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Policy Results May Cost Readers

For The Heights

Published: Sunday, January 29, 2012

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

In 2008, the National Institute of Health (NIH) made a revolutionary move with the NIH Public Access Policy, which allows the general public to view the results of scientific research funded through tax dollars. This policy, according to the NIH, was enacted to "help advance science and improve human health." Throughout the world, doctors and scientists use the research published online to prevent the spread of disease and to make advancements in scientific research.

The Research Works Act, a piece of recently proposed legislation currently being debated in Congress, threatens to reverse this policy. If passed, the act would prohibit Open Access for federally funded research and would stint the public's access to a large database of scientific information. This proposed legislation would allow publication companies to require a steep fee from individuals to view current research publications. It supports the reasoning that the "peer-reviewed research works," which give a broader insight and analysis into scientific research funded by tax dollars, are published in such a form that they are no longer justifiably within the realm of government control.

The Association of American Publishers (AAP) avidly supports the Research Works Act. However, a number of its member organizations, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press, have voiced their opposition to the legislation. With its significant lobbying power, AAP hopes to encourage passage of the act.

David Quigley, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, commented on the proposed legislation.

"I appreciate that publishers have concerns about intellectual property rights in this new digital age," he said. "I am more worried, though, by the Research Works Act and its apparent attempt to roll back the substantial progress that has been made in advancing Open Access in the last few years."

The people most acutely affected by this legislation are those living in low-income communities where local doctors, who use the online publications to benefit the welfare of their patients in the area, would be unable to afford the fee required to access the most recent research. In addition, by restricting the flow of information, the Research Works Act could potentially hinder the pace of scientific advancement.

To emphasize Boston College's position on this legislation,  Quigley stated that "expanding access to cutting-edge research reinforces Boston College's commitment to using knowledge and education to ‘light the world.'"

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