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Publicly-funded knowledge should be public
Posted by dkg on Tue 17 Mar 2009 at 18:18
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I live in the USA. Our government issues many grants to scientists for research via the National Institute of Health. I recently found out about the NIH's recent requirement that publicly-funded research must be published freely online within 12 months. As you can imagine, i think this is a remarkably Good Thing (though 12 months seems a little bit long for fast-moving fields).

Apparently, John Conyers and several co-sponsors have introduced HR 801, which appears intended to overturn this remarkable policy, primarily for the benefit of the companies that publish scientific journals.

This bill is a shame, and i had hoped for better from Rep. Conyers, who otherwise has a remarkably positive record as a legislator advocating for government transparency and the public good. Sadly, his stance on so-called "Intellectual Property" seems characterized by heavy-handed legislation designed to benefit the parties already heavily favored by the current imbalanced copyright situation.

If you live in the US (and especially if you live in Conyers' district in Michigan), please send him e-mail or get in touch by phone and tell him to drop the bill. You might also check the list of cosponsors to see if one of them is more local to you.

If you want to read more, Lawrence Lessig has written about this issue, addressing Congressman Conyers directly in the Huffington Post. Curiously, Rep. Conyers' web site contains no mention of HR 801.

 

Comments on this Entry

Re: Publicly-funded knowledge should be public
Posted by Anonymous (130.107.xx.xx) on Tue 17 Mar 2009 at 18:47
I wrote the following:

Mr. Conyers :

Please do not push HR 801 any further. In fact, please withdraw your sponsorship.

The public funding of scientific research creates a public good -- which is why we as citizens support it through the legislation that funds this research (and the various federal agencies that grant that funding). If the findings of publicly-funded research becomes "intellectual property" unavailable to the public, then we are publicly filling the pockets of the grantees, with no return to the public good.

Thus, the NIH's policy that publicly-funded research be published freely within 12 months is not only reasonable, but clearly the just choice; the federal government acts -- or should act -- in the interest of the American public; if we enrich only a few by public research, we impoverish the public as a whole.

I am a student at a public university. I do not speak for this university when I say this, but I mention this out of respect for the value of public funding of scientific research. Privatizing the results of my research -- or people like me -- makes private profit out of a public good. I respect your work as a representative, and as an advocate for government transparency; constructing private property out of publicly funded research betrays that admirable record.

Please abandon HR 801.

--Jeremy G. Kahn
San Francisco, California

[ Parent ]

Re: Publicly-funded knowledge should be public
Posted by ajt (195.112.xx.xx) on Tue 17 Mar 2009 at 18:54
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You are lucky, the UK government takes the attitude that publicly funded research belongs exclusively to the UK government and it can squeeze as much money out of it as possible. This has a tendency to kill off research as it disappears into a morass of legal blind alleys...

--
"It's Not Magic, It's Work"
Adam

[ Parent ]

Re: Publicly-funded knowledge should be public
Posted by dkg (68.167.xx.xx) on Tue 17 Mar 2009 at 19:09
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That sounds like a terrible situation in the opposite direction. The actual text of HR 801 makes it sound like it's trying to protect against situations like what you describe in the UK, but in the context of the NIH policy and the lobbyists for the journal it would have the same effect.

It would be better if we had bills that directly mandate publication of publicly funded knowledge (and have them cover more than just the NIH), instead of having to fight rearguard actions like this just to keep a reasonable policy of one institution in place.

[ Parent ]

Re: Publicly-funded knowledge should be public
Posted by ajt (195.112.xx.xx) on Tue 17 Mar 2009 at 19:30
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It is indeed insane. When I did my PhD I had to sign all my rights over to the UK government's science funding agency SRC/BBSRC before they would pay me. Later on my University wanted me to sign the same rights away to them - which I refused to do as I'd already handed all my rights over to the government. It turns out the University was the body that the government had appointed to "exploit" my research but the two sides were not really talking.

My PhD thesis on "Sexual Selection in the Brown Plant Hopper, Nilaparvata lugens." is in the public domain but the government could have suppressed any of it if it was commercially valuable and there would have been nothing I could have done about it - and I wouldn't have even been able to submit my thesis...

--
"It's Not Magic, It's Work"
Adam

[ Parent ]

Re: Publicly-funded knowledge should be public
Posted by dkg (216.254.xx.xx) on Wed 18 Mar 2009 at 14:23
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A friend of mine just pointed me toward Free Our Books, a UK campaign to make sure that publicly-funded books and research papers are made (and kept) freely available.

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Re: Publicly-funded knowledge should be public
Posted by madduck (2001:0xx:0xx:0xxx:0xxx:0xxx:xx) on Tue 17 Mar 2009 at 19:06

[ Parent ]

Re: Publicly-funded knowledge should be public
Posted by Anonymous (213.227.xx.xx) on Fri 20 Mar 2009 at 14:37
But if the publically funded knowledge is kept private, then companies can use it to make things to sell to you. And you want to stimulate the economy don't you?

[ Parent ]