Archive for January 2012
By: Jessica Lamb
In the shadow of SOPA and PIPA, let us consider another bill in the battle between free exchange of information and the price of intellectual property – The Research Works Act (RWA). This bill would make illegal open access policies such as the one put in place by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). This policy requires that articles resulting from NIH grant-supported research be uploaded to PubMed, a free online database, within a year of publication.
The problem some organizations have with this policy is that many of these papers are published in private, subscriber-funded journals under copyright protection. The NIH policy essentially forces these journals to make their intellectual property (IP) freely available. The Association of American Publishers released a statement saying the RWA prevents “regulatory interference with private-sector research publishers in the production, peer review and publication of … scholarly journal articles.” They also implied the act protects individuals from being compelled to sign over copyright due to government policy.
Traditionally, these private-sector research publishers facilitate submission of raw manuscripts and help edit the final proofs. They also print periodicals for libraries and individuals that continue to prefer paper and archive their past editions. Perhaps most importantly, they give credibility to their content by facilitating peer review. Ideally, peer review is a scientific editorial process whereby volunteer scientists screen manuscripts, reject ones that are scientifically unsound, and offer improvements. For all of these reasons many scientists look to peer-reviewed publications as reliable sources of research articles. Forcing these publishers to give up their IP certainly could be seen as burdensome government interference.
How does the NIH justify this interference? The open access policy is based on the philosophy that the results of publicly funded research should be freely available. Furthermore, the year of exclusive rights left to the journals does ensure that most subscribers will continue to give the journals their business. While scientific journals certainly add value to the content they produce, the fact remains that the vast majority of the intellectual effort put into their product is the work of the researchers, who are expected to sign over copyright to the publishers. Neither the scientists, nor their institutions, nor their funding agencies are compensated. The majority of the IP the journals are seeking to protect they obtain for free.
Interestingly, in 2008 the “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act”, a bill of similar name and purpose, was introduced in the House and didn’t make it out of committee. A year later, the “Federal Research Public Access Act of 2009”, which aimed to expand the open access policy to other funding agencies, was introduced in the House and Senate but suffered a similar fate. The RWA, it seems, is just the latest volley in this battle and unlikely to be the last.
As a society we value the exchange of information, but we also value private enterprise. When considering the RWA, Congress should weigh this conflict but also remember they are responsible to the taxpayer. Is the best way to protect dissemination of peer-reviewed scientific inquiry making the public pay for research they’ve already funded?
By: Adele Blackler
This past year, in my never ending quest to figure out What I Want To Do When I Grow Up, I undertook two different science policy experiences. The first, a part-time detail in a science policy office at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), I really enjoyed. The detail led me to my second experience, a 3-month science policy fellowship with a research advocacy firm, which I really did NOT enjoy. While there were many differences between the two experiences, I think what made the biggest difference for me was the people I worked with.
At the NIH detail, at least half of the office was comprised of people who, like me, had obtained Ph.Ds in the life-sciences, completed some post-doctoral work, and then decided to switch to policy. Not only did they really understand my background and interests in policy, but they also knew how research and lab skills translated into policy skills. I worked closely with several people in the office who helped me learn the domain and navigate institute politics, but I was also given a lot of independence and was treated very much like one of their peers.
At the research advocacy firm, I wound up working with hard-core policy wonks with no experience working with scientists. As such, my 8+ years of research and scientific training were deemed irrelevant the moment I walked into the office, and I was treated as though I had no useful skills. When I proposed a project describing the history of recently developed pharmaceuticals, I was told that that project was very research intensive, and would probably be too hard for me!
For most of the science advocacy fellowship, I was undertasked and micromanaged. When I did have work to do, I was taking research-related press releases and reducing them into health related sound bites for the science-illiterate elected official. Basically, every piece of scientific research became “studying disease X, to build better treatments,” no matter what the actual science was about. It was truly an eye-opening experience into how little technical scientific accuracy can matter to some of the groups trying to influence science policy.
So, what do I know now that I wish I had known before taking the fellowship? Well, unfortunately there is no fool-proof way to avoid bad fellowship experiences-but here are several criteria that I think are important:
1. Make sure at least one person you will be working with has a Ph.D. I had talked to scientists that had done the same advocacy fellowship as me, and they really had good things to say. But they had worked at the firm when the vice-president of science policy had a science-oriented Ph.D.; by the time I started my fellowship this person had moved on and I was the only one with a Ph.D. (or science background) in the office.
2. Try to determine what you will be allowed to do. During the interview process, in addition to ascertaining what work you will be doing, also try to figure out if there are limits on what you are allowed to do. Part of my interest in the science advocacy fellowship was thinking I would be able to go out and actually work with different student or post-doctoral groups to get them involved in advocacy. When I started, I quickly learned that fellows are not allowed to talk to outside groups without supervision. If I had discovered that during the interview I probably would not have taken the fellowship.
3. Take notice of how well your skills are assessed during the interview. When I interviewed for my NIH detail, I had two long interviews where I was asked very focused questions about my writing and communication skills; in my fellowship interview, I was the one asking most of the questions. In retrospect, I should have taken this as a warning that the fellowship was not one that required a great deal of specific skill.
In trying to make the leap from bench research to science policy, it can be very valuable to do some short details or fellowships in the field. This gives you experience and a feel for what the job entails. But it pays to be picky about what jobs to take; make sure that your skill set and interests match up well with the position.
As for my science policy career, at the moment it is on hold-I am back at the bench and really enjoying my research. But I’m glad I have had the opportunity to explore a different career path and really get a feel for it. If I do decide to go into science policy someday, I have a very clear vision of what I want, and I am now one step closer in deciding What I Want to do When I Grow Up.
By: Rebecca Cerio
“A Doctor-Professor answers the old question “What is the single best thing we can do for our health” in a completely new way. Dr. Mike Evans is founder of the Health Design Lab at the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute, an Associate Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of Toronto, and a staff physician at St. Michael’s Hospital.”
This video’s entertaining to watch for the visuals alone (as far as I can tell, it WAS all hand-drawn), but the points he makes are excellent. Exercise has so many benefits, can help us in so many ways, that it IS the single best thing we can do for our health. No matter your situation, no matter your vices or your predispositions, if you can exercise safely, it will signifcantly reduce your chances of developing some of our biggest health problems.
By extension, perhaps one of the best health policies around is to encourage exercise. I don’t mean your doctor’s steady litany of “–and you should get more exercise, too. See me in six months.” I’m talking about actively making it easier for people to exercise. Including gym membership benefits in Medicare and other health plans. Making cities pedestrian and bike-friendly. Supporting strong public transportation systems so that people are more likely to do without a car. Funding parks and other safe places where people can get out and about, play sports, or just walk.
As anyone who’s tried to get on an exercise plan and failed can attest, new habits can be hard to develop. However, making it easier, safer, and cheaper to exercise can go a long way in overcoming the “activation energy” of getting into the fitness habit.