AIDScience Vol. 3, No. 20, 2003
Letters to the Editor:
Public Access to Science Act/Open Access
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Few inventions surpass the World Wide Web. It has allowed anyone on the planet with access to the Internet, to have a virtual global library at their fingertips. The Web was made possible because one individual, Tim Berners-Lee, dreamed of an interactive sea of shared knowledge and then turned his dream into reality. Unfortunately, there are many that see gold in the Web (despite many of the early dotcom's having gone bust, losing billions in venture capital in the process).

The AIDS Education Global Information System (AEGiS), from its meager beginning as an electronic bulletin board system (BBS), nearly four years prior to the commercial reality of the Web, has had a singular goal — to make information easily and freely accessible. One of our projects has been the linking of conference and journal abstracts, whenever they are cited. A few examples of this linking process can be found at:

[], and

In the latter you'll note that none of the ICAAC conferences are linked. This is because ICAAC does not permanently publish/archive their abstracts on the Web, nor allow anyone to reproduce and disseminate them. Unless you were lucky enough to attend the conference and receive a free CDROM or printed abstract book, you are simply out of luck.

In response to AEGiS' formal request to archive relevant ICAAC abstracts, we received an email from the manager of Program Development and Continuing Education of the American Society for Microbiology (ASM), stating that we were welcome to post the citation information for ICAAC abstracts on the AEGiS Web site, but that ASM did not grant us permission to post the full ICAAC abstracts. Needless to say, I have a problem with this. One reason is that much of the research resulting in these abstracts was, in all probability, funded by federal grants. In other words, we — as taxpayers — paid for it.

According to the mission statement on the ASM Web site, the mission of ASM is to promote the microbiological sciences and their applications for the common good. How can ASM be acting for the common good when they literally deny access to the 6,000,000,000+ inhabitants of this planet, unfortunate enough to not be able to attend their annual conference?

AEGiS has been successful in gaining permission to archive a large number of abstracts, thanks to the efforts of Bob Munk and some really wonderful people at International Medical Press and the Gardiner-Caldwell Group Ltd., but there are still many gaps to fill before every citation referenced on the AEGiS Web site is linked.

U.S. Congressman Martin Sabo (D, Minnesota) has introduced the Public Access to Science Act in the US House of Representatives. The bill would deny "copyright protection for any works stemming from substantially federally funded research." Rep. Sabo's bill "is one part of a larger campaign, launched by the open-access Public Library of Science (PLoS), to raise a national debate on the issue."

I am adding my voice to that national debate, and I am asking the reader to join me in my effort by doing the following:

First, take a moment to write your representatives in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. You can find their addresses on those Web sites. Ask them to support Rep. Sabo's "Public Access to Science Act." Ask your friends to do the same.

If you're not a US citizen, please still take the time to write Congressman Sabo at this link and, 1) thank him for introducing the Public Access to Science Act, and 2) tell him how important access to conference abstracts and journal articles are to you.

Second, if you are a physician, ask your pharmaceutical representative to request their company to deny funding conferences unless the conference organizers adopt the following open access copyright policy:

If you work for a pharmaceutical company, ask your company to insist on an open access copyright policy when funding conferences. If you're an AIDS activist, a person with AIDS, or a friend, write the pharmaceutical companies and conference organizers, and ask them to adopt an open access copyright policy. Also contact the legal department at the National Institutes of Health, and request information on the legality of providing taxpayer dollars to help fund annual conferences, such as ICAAC, when access to the abstracts is deliberately withheld from public access. For more information on open access copyright policy,see:

[], [], or [].

Together, we can change the way of doing business on the Web. We can create large free-access databases that are interlinked in the manner envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee, where the information you seek, including supporting documentation is just a point and click away.

In solidarity,

Sister Mary Elizabeth, OSM
AIDS Education Global Information System,
Address correspondence to:

Published online 24 October 2003

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