Call yer congresscritters — right now.

The bill to make the NIH OA policy mandatory instead of voluntary is in trouble: from the ATA via Peter Suber (with some editing by yours truly):

The Senate is currently considering the FY08 Labor-HHS Bill, which includes a provision (already approved by the House of Representatives and the full Senate Appropriations Committee), that directs the NIH to change its Public Access Policy so that participation is required (rather than requested) for researchers, and ensures free, timely public access to articles resulting from NIH-funded research. On Friday, Senator Inhofe (R-OK), filed two amendments (#3416 and #3417), which call for the language to either be stricken from the bill, or modified in a way that would gravely limit the policy’s effectiveness.

Amendment #3416 would eliminate the provision altogether. Amendment #3417 is likely to be presented to your Senator as a compromise that “balances” the needs of the public and of publishers. In reality, the current language in the NIH public access provision accomplishes that goal. Passage of either amendment would seriously undermine access to this important public resource, and damage the community’s ability to advance scientific research and discovery.

Please contact your Senators TODAY and urge them to vote NO on amendments #3416 and #3417. (Contact must be made before close of business on Monday, October 22).
Contact information and a tool to email your Senator are online [here]. No time to write? Call the U.S. Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be patched through to your Senate office.

If you have written in support before, or when you do so today, please inform the Alliance for Taxpayer Access. Contact Jennifer McLennan through jennifer@arl.org or by fax at (202) 872-0884.

The ATA has provided a sample email, but I think they miss one important point: Inhofe’s amendments are likely to be presented as compromises aimed at avoiding a presidential veto, and that is purely bullshit. (Note to self: find out how much money Inhofe gets from publishers.) Here’s Peter Suber’s extract from the White House Statement of Administration Policy:

The Administration strongly opposes S. 1710 because, in combination with the other FY 2008 appropriations bills, it includes an irresponsible and excessive level of spending and includes other objectionable provisions….
S. 1710 exceeds the President’s request for programs funded in this bill by nearly $9 billion, part of the $22 billion increase above the President’s request for FY 2008 appropriations. The Administration has asked that Congress demonstrate a path to live within the President’s topline and cover the excess spending in this bill through reductions elsewhere, while ensuring the Department of Defense has the resources necessary to accomplish its mission. Because Congress has failed to demonstrate such a path, if S. 1710 were presented to the President, he would veto the bill.
The Administration strongly opposes provisions in this bill that overturn the President’s policy regarding human embryonic stem cell research….
Public Access to Research Information. Provisions in the bill would require that manuscripts based on NIH-funded research be made available to the public within 12 months of publication. The Administration notes that NIH’s current policy requesting the voluntary submission of manuscripts has only been in effect for 2 years, and the Administration believes there is opportunity to work with Congress to study the current policy and consider ways to encourage better participation. The Administration believes that any policy should balance the benefit of public access to taxpayer supported research against the possible impact that grant conditions could have on scientific research publishing, scientific peer review and on the United States’ longstanding leadership in upholding strong standards of protection for intellectual property….
The Administration strongly opposes…the elimination of the longstanding definition of abstinence education that keeps these programs focused solely on abstinence….

Note that the real reason for the President’s objection is the money he’d rather spend on his own priorities. The paragraph that deals directly with the NIH provision shows unsettling echoes of the PRISM propaganda but is really just waffle — padding to make the list of objections look longer. In fact, as I noted earlier, the NIH estimates that it will cost about $3 million to implement the mandate — not much of a dent in that $9 billion the President is complaining about. So, here’s an alternative sample email, the one I just sent:

Dear Congresscritter,
I am a research scientist and about to become a US citizen. I have worked in the US for four years, having held an NIH T32 postdoctoral fellowship for two of those years. As a scientist and as a concerned member of the US public, I recently wrote to you in support of that portion of the Senate Appropriations Committee’s FY 2008 Labor-HHS-Education appropriations bill (S.1710) which directs the NIH to change its policies from a request to a mandatory requirement for free, timely public access to NIH funded research. I have just learned of two last-minute amendments to this bill (#3416 and #3417) proposed by Sen Inhofe (R-OK). The first of these amendments would eliminate the relevant portion of the bill altogether, and the second would cripple it.
I write now to urge you to oppose both of these amendments, which are likely to be presented to you as compromises aimed at avoiding a Presidential veto. They will do nothing of the sort: the President’s primary objection to the bill, as a recent Statement of Administration Policy (1) makes clear, is the $9 billion in spending over and above the Administration’s topline. The NIH recently estimated (2) the cost of implementing the mandatory public access requirement of S.1710 at less than $3 million per year — hardly a significant reduction in a $9 billion overshoot!
As I wrote in my earlier letter, traditional scientific publishing sees the taxpayer pay for the research, pay to have it published, and then pay again to access it (or for the same researchers to access it!) through subscriptions to privately owned journals (3). Legislators have a practical, legal and moral obligation to end this inefficiency and waste, and the way to do that is through Open Acess to publicly funded research. Open Access maximizes research efficiency (and thus the return on research investment) by removing obstacles to the acquisition of new results by researchers (4), and is essential for realizing the vast and virtually untapped potential of automated data- and text-mining (5,6).
Since the current voluntary policy has achieved only a 5% compliance rate in the two years since its instigation, a mandate is clearly required to fulfil Congress’ obligation to maximize the return on public investment in research. The current language of S.1710 contains just such a mandate, and Sen. Inhofe’s amendments #3416 and #3417 would eliminate it. Please oppose these amendments and approve without change that portion of the appropriations bill which changes the language of the NIH deposit policy from voluntary to mandatory.
Sincerely,
me.
—–references—–
(1) http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/legislative/sap/110-1/s1710sap-s.pdf
(2) http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/notice-files/NOT-OD-05-022.html
(3) http://www.earlham.edu/%7Epeters/fos/newsletter/09-04-03.htm#taxpayer
(4) http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/10713/01/timcorr.htm
(5) http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/13028/01/AS-OA-final.pdf
(6) http://www.jneurosci.org/cgi/content/full/26/38/9606

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