AIBS SPECIAL ALERT: Academic publishing and NSF funding in Congress's crosshairs

AIBS Community:

Since the publication of our regular bi-weekly policy update this Monday, we have received updates on two very important matters. Because of the urgent nature of these matters, we are sending you this message as a special alert.


At a Washington, D.C. press conference this morning, Rep. Martin Sabo (D-MN) announced that he will introduce legislation to make the results of scientific and medical research that is funded by taxpayer dollars to be made available immediately and at no cost to anyone who wants to access them. Sabo's bill is part of a campaign by the Public Library of Science (PLoS -, a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians, to make the world's scientific and medical literature a public resource. According to PLoS, "Virtually all of the latest scientific and medical research publications are now available online, but full access is restricted to a privileged elite at large universities and research institutions who can afford the often exorbitant subscription fees. Journal publishers often pocket excessive profits, while most American taxpayers, who paid the researchers' salaries and expenses, are denied access."

Sabo's bill would amend the current copyright law to "exclude from copyright protection" research results that are "substantially funded" by the US government. This broadens the current provision in the copyright act that simply excludes work conducted by government employees. In explaining his motivation for the legislation, Rep. Sabo said in part: "Our government spends $45 billion a year to support scientific and medical research whose product is new knowledge for the public benefit. Via the internet, it could be made available to everyone at home, work or a public library. We must remember that government funded research belongs to, and should be readily available to, every person in the United States."

The bill is still in a draft form (contact AIBS Director of Public Policy at if you would like a copy of the draft legislation). Substantial debate and revision is expected. If you want to respond formally to the bill, you can do so at Rep. Sabo's website at Related stories appear in today's New York Times ( and Wall Street Journal. AIBS will continue to monitor and act upon this situation.

The PLoS campaign is linked to the October launch of PLoS Biology , a new peer-reviewed scientific journal that will compete with prominent publications such as Science ,Nature , and Cell to publish the most significant works of biomedical research. Unlike these established journals, all works published by PLoS Biology will be immediately and freely available. PLoS Biology is backed by a large group of the world's leading scientists, including Nobel Laureate James Watson, Susan Lindquist, E.O. Wilson, and Kai Simons. PLoS has also recruited a team of leading scientists as academic editors who will work with outstanding professional staff.


AIBS has learned that very few Senators have expressed support for increasing the budget of the National Science Foundation. While Senators Bond (R-MO) and Mikulski (D-MD), who head the subcommittee that funds NSF, have both stated they hope to double the NSF budget over the next five years, they will not do so without support from their colleagues in the U.S. Senate. As Congress begins drafting the bills that fund the federal government, it is critical that Sens. Bond and Mikulski hear support from other Senators. A message of support, conveyed to Bond and Mikulski by their colleagues is the best way to guarantee the continued growth of NSF funding. Given budget constraints, Senators Bond and Mikulski will have difficulty providing NSF with a significant funding increase unless more Senators express support for the agency.
Funding for NSF is critical for the AIBS community: over 60% of all academic non-medical biology is funded by NSF. It is particularly important that the Senate be contacted in this regard. As you may recall, last year the Senate appropriations committee provided an additional $350 million to NSF for research, NONE of which was allocated for biology. Even though the House rectified that oversight last year, we need to continue to educate members of the Senate of the importance of NSF to answering many of the pressing questions in the biological sciences.

The AIBS community is encouraged to write their senators asking them to contact the Chair and Ranking Member of the Senate VA-HUD-IA Appropriations Subcommittee in support of increased funding for the National Science Foundation. Sample letters, provided by the Ecological Society of America, have been pasted below for you to use as a template. Please note that BOTH letters will need to be personalized. It is very helpful if you include the amount of funding your state and your institution receive from NSF, both overall and within the BIO directorate. You can obtain this information at (click on award by state/institution to view state and organization totals; from there, you can change the "funding org" to BIO, then click "view report" again to get the amount of funding for biology).


STEP 1: Personalize both letters to reflect the specific information (funding levels, benefits, research focus) for your institution.

STEP 2: Determine the contact information for your Senators If you have the time, phone calls are the most effective way of communicating with congressional staff. If you choose this method, call the main number and ask to speak to the staffer handing science/technology issues. FAX is also an adequate method of communication. We do not recommend communication via email unless it is sent directly to a staff member (i.e., not the general office email).

STEP 3: Contact your Senators and ask them to send a letter to Subcommittee Chairman Kit Bond (R-MO) and Ranking Member Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) in support of NSF funding. You need to provide them with a sample letter (letter B) that they can send on their own (see letter B below)

NOTE: Please personalize both letters before faxing them to your Senators.


Dear Senator X,

I am writing to ask that you contact Senators Bond and Mikulski in support of increased National Science Foundation funding for fiscal year 2004.
As you know, NSF provides the bulk of the funding for basic research in our country and supports large numbers of graduate students, who are the key to a vibrant technically trained workforce. The President signed into law last year the NSF Authorization Act, which specifically outlines the admirable and valuable goal of doubling the NSF budget in real terms over the next five years. I strongly support this goal as NSF is the primary federal agency supporting non-medical biological research such as (INSERT YOUR FIELD HERE).

Our state of (YOUR STATE) benefits from NSF funding. At (YOUR INSTITUTION) institution alone, we rely on NSF funding for [MENTION ONE OR TWO KEY PROGRAMS OR RESEARCH EFFORTS]. Institutions in our state received a total of (INSERT TOTAL HERE) from NSF; (INSERT BIO TOTAL HERE) of that funding goes toward research in the biological sciences.

For your convenience, I have attached a draft letter for you to consider sending to Senators Bond and Mikulski.

If I can be of any further help to you in the future, please do not hesitate to contact me. I am happy to help you in whatever way I can.




Dear Chairman Bond/Ranking Member Mikulski:

As you move to mark up the FY2004 VA/HUD/IA appropriations bill, I urge you to do your best to support funding for the National Science Foundation (NSF) at, or near, the $6.4 billion level contained in the NSF authorization bill which Congress approved and the President signed into law last December.

The support that NSF provides for scientific research and education at universities in my state, such as [INSTITUTIONAL NAME(S)], is critical to maintaining and advancing our nation's leadership in science, technology, and education. NSF's support of basic research is absolutely essential to the development of areas including nanotechnology, mathematics, and environmental biology. NSF also helps ensure that the best and the brightest students have access to talented faculty at world class facilities so that the U.S. continues to train adequate numbers of future scientific leaders.
The simple fact that NSF has supported more than 100 Nobel Laureates over the past 50 years shows the importance of the agency in helping maintain a robust scientific enterprise and in driving the U.S. economy. NSF programs from which [X University] has particularly benefited include [NAME SPECIFIC NSF PROGRAMS OF INTEREST TO YOUR CAMPUS]. ]

I am aware that budgetary constraints make your task of crafting the VA/HUD/IA bill most difficult. But in light of the critically important role that NSF plays in advancing research and education in my state and throughout the nation, I would again request that you do what you can to support NSF at the authorized level in your appropriations bill.


Member, U.S. Senate


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