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Worth Reading 1: NIH’s Open Access Policy Under Attack

As open access advocates are well aware, there is a bill pending in Congress that would undo the NIH open access mandate for publications based on NIH-funded research.  At the Huffington Post, there is a terrific back and forth between Larry Lessig and Michael Eisen (defending the NIH policy) and Rep. John Conyers (actually, no doubt a staffer writing under the member’s name).

Lessig and Eisen – One:  They frame attacks on the open access policy, which are funded and promoted by commercial publishers, as a government transparency and accountability measure:  “This is exactly the kind of money-for-influence scheme that constantly happens behind our backs and erodes the public’s trust in government.”  (Lessig’s longer blog post on the topic is here.)

Lessig and Eisen – Two:  “Representative Conyers, the public deserves to know you are paying attention and that you understand our concerns. Will you publicly defend this bill? Will you announce that you are withdrawing it? Either way, the public deserves an answer.”

Conyers, responding, attacks Lessig:  “I think I have earned a bit more of the benefit of the doubt than Professor Lessig — whatever his motives — is willing to muster. And so it should be no great surprise that there is far more to the “open access” story than Professor Lessig’s muckracking tale lets on.”

Lessig, replying to Conyers:  “You have it within your power to remove any doubt about the reasons you have for sponsoring the legislation you sponsor: Stop accepting contributions from the interests your committee regulates. This was the principle of at least some committee chairmen in the past. It is practically unheard of today. But you could set an important example for others, and for America, about how an uncorrupted system of government might work. And you could do so without any risk to your own position — because the product of your forty years of extraordinary work for the citizens of Michigan means that they’ll return you to office whether or not you spend one dime on a reelection. Indeed, if you did this, I’d promise to come to Michigan and hand out leaflets for your campaign.

Until you do this, Mr. Conyers, don’t lecture me about “crossing a line.” For I intend to cross this line as often as I can, the outrage and scorn of Members of Congress notwithstanding. This is no time to play nice. And yours is just the first in a series of many such stories to follow — targeting Republicans as well as Democrats, people who we agree with on substance as well as those we don’t, always focusing on bad bills that make sense only if you follow the money.”

Lest the tail wag the dog (lest an important debate about corrupt political systems distract attention from the merits of the bill), here is Lessig’s reply on the merits:

“This bill is nothing more than a ‘publishers’ protection act.’ It is an awful step backwards for science — as 33 Nobel Prize winners, the current and former head of the NIH, the American Library Association, and the Alliance for Taxpayer Access have all said. And Mr. Conyers knows this. Practically the identical bill was introduced in the last Congress. Mr. Conyers’ committee held hearings on that bill. The “open access” community rallied to demonstrate that this publishers’ bill was bad for science. Even some of the cosponsors of the bill admitted the bill was flawed. Yet after that full and fair hearing on this flawed bill, like Jason in Friday the 13th, the bill returned — unchanged, as if nothing in the hundreds of reasons for why this bill was flawed mattered to the sponsors.”

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