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volume 6, issue 3

President’s Letter

ISMB 2003


SGI Awards

Sponsorship & Awards

Rocky 1


ISCB Staff Introduction

Strategic Planning

Government Relations

Special Interest Groups



PSB 2004

Book Review


Events and Opportunities

Newsletter Homepage

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Government Relations

by Dr. Barbara Bryant

ISCB joined FASEB (the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology) primarily in order to join voices with a group with access to U.S. lawmakers. The ISCB Government Relations Committee would like to hear from ISCB members about similar opportunities to access policy makers in other countries, and about the issues you think we ought to be addressing.

ISCB has set up a discussion area at forums.iscb.org, and we encourage you to visit that site and give us ideas and feedback. We are also in the process of setting up list serve email lists for more direct
“discussion” of hot topics.

Here are a number of issues that FASEB’s Public Affairs team has been addressing in the past few months:

U.S. Representative Martin O. Sabo (Democrat, Minnesota) drafted the “Public Access to Science Act,” which would prohibit copyrighting of works funded by the U.S. government. The intent is to allow people to see scientific articles without having to pay large journal subscription fees. However, an unintended effect would be to eliminate the most common mechanism for protection, and subsequent commercialization, of software. FASEB’s President, Robert D. Wells, has met with and written to Mr. Sabo on behalf of FASEB to caution against this new legislation, specifically stating, “Any significant changes to the existing system of scientific publication are likely to have serious and lasting consequences on the dissemination of new research knowledge. FASEB believes that it is vital that all stakeholders have a voice in the development of any new policies.”

Most ISCB members support the idea of having good access to scientific literature, not only for us humans, but also for the digestion of our text-mining programs. The Public Library of Science (PLoS) approach (articles available free online to readers; authors pay a publishing fee) is an attractive alternative. However, some people I've spoken with are concerned about forcing such a business model on all publications (by means of the Sabo bill): What if it does not work for all journals? Would valuable news and review articles still get published? Would the quality of scientific literature be affected? They also point out that journals have been making great strides toward more open access lately; Bioinformatics, for example, is available free and at reduced prices for people in low per-capita income countries through non-profit institutions, and is released free to all one year after publication. Other ISCB members are avid proponents of the PLoS approach, and would like to see a wholesale jump to that model immediately. People generally would like to see more communication between the various parties in this debate, to achieve progress toward the shared goal of increased access to the results of scientific research and high quality publications.

FASEB will also be taking part in an NIH workshop on the topic of training and career development. There is particular concern about postdoctoral training, and its possible abuse by institutions that retain talented researchers at low pay in positions without advancement opportunities. Interested ISCB members are encouraged to provide their thoughts via our forums (forums.iscb.org), which will be communicated to the FASEB team involved.

FASEB carefully follows budgeting and spending of U.S. federal research dollars. They raised the alarm when research dollars were suddenly slated to be spent on procurement of anthrax vaccine. FASEB lobbies for increases in budgets for research; they were instrumental in the recent five-year doubling of the NIH budget, and are strong advocates for increases for NSF.

Another area that FASEB watches is the management and operation of the federal research agencies. When the VA suddenly canceled a number of promised grants, FASEB took action and continues to express concern about a shift away from peer review. FASEB objected to recent political scrutiny by congressmen of specific grants related to AIDS.

Please let us know of issues that ISCB might raise with the other FASEB member societies for consideration. As a new associate member of FASEB, ISCB can provide a strong voice for issues of critical importance to the growing field of bioinformatics.