Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The most corrupt Congress ever?

I don't know for sure, Mark Twain famously said that "It could probably be shown by facts and figures that there is no distinctly native American criminal class except Congress." But this latest attempt to sell us out to our corporate overlords particularly frosts my pumpkin because, as long-time readers know, I'm obsessed with open access publishing.

Science, especially science that is funded by the taxpayers, as most basic medical research is, belongs to all humanity. But right now, subscriptions to scientific journals cost hundreds of dollars which means that people without library privileges at universities can't read them. Universities in the poor countries can't afford them which means nobody there can read them. Even here in the U.S., academic libraries -- including the library at my institution which is one of the wealthiest universities on earth -- are being forced to prune their subscriptions. And guess what? The biggest academic publishers are for-profit corporations.

So, in 2008, NIH made it mandatory that research it financed become free to access through the National Library of Medicine 12 months after publication. Remember -- you paid for it. So comes now the Research Works Act, heavily promoted by the Association of American Publishers -- the scholarly and professional publisher's lobby -- to reverse the policy and put government funded research back behind the paywall. Elsevier, the biggest academic publisher, and the AAP have spent $6.3 million lobbying over the past three years, writes Keith Epstein in the new BMJ. (Ironically, behind the paywall -- they make their research articles open access, but not their news and commentary. Yeah, I have a beef with that.) By the way, Elsevier is highly profitable -- their profit margin, even in the recession, is 36%. And the publishers have, of course, contributed heavily to the campaigns of the Act's sponsors, Darell Issa (natch, one of the worst tools in congress) and Carolyn Maloney of New York, who really ought to know better.

You know what to do -- let your Congresscritter know that you oppose the Research Works Act. The scientific knowledge that you pay for belongs to you.

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