Wednesday, January 13, 2010

ISCB Members Asked to Comment on Public Access

The Public Affairs Committee of the International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) urges ISCB members to provide feedback to the U.S. government on Public Access policy. The Obama administration wants to hear from the public on access to results of publicly-funded research, in particular scientific literature. For more information, and to comment, please visit

Please also feel free to post your comments in response to this blog posting - but remember that the most important thing is to make your voice directly heard by responding to the OSTP by email or on their web site.

The ISCB Public Affairs Committee will submit this response, and we welcome your feedback:

The International Society for Computational Biology (ISCB) is dedicated to advancing human knowledge at the intersection of computation and life sciences. ISCB serves over 2500 members from nearly 70 countries by addressing scientific policies, providing access to high quality publications, organizing meetings, and serving as a portal to information about training, education, employment, and news from related fields. ISCB was founded in 1997, is incorporated in the United States as a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, and is registered in the state of California as a Charitable Trust.

ISCB welcomes this opportunity to comment on the issue of public access to publicly-funded research results, as detailed in the OSTP RFI that opened on December 10, 2009. ISCB requires membership review of its policy statements, which is not possible within the allotted dates, so this commentary is not an official ISCB policy statement. Instead, it has been approved by the ISCB Public Affairs & Policies Committee, and should be taken as coming from those individuals and not the entire Society. ISCB members have also been encouraged to submit responses individually.

Knowledge is the fruit of the scientific research endeavor, and the archival scientific literature is its tangible expression and means of communication. Shared knowledge multiplies its utility because every new scientific discovery is built upon previous scientific knowledge. Knowledge is power, and access to knowledge is the power to solve new problems and make informed decisions. Open public access to archival scientific and technical knowledge will empower more citizens and more scientists to solve more problems and make more informed decisions.

We recommend:

(1) There should be free, open, online, public access to publicly-funded research results, with all their existing content including supplementary material and data.
(2) Existing models show high impact, scientific benefit, feasibility, and acceptability:
a. The public benefit from open access to the world’s online information via the publicly-funded Internet provides a good model of expected impact.
b. The scientific fertilization from open access to genomic information via the publicly-funded Human Genome Project provides a good model of expected scientific benefit.
c. Open access policies by the National Institutes of Health, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the Burroughs Wellcome Fund provide good models of feasibility, acceptability, and implementation.
(3) Open literature access will enable a whole new generation of innovative tools and mechanisms that will endow the literature with enriched commentary and usability. These tools are already being built by publishers, researchers, and others.
(4) Policy details -- which version, where stored, how annotated and organized, what incentives -- must be considered carefully, but are less important than is a broad federal policy mandate for public access to publicly-funded research knowledge.
(5) Publishing high-quality peer-reviewed scientific literature incurs costs. Details on how costs are recovered are less important than is a federally mandated open access policy.
(6) The funding policy must:
a. Fund activities of peer review, copy editing, and publishing.
b. Provide fair compensation, if and where needed, to facilitate transitions and adaptations to new models for publishing and sustaining essential revenue.
c. Be consistent with the Bayh-Dole act, other existing legislation, and research dissemination through viable commercial mechanisms.
(7) It is undesirable to take funding from current research and thereby risk underfunding basic science, so new funding should be made available for policy implementation. However, the expected total cost for complete open literature access is only a very small percentage of the total cost for the entire national research endeavor.

Consequently, we recommend that the current administration seize this historic opportunity to stimulate and realize dramatic public benefit from open access to the archival scientific and technical literature in return for a very small percentage increment in new funding.

An official ISCB policy statement on the closely related topic of sharing software provides very clear support for Open Source/Open Access ( ISCB supports the recommendations of the National Academies of Sciences report, "Sharing Publication-Related Data and Materials: Responsibilities of Authorship in the Life Sciences."

Scientific literature represents a substantial investment by governments, foundations, and others. One of our primary missions is the assembly of individual pieces of knowledge from this literature in ways that provide powerful new insights and ideas for next-stage research by the entire scientific community. We in the ISCB are committed to the continuous enhancement and leveraging of mankind’s knowledge resources. To achieve this goal, investment in open access to the research literature must be made.

For the ISCB Public Affairs & Policies Committee:

Chair: Richard Lathrop

Co-Chair: John Wooley

Former Chairs: Barbara Bryant and David States

Members: Russ B. Altman, Howard Bilofsky, Joel Graber, Peter Karp,
Reinhard Schneider, Greg Tucker-Kellogg, Mary Waye

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