Sunday 29 January 2012

Of biomedical research, academic publishing and copyright

Some doctors are not used to asking for permission ...
As our readers will probably know, on 16 December last, a controversial bill was introduced to US Congress, this being the Research Works Act (HR 3699). 
This short piece of legislation (it is comprised of just three sections) is co-sponsored by Republican representatives Darrell Issa and Carolyn Maloney and its purpose is "[t]o ensure the continued publication and integrity of peer-reviewed research works by the private sector."
If enacted, no federal agency will be allowed to adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that
(1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or
(2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.
The Research Works Act has attracted criticisms from the world of biomedical research, in that it will overturn the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) 4-year-old public open-access policy, notes the prestigious The Lancet. NIH policy requires its grantees to submit copies of their peer-reviewed papers to PubMed Central for posting no later than a year after journal publication. On PubMed Central, the public can freely access papers reporting publicly funded research.
As noted by Columbia University's Dr Abdulrahman El-Sayed, in the field of biomedical research,
"almost all high-quality health research is submitted for publication in academic journals -- journals like the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), or the New England Journal of Medicine. They serve the purpose of coordinating peer-review, organizing the health literature, and benchmarking high quality research ...  This bill would make it illegal for the NIH to mandate unrestricted access to published NIH-funded material -- choking this crucial information off from health providers and researchers who are unable to pay."
Copyright restrictions in the access to the results of biomedical research are becoming increasingly frequent (see the case of the MMSE which was reported on this Blog here). However, as pointed out by The Lancet, which strongly opposes the bill, 
"Putting limitations on the dissemination of a scientist's own work is a startlingly ill-considered strategy. Science is a public enterprise. A scientific publisher's primary responsibility is to serve the research community. Their own interests—financial and reputational—depend upon the trust the public has in science. Obstructing the dissemination of publicly funded science will damage, not enhance, that trust." 
What do our readers think of this bill?

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