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    An open letter to the NIH
    Submitted by J.W. Bizzaro; posted on Monday, November 15, 2004 (4 comments)


    We, at the Bioinformatics Organization, Inc. (also known as Bioinformatics.Org), would like to express our wholehearted support for the proposal by the National Institutes of Health to establish a comprehensive, searchable electronic resource of NIH-funded research results and providing free access to all, and also to express our strong disagreement with those protesting.

    Please allow us to briefly describe our Organization. Bioinformatics.Org was founded to facilitate world-wide communications and collaborations between practicing and neophyte bioinformatic scientists and technicians. The Organization currently has more than 11,000 members world-wide. We provide these individuals, as well as the public at large, free and open access to the methods and materials for and from scientific research, software development, and education. We advocate and promote freedom and openness in the field as well as provide a forum for activities which facilitate the development of such resources. The very nature of our Organization expresses the inherent openness of our research and existence. And as the Directors of this Organization are individual recipients of grants from the NIH and other funding bodies internationally, and thus taxpayer money, we cannot help but believe that we are bound by our public and civic duty to make our resources available freely to the scientific and non-scientific communities.

    We applaud the efforts by the NIH to address the problems caused by copyright ownership by a limited number of publishing companies of the results and related discourse of publicly-funded research. As a result of the current publication model, copyright belongs to non-public entities and not to the researcher or funder, thus depriving the latter parties of their ability to disseminate their very own results. This runs contrary to the spirit of innovation and fair market rules by limiting independent scientists in their ability to share their results after publication.

    Antithetical to the spirit of openness in science and education, the extreme competitive forces in the publishing world see education and knowledge not as a public good but rather as tradable commodities. Very often a college or graduate student is simply unable to obtain sufficient material for his/her research due to excessive subscription fees levied by publishers, thus stifling the very roots of innovation so sorely needed in our country, especially in light of facing fiercer competition from developing countries such as China, India and Russia. Even if that student's school has a subscription to such a resource, the staggering fees required to obtain it inevitably get passed down to students in the form of higher tuition rates (and to taxpayers in the case of state and community institutions).

    These arbitrary, often prohibitively high subscription fees also serve as a barrier to learning in developing countries. This can only push the respective bodies in these countries (regulatory, governmental, political, scientific, corporate, educational, etc.) to reciprocate by withdrawing from participation in science and education in the U.S. and establishing isolated communities, slowing the pace of scientific research and fracturing the international community.

    We also wish to take this opportunity to address some related problems with the current publishing model. First, there is often no requirement for the availability of the software used in bioinformatics and related research for results to be published, thus preventing the necessary condition of reproducibility. Not only should the software be available in binary form, but one should also be able to obtain and/or inspect the source code of that software to ensure the accuracy of the results. It is too often the case that a non-public entity has conducted an experiment with its own, proprietary software, making it impossible to independently verify the results.

    Second, as a result of marketing and political tactics employed by the aforementioned interests, there exists a segregation of published results on the basis of such artificial criteria as the prestige of the publication as well as the specific publishing company (where multiple journals would exist for any given topic, simply because multiple companies are present in that market). This leads to an unnatural segregation of research results that are inherently supposed to have the same scientific value regardless of where they are published, as long as they are reviewed and verified by a wide body of scientific peers. This artificial segregation is contrary to one of the most basic principles of science: that research results are to be shared equally with everyone for their verification and for the further progress of science.

    Although perhaps necessary at one time, the current model is now largely obsolete in light of the reduced distribution costs in publishing, and its restrictive nature acts to stifle the advancement of science and society. The open-access publication model exemplified by the Public Library of Science and BioMed Central reduces this barrier to scientific progress. The proposed NIH Public Access Policy encourages this model, so we believe that it will have a net positive impact on science and society. We at Bioinformatics.Org therefore support it.

    Sincerely yours,

    J.W. Bizzaro, M.Sc.
    Marcos Oliveira de Carvalho
    Yevgeny Ioffe, M.Sc.
    Martin Kucej, Ph.D.
    Mark Luo, M.Sc.
    Holly Miller, Ph.D.
    Peter D. St. Onge, M.Sc.
    Jon K. Stewart, J.D.
    Gary H. Van Domselaar, Ph.D.

    Board of Directors,
    Discussion forums: An open letter to the NIH

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    Open letter to the NIH
    Submitted by Mark Luo; posted on Tuesday, November 16, 2004
    Submitter I wonder who is protesting the NIH proposal and what is(are) the reason(s)

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    Open letter to the NIH
    Submitted by Bill Dickinson; posted on Monday, November 15, 2004
    Excellent. Thank you for this letter. Bill Dickinson
    Open letter to the NIH
    Submitted by Mark Luo; posted on Tuesday, November 16, 2004
    Submitter I wonder who is protesting the NIH proposal and what is(are) the reason(s)
    Open letter to the NIH
    Submitted by Chris Lasher; posted on Tuesday, November 16, 2004
    Publication companies are mostly the ones against the NIH proposal. You can read about it at and


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