authors coming and going.  Authors doing research (or their libraries) pay the access fees, then pay thousands of dollars in publication fees for their article to be published.  Of course, these fees are usually paid by the grant subsidizing the research, usually the government in one branch or another.  

    So taxpayers are getting hosed by the journals every step along the way.  

    A lot of small journals aren't printing anymore because it's too expensive.  But there really isn't that much cost in digitizing and making the articles available on the internet.

    Journals aren't doing serious editorial work, either.  Authors have to do most of the editorial work themselves, often cleaning up mistakes made by the journal's staff.  

    There needs to be a serious shake-up in academic journals.

    We do not forgive. We do not forget. The whole world is watching.

    by Tracker on Thu Jan 12, 2012 at 09:01:22 AM PST

  •  Privatizing publicly funded research. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kindofblue, mungley, palantir, cocinero

    The idea behind this is the publishing houses want to monetize a stream of which they don't participate in supporting in except to profit themselves.  

                      Part of the reason education expenses are rising so fast is exorbitant fees for things like textbooks.   Yes, research is getting more and more expensive.  The deal here is what is already paid for by the public in taxes and justifiably so, is now diverted and sent to publishing houses to monetize it. The aim here is to forbid paid for research in the public interest from being available to researchers except well funded ones, meaning individuals and schools are additionally burdened by having to buy results that should be free because it is already legally in the public domain.

                 This goes along with the ABSURD extensions of copyrights to the point that many works are simply unavailable, even long after the initial and continuing profits and need to have massive distribution is gone.    

                 You still have to pay because the distribution is forbidden, the author passed on, his family has passed on and some vulture firm owns thousands of the "rights" and forbids anyone to see them unless it gets paid.

                 Recent, timely, critical information is being denied students, researchers, patients unless these mega groups get paid.  And they add little except selling their books and papers to the same people for training they now want to milk yet again to get anything new done.

                The libraries are in the business of expanding access to critical work. They are not created or supported for the purpose of keeping a dead financial model alive, a zombie publisher alive.  This is the attempt of a dying technology to keep people paying for a distribution channel they don't need, dead tree paper  and a paywall for digital media which they didn't source and didn't actively create. They just want to interrupt and monetize for themselves, not to help solve the problems.  They are already making money from their own journals, now they want to black out articles that didn't come through their paywalls by rerouting them with a privatization scheme.

       This  is simply a grab from the commons, the paid for work in the public interest being sucked into the monopoly these giant publishing empires already have in place.   Shame on Maloney for sponsoring this.

       Do we surrender our rights to communicate and further the enterprise of research with all who can help to a private monopoly on this?  Make it harder, more difficult, more expensive? Or do we fight back?

    If you think that you and a bunch of other people can just show up on Wall St, camp out and have any effect whatsoever.... well, you will be run off in 20 minutes., you will leave town having wasted your effort 6/18/11.

    by BeeDeeS on Thu Jan 12, 2012 at 09:31:30 AM PST

  •  I think it's an affront to the whole concept (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    kindofblue, cocinero

    of science whether publicly funded or not to charge for access to research. But I can understand privately funded science being considered 'proprietary'.

    I don't know if you've read any of my diaries, but I can't tell you how irritated I've been when I run up against Elsevier, Springer, or Nature's extortion when I'm researching an article. Even worse,  they impose time limits on access (of course you can download the article). My bookie is less rapacious than these bastard sons of science and banksters.

    I give thanks for PubMed. and ArXiv.

    In a related vein, Lawrence Lessig gave a talk at Cern concerning access to scientific knowledge and the barriers that are being erected to prevent its dissemination. If you've got the time it is about 90 minutes.

    CERN Colloquium and Library Science Talk

    In this talk, Professor Lessig will review the evolution of access to scientific scholarship, and evaluate the success of this system of access against a background norm of universal access.While copyright battles involving artists has gotten most of the public's attention, the real battle should be over access to knowledge, not culture. That battle we are losing.
  •  Thanks for posting this, kindofblue (0+ / 0-)

    The situation is much worse than you have presented. I encourage you to do a follow-up post to try to get this diary on the front page of DK.  

    1. Michael Eisen has shown that the wording of statements by Maloney and Elsevier is identical. So, the two offices are working together.

    Further, Elsevier is trying to claim that it adds value by doing peer review. This is a lie, since most review is done outside of publishing houses.  

    Additionally, at Eisen's site, you will find a statement by Rockefeller University Press Executive Mike Possner refuting Elsevier's claims.  

    2. Elsevier is a foreign corporation. Therefore, influence over US policy is a potentially explosive political issue.  

    3. Cost of access to literature is a key issue for entrepreneurship of small technology companies. One of the very few places where the US has had an edge is that it has encouraged startups. Slapping extra costs on literature access will harm competitiveness.  

    As far as I am concerned, this is a clear case of bribery in a moral sense if not in a legal sense.

    BTW, two of the three Elsevier donors to Maloney do not live in her district. The third might, but more likely lives in Charley Rangel's district.  

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