Should Publicly Funded Research Be Available to the Public For Free?

This may come as a shock to many, but a significant amount of research conducted and subsequently published is funded by (gasp) – the federal government.

That’s right, what the free market idiots don’t want you to know that is that the private sector isn’t interested in theories and hypothesis and “what if’s” and “could we do this better?”; they’re only interested in short-term profit. If you don’t believe me, refer to this article, and this one, and even this one about Big Pharm’s marketing budget, R&D; budget, and oh yeah, profits and executive compensation.

The feds, meanwhile, hold the perspective the some things are more important than profit, that knowledge and information for future use is valuable.

Some examples: nuclear energy (yeah, the bomb thing is questionable), the entirety of NASA, disease progression and transmission (smallpox, syphillis), the internet (!) ….

Here’s what the National Institute of Health (NIH) funded just last year: less invasive breast cancer treatment, early HIV treatment prevents transmission, less medication for wheezing preschoolers, insulin nasal spray shows promise for alzheimer’s, etc etc.

Currently, this publicly funded research must be accessible to the public for free. Makes sense, right? We, the taxpayers foot the bill, so we get to see the end product.

Apparently not everyone agrees, or so says “The Research Works Act” floating its way through the House. Sadly, but not surprisingly, this bill is sponsored by the publishers of academic journals, who charge $15 or $30 or more for access to ONE article in their periodical.

“We need to protect our brand,” They whine, “Well, and our profit margin too.”

Except that their subscription fees ($170 per year for the New England Journal of Medicine; $223 for individuals and $1504 for institutions for Cell) are mostly paid with PUBLIC FUNDS. Yeah, you know, all those public COLLEGES and UNIVERSITIES, and the public and not for profit HOSPITALS and LIBRARIES.

It’s tempting to shrug about something like this, but think about it: where do you think all those reporters and writers find out about the studies they write their stories about? Where do you think scientific and advances in social policy come from?

That’s right, the sharing of (and building upon) prior research results.

And if that doesn’t convince you, understand this: if information was tamped down the way these publishers would like, there wouldn’t be a Living Donor 101 or Living Donors Are People Too.

Read Michael Eisen’s op-ed piece in the New York Times.

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