Michael Eisen is an evolutionary biologist and a strong supporter of keeping scientific open to the public. He is a co-founder of the Public Library of Science. Eisen reports that the Public Access Policy of scientific papers is under threat in the USA. NY Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is looking to put an end to the NIH Public Access Policy (as she also tried to do back in 2009). Eisen writes:

The policy has provided access for physicians and their patients, teachers and their students, policymakers and the public to hundreds of thousands of taxpayer-funded studies that would otherwise have been locked behind expensive publisher paywalls, accessible only to a small fraction of researchers at elite and wealthy universities…

But the policy has been quite unpopular with a powerful publishing cartels that are hellbent on denying US taxpayers access to and benefits from research they paid to produce… Why, you might ask, would Carolyn Maloney, representing a liberal Democratic district in New York City that is home to many research institutions, sponsor such a reactionary piece of legislation that benefits a group of wealthy publishers at the expense of the American public? Hmm. Wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with the fact that she’s the biggest recipient of campaign contributions from the publishing industry, would it?

At the moment the proposed changes will affect biomedical research, but if this trend continues, it will affect other disciplines in other countries. If you’re still studying this may not mean much because you can currently access research papers through your libraries. In a few years, when you finish your degrees, you may well end up working somewhere that can’t afford to pay the exorbitant publisher’s fees. Currently, most applied researchers (non-academics) have to pay at least AUD$25-$35 PER RESEARCH PAPER. This price may even go up if the Public Access Policy is changed. Back in August, the UK sociologist George Monbiot wrote in The Guardian:

The average cost of an annual subscription to a chemistry journal is $3,792… Some journals cost $10,000 a year or more to stock. The most expensive I’ve seen, Elsevier’s Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, is $20,930… Though academic libraries have been frantically cutting subscriptions to make ends meet, journals now consume 65% of their budgets… which means they have had to reduce the number of books they buy. Journal fees account for a significant component of universities’ costs, which are being passed to their students…
The returns are astronomical: in the past financial year, for example, Elsevier’s operating-profit margin was 36% (£724m on revenues of £2 billion)… They result from a stranglehold on the market. Elsevier, Springer and Wiley, who have bought up many of their competitors, now publish 42% of journal articles…

Heather Piwowar (Research Mix) has just put out a couple of very good posts on the fear and bully tactics being used to push research publishers away from making their content publicly available. Piwowar, Eisen and others argue that there is an alternative business model for scientific publishers.

Scientific research means nothing if it can’t be accessed by communities, organisations and not-for-profit groups that apply our knowledge to real life problems.

What can you do? Eisen urges you to write to Maloney:

So I urge you to call/write/email/tweet Representative Maloney today, and tell her you support taxpayer access to biomedical research results. Ask her why she wants cancer patients to pay Elsevier $25 to access articles they’ve already paid for. And demand that she withdraw H.R. 3699.

Representative Maloney:
    Twitter: @RepMaloney @CarolynBMaloney
    Phone: 202-225-7944
    FAX: 202-225-4709
    Email: Use this form

Links to Eisen and Research Mix via