Open letter to Congress from 25 Nobel Laureates

From: Peter Suber <>
Date: Mon, 30 Aug 2004 09:37:21 -0400

An Open Letter to the U.S. Congress
Signed by 25 Nobel Prize Winners

August 26, 2004

Dear Members of Congress:

As scientists and Nobel laureates, we are writing today to express our
strong support for the House Appropriations Committee's recent direction to
NIH to develop an open, taxpayer access policy requiring that a complete
electronic text of any manuscript reporting work supported by NIH grants or
contracts be supplied to the National Library of Medicine's PubMed
Central. We believe the time is now for all Members of Congress to
support this enlightened policy.

Science is the measure of the human race's progress. As scientists and
taxpayers too, we therefore object to barriers that hinder, delay or block
the spread of scientific knowledge supported by federal tax
dollars including our own works.

Thanks to the Internet, today the American people have access to several
billion pages of information, frequently about disease and medical
conditions. However, the published results of NIH-supported medical
research for which they already have paid are all too often inaccessible to

When a woman goes online to find what treatment options are available to
battle breast cancer, the cutting-edge, peer-reviewed research remains
behind a high-fee barrier. Families looking to read clinical trial updates
for a loved one with Huntington's disease search in vain because they do
not have a journal subscription. Libraries, physicians, health care
workers, students, researchers and thousands of academic institutions and
companies are hindered by the costs and delays in making research widely

There's no question, open access truly expands shared knowledge across
scientific fields -- it is the best path for accelerating
multi-disciplinary breakthroughs in research.

Journal subscriptions can be prohibitively expensive. In the single field
of biology, journals average around $1,400 and the price is almost double
that in chemistry. These already-high prices are rising fast, far in
excess of inflation and the growth of library budgets. An individual who
cannot obtain access to a journal in a library may buy copies of solo
articles they need, but that can cost them $30 or more for each article.

The National Institutes of Health has the means today to promote open
access to taxpayer-funded research through the National Library of
Medicine. If the proposal put forth in the House of Representatives is
adopted, NIH grantees may be expected to provide to the Library an
electronic copy of the final version of all manuscripts accepted for
publication, after peer review, in legitimate medical and scientific
journals. At the time of publication, NIH would make these reports freely
available to all through their digital library archive, PubMed Central (PMC).

There is widespread acknowledgement that the current model for scientific
publishing is failing us. An increase in the volume of research output,
rising prices and static library budgets mean that libraries are struggling
to purchase subscriptions to all the scientific journals needed.

Open access, however, will not mean the end of medical and scientific
journals at all. They will continue to exercise peer-review over submitted
papers as the basis for deciding which papers to accept for publication,
just as they do now.

In addition, since open access will apply only to NIH-funded research;
journals will still contain significant numbers of articles not covered by
this requirement and other articles and commentary invaluable to the
science community. Journals will continue to be the hallmark of
achievement in scientific research, and we will depend on them.

The trend towards open access is gaining momentum. Japan, France and the
United Kingdom are beginning to establish their own digital repositories
for sharing content with NIH's PubMed Central. Free access to taxpayer
funded research globally may soon be within grasp, and make possible the
freer flow of medical knowledge that strengthens our capacity to find cures
and to improve lives.

As the undersigned Nobel Laureates, we are committed to open access. We
ask Congress and NIH to ensure that all taxpayers get their money's
worth. Our investment in scientific research is not well served by a
process that limits taxpayer access instead of expanding it. We
specifically ask you to support the House Appropriations Committee language
as well as NIH leadership in adopting this long overdue reform.

Signed by Twenty Five Nobel Laureates

Name, Category of Nobel Prize Awarded, Year

Peter Agre, Chemistry, 2003
Sidney Altman, Chemistry, 1989
Paul Berg, Chemistry, 1980
Michael Bishop, Physiology or Medicine, 1989
Baruch Blumberg, Physiology or Medicine, 1976
Gunter Blobel, Physiology or Medicine, 1999
Paul Boyer, Chemistry, 1997
Sydney Brenner, Physiology or Medicine, 2002
Johann Deisenhofer, Chemistry, 1988
Edmond Fischer, Physiology or Medicine, 1992
Paul Greengard, Physiology or Medicine, 2000
Leland Hartwell, Physiology or Medicine, 2001
Robert Horvitz, Physiology or Medicine, 2002
Eric Kandel, Physiology or Medicine, 2000
Arthur Kornberg, Physiology or Medicine, 1959
Roderick MacKinnon, Chemistry, 2003
Kary Mullis, Chemistry, 1993
Ferid Murad, Physiology or Medicine, 1998
Joseph Murray, Physiology or Medicine, 1990
Marshall Nirenberg, Physiology or Medicine, 1968
Stanley Prusiner, Physiology or Medicine, 1997
Richard Roberts, Physiology or Medicine, 1993
Hamilton Smith, Physiology or Medicine, 1978
Harold Varmus, Physiology or Medicine, 1989
James Watson, Physiology or Medicine, 1962

Press Contact:
Dr. Richard J. Roberts
(Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine,1993)
Tel: (978) 927-3382
Fax: (978) 921-1527
Received on Mon Aug 30 2004 - 14:37:21 BST

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