Open Letter to the U.S. Congress from 33 Nobel Laureates

[Forwarding from SPARC via Peter Suber’s SPARC OA Forum. Also see the PDF edition.]

An Open Letter to the U.S. Congress
Signed by 33 Nobel Prize Winners
September 9th, 2008

Dear Members of Congress:

As scientists and Nobel Laureates we are writing today to support the NIH Public Access Policy that was instituted earlier this year as a Congressional mandate. This is one of the most important public access initiatives ever undertaken. Finally, scientists, physicians, health care workers, libraries, students, researchers and thousands of academic institutions and companies will have access to the published work of scientists who have been supported by NIH.

For scientists working at the cutting edge of knowledge, it is essential that they have unhindered access to the world’s scientific literature. Increasingly, scientists and researchers at all but the most well-financed universities are finding it difficult to pay the escalating costs of subscriptions to the journals that provide their life blood. A major result of the NIH public access initiative is that increasing amounts of scientific knowledge are being made freely available to those who need to use it and through the internet the dissemination of that knowledge is now facile.

The clientele for this knowledge are not just an esoteric group of university scientists and researchers who are pushing forward the frontiers of knowledge. Increasingly, high school students preparing for their science fairs need access to this material so that they too can feel the thrill of research. Teachers preparing courses also need access to the most up-to-date science to augment the inevitably out-of-date textbooks. Most importantly, the lay public wants to know about research findings that may be pertinent to their own health diagnoses and treatment modalities.

The scientific literature is our communal heritage. It has been assembled by the painstaking work of hundreds of thousands of research scientists and the results are essential to the pursuit of science. The research breakthroughs that can lead to new treatments for disease, to better diagnostics or to innovative industrial applications depend completely on access not just to specialized literature, but rather to the complete published literature. A small finding in one field combined with a second finding in some completely unrelated field often triggers that “Eureka” moment that leads to a groundbreaking scientific advance. Public access makes this possible.

The current move by the publishers is wrong. The NIH came through with an enlightened policy that serves the best interest of science, the scientists who practice it, the students who read about it and the taxpayers who pay for it. The legislators who mandated this policy should be applauded and any attempts to weaken or reverse this policy should be halted.

Name, Category of Nobel Prize Awarded, Year

David Baltimore, Physiology or Medicine, 1975
Paul Berg, Chemistry, 1980
Michael Bishop, Physiology or Medicine, 1989
Gunter Blobel, Physiology or Medicine, 1999
Paul Boyer, Chemistry, 1997
Sydney Brenner, Physiology or Medicine, 2002
Mario Cappechi, Physiology or Medicine, 2007
Thomas Cech, Chemistry, 1989
Stanley Cohen, Physiology or Medicine, 1986
Robert Curl, Chemistry, 1996
Johann Deisenhofer, Chemistry, 1988
John Fenn, Chemistry, 2002
Edmond Fischer, Physiology or Medicine, 1992
Paul Greengard, Physiology or Medicine, 2000
Roger Guillemin, Physiology or Medicine, 1977
Leland Hartwell, Physiology or Medicine, 2001
Dudley Herschbach, Chemistry, 1986
Roald Hoffman, Chemistry, 1981
H. Robert Horvitz, Physiology or Medicine, 2002
Roger Kornberg, Chemistry, 2006
Harold Kroto, Chemistry, 1996
Roderick MacKinnon, Chemistry, 2003
Craig Mello, Physiology or Medicine, 2006
Kary Mullis, Chemistry, 1993
Joseph Murray, Physiology or Medicine, 1990
Marshall Nirenberg, Physiology or Medicine, 1968
Paul Nurse, Physiology or Medicine, 2001
Stanley Prusiner, Physiology or Medicine, 1997
Richard Roberts, Physiology or Medicine, 1993
Susumu Tonegawa, Physiology or Medicine, 1987
Hamilton Smith, Physiology or Medicine, 1978
Harold Varmus, Physiology or Medicine, 1989
James Watson, Physiology or Medicine, 1962

Press Contact:
Sir Richard Roberts
(Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine,1993)
Tel: (978) 380-7405
Fax: (978) 380-7406
Email: roberts —