03/28/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Bill Before Congress May Close Medical Research to Average American

It looks like Congressman John Conyers needs to do his homework on the impact of science policy on the health care for the average American. Turns out that he introduced a bill that would effectively forbid the US National Institutes of Health from allowing taxpayers (you and me) from reading the results of medical research that we have paid for with our tax dollars.

He introduced a bill called "Fair Copyright in Research Works Act" that is anything but fair. It is opposed by 33 Nobel Prize winner, a coalition of patients' rights organizations, and American Research Libraries among others. It should also be opposed by anyone who thinks someday they might get sick and need the latest medical research -- which means all of us.

"This bill would forbid us from building the World Wide Web for science, even for the research that taxpayers have funded. And that is truly a tragedy", according to James Boyle professor of law at Duke and co-founder of Science Commons. "We cannot create such a web until scientific articles come out from behind the publishers' firewalls."

Right now the NIH requires researchers who get federal funds to make their articles available no later than one year after publication -- so publishers have a year of exclusivity. This Bill would forbid even that modest approach if there was any contribution to the article by anyone other than the Federal government (for example, by an editor.) Effectively, that means that any article published in a commercial journal would be off limits to the public that paid for the research behind it, unless they paid a second time to see the final results.

How to protest? Send a letter to your congressman and tell him how you feel about locking up medical research behind financial walls. Tell him/her we need to open up science research to improve everyone's access to important medical data. Alert him that even his doctor may not have access to important medical information that may impact his life.

Click here for another blog on this subject by Professor James Boyle.