Research Works Act

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Nathan Georgette

You might have heard of SOPA, Congress’s most recent attempt to stifle the open exchange of information on the internet. With SOPA, the big guns mobilized. You heard about it from Google, Reddit, and even Wikipedia. But you might not have heard about a similar bill, which holds even graver implications for future physicians, biomedical scientists, and patients in general. It’s titled innocuously enough – ‘The Research Works Act’ – but a brief review quickly wipes away the varnished coat. To see how truly harmful this bill is, we have to take a step back.

The thing is that right now, all research that is funded by taxpayers through the National Institutes of Health (NIH) needs to be freely accessible within one year of publication. Now, as many of our research-oriented friends well know, accessing papers on traditional publishers’ websites can be a very expensive proposition. To read even a single article might run upwards of $50. But within one year, that critical knowledge can be accessed for free on the NIH’s online database, PubMed. This way, we don’t have to pay twice for research funded by our tax dollars. And what’s more, patients and physicians can easily access possibly life-saving medical knowledge. The Research Works Act would overturn this policy.

Intensive study well ahead of time is important precisely because you only have these five hours. You know that, on test day, you need to be working at optimal levels – quickly, accurately, and confidently. And while classmates may attempt to convince us that we can handle the material with “just a couple of practice tests”, and we really should skip the study session today and go out for a bit, I think we all experience that little nagging sensation informing us that we do, in fact, need to prepare.

So you might wonder: why would someone want to reverse this taxpayer-friendly law? Well, let’s just look at the money trail. Co-sponsor Carolyn B. Maloney’s (D-NY) third largest contributor for this election cycle is none other than Reed Elsevier, Inc., a publishing house pitted against open access to scientific knowledge. While we acknowledge private companies might want to monetarily support like-minded candidates, the financial link is disturbing. Thankfully, researchers are taking a stand and boycotting Reed Elsevier.

While we might not have thousands of dollars to influence lawmakers, we can make our voices heard. To learn more, check out Prof. Michael Eisen’s blog, and then sign this petition.

Bio: Nathan Georgette is a Junior at Harvard College, with special interests in open access, HIV/AIDS, and infectious disease modelling.

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