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An Open Letter to the U.S. Congress Signed by 41 Nobel Prize Winners (November 2009)

Published Nov 10, 2009

November 6th, 2009

Dear Member of Congress:

As scientists and Nobel Laureates, we write to express our strong support for S. 1373, the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA).  This bi-partisan legislation, sponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and John Cornyn (R-TX), would enhance access to federally funded, published research articles for scientists, physicians, health care workers, libraries, students, researchers, academic institutions, companies, and patients and consumers.  

Broad dissemination of research results is fundamental to the advancement of knowledge.  For America to obtain an optimal return on our investment in science, publicly funded research must be shared as broadly as possible.  Yet, too often, research results are not available to researchers, scientists, or members of the public.  We believe Congress can and must act to ensure that all potential users have free and timely access on the Internet to peer-reviewed federal research findings.  This ultimately magnifies the public benefits of research by promoting progress, enhancing economic growth, and improving the public welfare. 

As the pursuit of science is increasingly conducted in a digital world, we need policies that ensure that the opportunities the Internet presents for new research tools and techniques to be employed can be fully exploited.  The removal of access barriers and the enabling of expanded use of research findings has the potential to dramatically transform how we approach issues of vital importance to the public, such as biomedicine, climate change, and energy research. As scientists, and as taxpayers too, we support FRPAA and urge its passage.

The open availability of federally funded research for broad public use in open online archives is a crucial building block in laying a strong national foundation to support accelerated discovery and innovation.  It encourages broader participation in the scientific process by providing equitable access to high-quality research results to researchers at higher education institutions of all kinds – from research-intensive universities to community colleges alike. It can empower more members of the public to become engaged in citizen science efforts in areas that pique their imagination. It will equip entrepreneurs and small business owners with the very latest research developments, allowing them to more effectively compete in the development of new technologies and innovations.  Open availability of this research will expand the worldwide visibility of the research conducted in the U.S. and increase the impact of our collective investment in research.

FRPAA builds on established public access policies that have been adopted by government agencies in both the U.S. and abroad.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) have implemented a successful comprehensive public access policy, mandated through the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2008.  All seven of the Research Councils in the United Kingdom have public access policies as do the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.  This bill is also consistent with the growing number of institutional open-access policies that have been adopted at universities such as Harvard, MIT, and the University of Kansas.

The federal government funds over $60 billion in research annually.  Research supported by the NIH, which accounts for approximately one-third of federally funded research, produces an estimated 80,000 peer-reviewed journal articles each year.  The return on our investment in scientific research is best realized with policies that promote access to the published results of that research.  Passage of FRPAA will make it easier for scientists worldwide to better and more swiftly address the complex scientific challenges that we face today and expand shared knowledge across disciplines to accelerate breakthrough and spur innovation.  As the undersigned Nobel Laureates, representing both U.S. interests and those of the rest of the scientific world, we ask you to co-sponsor and support the Federal Research Public Access Act.

Signed by 41 Nobel Laureates

U.S. Laureates:

Name    Category    Prize Year
Peter Agre    Chemistry    2003   
Paul Berg    Chemistry    1980   
Martin Chalfie    Chemistry    2008   
Robert F. Curl Jr.    Chemistry    1996   
Johann Deisenhofer    Chemistry    1988   
Robert H. Grubbs    Chemistry    2005   
Roald Hoffmann    Chemistry    1981   
Walter Kohn    Chemistry    1998   
Roger D. Kornberg    Chemistry    2006   
Sir Harold Kroto    Chemistry    1996   
Kary B. Mullis    Chemistry    1993   
Irwin Rose    Chemistry    2004   
David Baltimore    Medicine    1975   
Baruj Benacerraf    Medicine    1980   
Sydney Brenner    Medicine    2002   
Stanley Cohen    Medicine    1986   
Andrew Z. Fire    Medicine    2006   
Edmond H. Fischer    Medicine    1992   
Alfred G. Gilman    Medicine    1994   
Carol W. Greider    Medicine    2009   
Leland H. Hartwell    Medicine    2001   
David H. Hubel    Medicine    1981   
Eric R. Kandel    Medicine    2000   
Joseph E. Murray    Medicine    1990   
Marshall W. Nirenberg    Medicine    1968   
Andrew V. Schally    Medicine    1977   
Jack W. Szostak    Medicine    2009   
Harold E. Varmus    Medicine    1989   
James Watson    Medicine    1962   
Sheldon Glashow    Physics    1979   
John C. Mather    Physics    2006   
Douglas D. Osheroff    Physics    1996   
H. David Politzer    Physics    2004

Non-U.S. Laureates

Name    Category    Prize Year   
Aaron Ciechanover    Chemistry    2004   
Avram Hershko    Chemistry    2004   
Jean-Marie Lehn    Chemistry    1987   
Hartmut Michel    Chemistry    1988   
Sir Martin J. Evans    Medicine    2007   
Tim Hunt    Medicine    2001   
Bengt I. Samuelsson    Medicine    1982   
Rolf M. Zinkernagel    Medicine    1996   

Press Contact: Sir Richard J. Roberts (roberts [at] neb [dot] com)

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