The public needs access to federally funded research

“I gave at the office.”

I am an American taxpayer just like most of you, the audience. My tax dollars, and yours, fund the great majority of health-related research in the United States, mostly through the National Institutes of Health.

Thus, I, and you, the taxpayers, own the results of that NIH funded research. We paid for it.

Then, why, for goodness sake, do I, the owner, or my physician, another owner, have to buy a subscription to the New England Journal of Medicine or JAMA or hundreds of other medical journals to read the articles that will help to determine my health?

In 2008, after a lot of pressure from a lot of us for many years, the NIH issued a policy based on new legislation that in order to get an NIH grant, the authors would have to provide a copy of the final version of the accepted article for preservation and use at PubMedCentral, the American repository for electronic open access for medical articles.

Many publishers agreed; some had already placed their articles in PubMedCentral, even immediately. Because of protests from some commercial publishers, a compromise allowed a delay from the actual date of publication for up to 12 months until open placement, thereby preserving some of their commercial interests.

But on Dec. 16, 2011, a large number of American and European publishers could not leave well enough alone and convinced Orange County Republican Congressman Darrell Issa to introduce legislation to ban the mandate of public access to federally funded research. Amazingly, professional publishing houses, like the American Medical Association, supported the legislative initiative of the commercial publishers.

But this time they went too far. The genie of the fundamental rightness of open access publishing is now out of the bottle. So many of the researchers and authors, knowing the huge profits that the publishers have been taking by charging libraries exorbitant subscription prices for so many years for very little “value added,” rose up in mass protest.

The proposed American legislation went nowhere.

And on April 25, 2012, Harvard University sent a memo to 2,100 faculty encouraging its researchers to submit their work to open access journals and to resign from the boards of non-open access journals.

Then, a petition to the White House on behalf of open access publishing of government-funded research is garnering huge support with more than 26,000 signatures at writing time.

Check it out. You may even wish to sign on. Movement is positive.

George Lundberg is a MedPage Today Editor-at-Large and former editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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