Friday, June 17, 2005

Biting the dust?

From: Information World Review - London,UK - June 2005

US Congress fails to back ACS

House Appropriations Committee refuses to censure or pull funding plug on NIH PubChem operation
By Bobby Pickering 16 Jun 2005

The American Chemical Society has put a brave face on a snub it has received from the US Congress, which has refused to take its side in a dispute with the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

At the eye of the storm is a freely accessible database of small organic molecules, PubChem, made available as part of the NIH Molecular Libraries Roadmap Initiative.

The ACS claims the database competes with its Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS) publishing operation, from which it made the majority of its $410m revenues last year.

In a statement, the ACS said: "The NIH has created a mini-replica of the CAS Registry, and a replica poised to expand. That replica will, over time, pose an insurmountable threat to CAS' survival for the very reason that it is a taxpayer-supported resource."

But critics were quick to point out that the ACS, as a not-for-profit organization, has itself benefited from substantial tax concessions over the years, as well as an establishment grant from the National Science Foundation, awarded in the late 60s/early 70s.

However, the ACS maintained in a published statement that "the fact that NSF turned to CAS to develop the Registry in no way justifies NIH replicating it today".

Supporters of PubChem insist that the two resources are entirely of different scale, with a CAS Registry budget at around $260m compared to PubChem's $3m annual budget, and CAS staff numbering 1,300, while PubChem has a mere 13.

The ACS had hoped to put pressure on the NIH through Congressional supporters, but last week the House of Representatives' Appropriations Committee approved the annual NIH budget with only the slightest admonishment that both parties work together. The committee said it "urges NIH to work with private sector providers to avoid unnecessary duplication and competition with private sector chemical databases."

The ACS declined the opportunity to speak to IWR this week, but issued a statement that it is "very pleased that the House Appropriations Subcommittee expressed concern about PubChem replicating private scientific information services. We will continue to work diligently with NIH toward a collaborative model and solution."

Yet it is now difficult to see how it can develop a dialogue with the NIH and work towards a compromise solution, having already adopted such heavy-handed tactics.

The ACS is noted for taking a bullish stance over the threat to its revenues from open access publishing. In December 2004, it filed a complaint in the US District Court of DC against Google for alleged trademark infringement of the CAS SciFinder Scholar brand and for "unfair competition".

The US organisation is also under fire from some parts of the academic community for the levels of remuneration it awards employees. The not-for-profit organisation paid out 46% of its total expenses of $404m in salaries and fringe benefits last year, with its executive director receiving a total compensation package of over $1m.

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