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 Medicineâs 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 Medicineâs 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 industryâs 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.
To trade journals and Beltway publications (e.g., The Hill, Roll Call) emphasizing key rhetorical points.
$300,000 â $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 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,â 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 SloanâKettering 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?
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.