Monday, September 18, 2006

UC Officials Call for Open Access to Taxpayer Financed Stem Cell Research

Around the world, public health scientists are struggling to gain access to research that will help them stave off a catastrophic outbreak of bird flu.

University libraries are rebelling against annual subscriptions to scientific journals that run upwards of $3,000 annually.

Patient advocate groups complain that scientists are not sharing their research, delaying the development of cures that can save lives.

It is all part of the backdrop of the debate over the innocuous sounding topic of open access, which will come before the Intellectual Property Task Force of the California stem cell agency this Thursday.

The informational presentation is tied into decisions that CIRM is making concerning who will have access to the research it finances, how the research will be distributed and how much the public (including scientists) will have to pay for it.

The subject is of great interest to more than one member of CIRM's Oversight Committee. But Jeff Sheehy pushed hard to have open access placed on the IP agenda this week.

After representatives of the University of California plumped for the issue at an IP Task Force meeting last month, Sheehy was emphatic. He said,
"This is really important for patients....An activist list serve that I'm on, they're looking at purchasing subscriptions so that people can get access to the data.

"We give up our bodies so people can study us....The state of California is paying for this research. And from a patient perspective, the idea that a study would be published with CIRM funding, having used California residents potentially as subjects of experiments, and we could not read those studies, we cannot access them is just unconscionable."
Appearing before the Task Force were John Ober, director of policy, planning and outreach, Office of Scholarly Communication, University of California, and Lawrence Pitts, professor, Department of Neurological Surgery, UC San Francisco, and former chair of the UC Academic Senate.

We queried Ober later for more on the issue. He cited a May 2005 letter by UC President Robert Dynes to Robert Klein, chair of the CIRM Oversight Committee, seeking an open access policy. The information provided by Dynes said an open access policy would achieve several important goals, including the following:
"Accelerate research progress and provide California’s public access without cost to a collection of published results of taxpayer ...funded research.

"Create a stable and permanent California-based archive of peer-reviewed research publications and source data to ensure the permanent preservation of these vital research findings.

"Secure a searchable collection of peer-reviewed research publications that (CIRM) and the ICOC can use to manage its research portfolio and measure scientific productivity and progress."
Perhaps the foremost advocate of open access is the Public Library of Science. See its open access section for even more on why it says "everything we publish is freely
available online for you to read, download, copy, distribute and use (with attribution) any way you wish."

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