Fighting for Information access

NASW and three other journalism organizations have submitted a joint letter to The Honorable John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, and The Honorable Lamar Smith (R-TX), Ranking Republican of the House Judiciary Committee, urging them to reject a recently introduced bill that would severely limit public access to taxpayer-funded scientific research.

"The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act" would reverse the National Institutes of Health Public Access Policy and make it impossible for other agencies to put similar policies in place.

The letter was drafted by Mariette DiChristina, president of the National Association of Science Writers, and signed by leaders from the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, the Society of Environmental Journalists, and the World Federation of Science Journalists.

 

Mariette DiChristina President, NASW Executive Editor, Scientific American

To: The Honorable John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI) Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee 2426 Rayburn H.O.B. Washington, D.C. 20515 and The Honorable Lamar Smith (R-TX), Ranking Republican of the House Judiciary Committee 2409 Rayburn H.O.B. Washington, D.C. 20515

Re: The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act

Dear Reps. Conyers and Smith

On behalf of several national and international organizations of science and environment writers, we strongly urge the House Judiciary Committee to reject H.R. 801, "The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act," introduced in the House of Representatives and referred to your committee on February 3, 2009.

As Thomas Jefferson put it, "An enlightened citizenry is indispensable for the proper functioning of a republic." As journalistic organizations whose mission it is to help uphold Jefferson's charge, we find it unacceptable that H.R. 801 would prohibit American taxpayers from accessing the results of crucial biomedical and other research funded by their taxpayer dollars. This bill could severely affect the media's important role in providing independent coverage of scientific research and its results to the American public.

This bill would reverse the National Institutes of Health Public Access Policy and make it impossible for other agencies to put similar policies in place. It would prohibit federal agencies from requiring, as a condition of funding, public access to the products of the research they fund. The current NIH policy grants millions of Americans access to critical health care information in the thousands of papers published each month in the NIH's PubMed Central Database.

What is more, H.R. 801 would not only block biomedical information, but it would also stop publication of scientific results coming from other federal agencies. Information on pressing issues such as climate change, energy research and other areas vital to the wellbeing of American taxpayers would be withheld from them.

The advancement of science as an endeavor that benefits humanity also depends on the open sharing of information. Federally funded basic research and technological innovation have been engines of progress and prosperity for the United States in past decades.

We urge you to reject H.R. 801, so that the critical benefit of access to information about federally funded research stays open to the public who pays for it.

Sincerely,

Mariette DiChristina, President, National Association of the Science Writers (NASW) mdichristina@sciam.com

Cristine Russell, President, Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW) russellcris@nasw.org

Christy George, President, Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) CGeorge@opb.org

Pallab Ghosh, President, World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ) pallab.ghosh@bbc.co.uk

BACKGROUND:

The National Association of Science Writers (www.nasw.org) is a U.S.-based professional society of more than 2,500 science journalists, including freelancers and staff of newspapers, wire services, magazines, broadcast outlets, multimedia, and science communication offices, as well as science journalism students.

The Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (www.casw.org) is a non-profit group committed to improving the quality of science news reaching the public by helping reporters and writers produce accurate and informative stories about science, technology, medicine and the environment.

The Society of Environmental Journalists (www.sej.org), with 1,500 members, is a U.S.- based group of working journalists, academics and students around the world committed to advancing public understanding of environmental issues.

The World Federation of Science Journalists (www.wfsj.org), an international organization representing 37 associations of science and technology journalists from Africa, the Americas, the Asia-Pacific, Europe, and the Middle East, seeks to improve the quality of science reporting worldwide.

Mar. 2, 2009

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