SEJ Backs Free Publication of Tax-Funded Research

March 11, 2009

The Society of Environmental Journalists joined three other journalism groups in a Feb. 26, 2009, letter opposing a bill that would stop free publication of tax-funded research.

Such research is essential to environmental journalists writing stories about the latest threats and developments in environmental health.

Current policy at the National Institutes of Health requires free publication online of the scientific articles that result from taxpayer-funded research. The publishers of medical and scientific journals have opposed such requirements. The NIH policy actually became law in 2008 — with a compromise allowing journal publishers to make money off of the publicly funded research for some 12 months.

But a bill introduced by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), HR 801, "The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act," would reverse that policy, not just for NIH, but for other federal agencies as well.

SEJ and science journalism groups oppose the bill.

"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," the journalism groups wrote. "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," the groups wrote, "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."

Signing the letter were Christy George, President, Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ); Mariette DiChristina, President, National Association of the Science Writers (NASW); Cristine Russell, President, Council for the Advancement of Science Writing (CASW); and Pallab Ghosh, President, World Federation of Science Journalists (WFSJ).