Saturday, May 26, 2012

Calls for Open Access Include a Boycott of Elsevier

Recently there has been a lot of talk about making scientific journals open access.  The argument is that much of science is funded by the taxpayers via government grants, etc., and therefore the public should have access to that research.  As we all know, most scientific research is published in peer-reviewed journals, and those journals are published by companies who obviously require a profit in order to continue to fund publishing the journals.

With the growth of the internet the argument is that costs of publishing have significantly decreased, and in fact many journals no longer even print a hard copy.  Digital rules.  Still, there are costs associated with the process and publishers need to cover those costs in order to remain in business.  No business, they say, no published journal on the internet - digital doesn't create itself.

It's a difficult issue.  Clearly the future of information is online.  So what business model is best for the changing times?

I came across this blog and video that advocates for complete open access and notes a scientist boycott of Elsevier, a publisher of many valuable scientific journals.  Is a boycott fair? Is Elsevier's right to have a profitable business trumped by the public's right to access to knowledge, at least knowledge derived from publicly funded research?  And given full open access, would the public even know what to do with the information presented in scientific journal papers?

What do you all think?

[Note: Tomorrow I will look at what Elsevier is doing to better use the power of the internet to enhance the communication of knowledge]

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Lautenberg Joins "Stroller Brigade" to Push for TSCA Chemical Reform

Senator Frank Lautenberg joined a "stroller brigade" of mothers from 30 states yesterday in support of TSCA reform.  This follows on the heels of a call from Senator Dick Durbin to modernize the 36 year old law.  According to Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, the "National Stroller Brigade builds on 30 local events in support of the Safe Chemicals Act, in locations as diverse as Little Rock and Omaha.  Hundreds of moms – many with children in tow – flew or bused into Washington to deliver 130,000 petition signatures to their Senators."

Lautenberg introduced the Safe Chemicals Act in 2011 and some hearings were held in Congress, but no recent action has taken place and very few people think a bill can be passed during this election year.  Even if the bill did pass in the Senate it is unlikely to be taken up in the Republican-controlled House.  The stroller brigade was designed to try to encourage lawmakers to address the issue.

“If there is one overwhelming message from years of science, it’s that exposure to toxic chemicals early in our lives is responsible for some of the cancer, infertility, and other health problems that affect millions of Americans,” said Andy Igrejas of Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families. “However, Congress has been paralyzed. We’re here to break the gridlock and demand common sense limits on toxic chemicals.”
Lautenberg, Durbin and 14 other co-sponsors of the bill (all Democrats) are trying to get passage during this term.  All parties, including the chemical industry, agree that modernization of TSCA is necessary.  However, industry opposes the current bill. Democrats are frustrated that despite their altering the bill several times to make it more industry-friendly, industry has not sat down with Congressional staff to agree on what features would work for them.  This frustration was palpable during a Senate hearing last year. Industry, on the other hand, feels that the current bill is unworkable and that any TSCA reform bill must essentially start from scratch.

Given that all sides (Government, EPA, NGOs, and Industry) all agree that modernization is necessary, and that substantial reworking of the principles and proposed requirements has occurred as the various bills evolved, it seems that the lack of a successful TSCA reform is due to politics rather than science.

Lautenberg expressed his frustration in his press release:

“It’s shocking that toxic chemicals end up in everyday consumer products, and in our bodies, without anyone proving that they are safe. The stroller brigade is carrying an important message to Congress that we're not going to stand by and let our kids continue to be exposed to chemicals that make them sick.  Concerned moms are the best weapons we have in this fight.  With their help, I will keep advancing the Safe Chemicals Act to reform our broken toxic chemical laws and provide a healthier future for our families.”

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Senator Durbin Calls for Passage of Safe Chemicals Act

Illinois Senator Dick Durbin has called upon his colleagues to pass the Safe Chemicals Act, "which would update and modernize the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976." Durbin calls the 36 year old law “antiquated and ineffective” and desperately in need of reform. TSCA governs the regulation of chemicals in the United States with the goal of protecting human health and the environment.

On his web page Durbin notes that:

“The U.S. EPA, wittingly or unwittingly, has allowed the manufacturers of toxic chemicals to flood American households with substances that abundant scientific evidence finds harmful.  The Chicago Tribune series published this week reveals that flame retardant chemicals added to furniture and other household goods are not only useless, but also toxic for our families – especially young children.  The disturbing truth is that flame retardants are only one example of the many toxic substances that have made their way into American homes as a result of self-serving chemical companies and the weak, ineffective federal law that has regulated chemical safety standards since 1976.  We have to come together on a bipartisan basis to pass the Safe Chemicals Act and provide Illinois families with the basic level of safety they expect.”

The Chicago Tribune series he mentions refers to an investigative journalism series published this month that "uncovered flawed testing, products that don’t work, unscrupulous “experts,” shoddy science and stalled government reform." The reporting focused on

The Safe Chemicals Act bill was introduced by Senator Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey in April 2011 and remains in limbo with no action.  The last hearing was held in November 2011 and expectations are low that it will be taken up for a vote in this election year.  Even if the bill was passed in the Democratically-held Senate there is virtually no chance the Republican House would consider further regulation.  With the potential for the Republican's to gain control of the Senate in addition to holding the House in the fall, it seems unlikely that TSCA reform has much chance of seeing the light of day for many years, if ever.

Senator Durbin's full press release is available here.

The Chicago Tribune series can be found here.

A statement from the NGO Safer Chemicals Healthy Families can be read here.

A related statement from the American Chemistry Council can be read here.