- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 1, 2005

Open access or costly duplication?

Let’s just cut to the chase on the National Institute of Health’s policy on open access. Unhappily, Peter Suber muddles the argument in his rebuttal (“The NIH open access plan,” Letters, Sept. 23) to the potential harm of NIH policy. He writes that “the NIH policy is about archiving, not publishing,” then states its primary purpose is “to bring peer-reviewed medical research to professional researchers whose institutions can no longer afford access to the full range of journals” — that sounds a lot like publishing to me. It implies that the NIH is stepping in to take over what private enterprise has bungled.

I can see where Mr. Suber is confused. I, too, have had trouble figuring out what the real objectives of the NIH policy are, since the stated objectives of the policy have varied wildly over the past year, depending on who said them and where they were said. The “official” objective at nih.gov is “creation of a stable archive… of vital, peer-reviewed research publications resulting from NIH-funded researchfindings….” Nonetheless, NIH officials have publicly said that the goals of the policy are: 1) to create avenues for NIH-funded authors to make work available independent of particular publication; 2) to provide high-quality medical information for Internet-savvy public; and 3) to enable end-to-end electronic management of NIH grant process and better portfolio analysis.

First, if the NIH believes that this will provide the public with easier access to meaningful medical information, it’s wrong. The public will continue to use the Web sites like www.Medicinenet.com and www.WebMD.com to get information about their health. They will not log onto the NIH site to sift through unedited manuscripts that are predominantly about basic research.

Second, if the NIH wants to become a free alternative to scientific publishers because, as Mr. Suber states, ‘knowledge is non-rivalrous” and “can be shared by everyone,” then, at best, the effort will be duplicative. At worst, it will fail in practical terms because publishers provide infinitely more content. Worse yet, if the NIH continues to take publishers’ content and make it free without recompense to the publisher, the NIH is dangerously close to violating U.S. copyright law.

The last objective — archiving and managing NIH-funded research — that, the NIH can accomplish.

But do not forget, the federal government will use taxpayers’ money to do all of this.


Senior director, publications

The Endocrine Society

Chevy Chase

Elusive ‘new era’ for Sudan, Darfur

Ambassador Khidir Haroun Ahmed of Sudan is right about one thing (“An optimistic future,” Op-Ed, Wednesday), continuing pressure from the world community on oppressive governments can and does bring about essential change. The historic peace accords that brought an end to over 20 years of war and brutality in the south are to be applauded, as is the role our government played in bringing this to fruition.

But the ambassador’s audacity to downplay the atrocities occurring in Darfur is remarkable. More than 2 million civilians have been forced from their homes; their villages burned to the ground; men, women and children butchered on the spot; and women and girls raped in a strategic campaign that continues today.

It will only truly be a “new era” in Sudan when the perpetrators of these crimes are brought to justice, when the displaced are allowed to return safely to their homes, and when its government accepts responsibility for the well-being of all its people, regardless of ethnic or religious background.


President and executive director

American Jewish World Service

New York

Taxation and unintended consequences

In their zeal to do away with the current tax system, proponents of the consumption tax are ignoring the most fundamental economic principles, begging for yet one more lesson on the law of unintended consequences (“Revise the tax law,” Op-Ed, Tuesday).

The prime economic principle: People respond to incentives. When you tax something, you get less of it. When you subsidize, you get more. Just as progressive income taxes cause people to hide income instead of putting it to work in the marketplace or to work for cash under the table, a consumption tax will cause people to hide their transactions. This will necessarily result in increased underground/black-market activity.

The incentive to hide transactions from the taxman will hurt our “new economy” since electronic retail transactions will be visible and traceable. The convenience of electronic transaction will be overtaken by the transparency of cash for unreported sales. The visibility of the consumption tax at the checkout counter will depress retail sales across the board, but its largest impact will be on the sales of expensive durable goods such as vehicles, appliances, etc. Can you imagine the effect on manufacturers as well as retailers?

The consumption tax will not eliminate the Internal Revenue Service. It will only give that agency a new name and different methods to collect taxes. Because the tax chases consumption, the New IRS will not only be just as intrusive, but will require more resources to collect the federal due. Now witness the Law of Unintended Consequences.

But wait — there’s more. As currently proposed, there will be rebates based upon income levels or calculation of “necessity” consumption. Yet one more job for the new IRS. Imagine the complexity of that task. Now imagine our Congress, ever eager to “improve” things, legislating rebate conditions in order to benefit favored constituencies and groups.

It won’t be long until the consumption tax is as hosed as the current system, but we’ll have the added benefit of having shut down the economy in the process, which, of course, will necessitate Congress’ further tweaking the new, failed tax system.

There seems to be an implicit acceptance that the consumption tax is the only alternative to the current system. In fact, it is the only alternative that is worse than the current system. Only a tax system that is not susceptible to political tinkering for favored groups is going to move us from this rut.

Flat tax, anyone? Hey, it’s a start. Can we at least start seeing some intelligent, reality-based discussion on the tax issue?



A rosy energy future

Carl Henn is far too pessimistic about the future of energy supplies in the United States (“Finite oil, guzzling fleets,” Letters, Sept. 25). According to the Aug. 9, 2004 issue of Oil & Gas Journal, there are some 2 trillion barrels of oil available right here in the United States in oil shale deposits. That’s nearly six times Saudi Arabia’s proven oil reserves.

Today’s prices make recovery of this oil attractive, and several companies are developing innovative technologies to extract it economically and without the environmental problems of older extraction methods.

For example, an article in the Sept. 21, 2005 issue of the Rocky Mountain News states that Shell Oil is currently testing a patented in-situ process that works like an in-ground refinery. The oil shale is heated and a gasoline-like product is extracted on the spot.

According to the article, this “eliminates the problem of waste disposal and enables a higher recovery of oil.” Shell expects to have a commercially viable facility in operation by 2010, perhaps sooner if certain regulatory barriers were eliminated.

In addition to these enormous reserves of recoverable oil, there is a virtually unlimited supply of natural gas to be obtained from naturally occurring methane hydrate. According to the Department of Energy, “Worldwide, estimates of the natural gas potential of methane hydrate approach 400 million trillion cubic feet — a staggering figure compared to the 5,500 trillion cubic feet that make up the world’s currently proven gas reserves.” That’s 72,000 times our current proven reserves.

Contrary to Mr. Henn’s fears, America’s energy future looks bright.



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