Thursday, June 02, 2005

PubChem tales go on

From Madeleine Jacobs' reaction to Richard Roberts' letter:

"Using taxpayer money to fund the same work that is performed by CAS
and offering it at no charge is both a wasteful use of public funds and one
that threatens nearly 1,300 jobs at CAS and the viability of that entire

To which Steve Heller responded:

"Give me a break - who can really take you seriously when you say 12 NLM employees can/will put 1,300 CAS employees out of work? It is an insult to most every CAS employee to imply they do so little that 1 NLM staff member can put 100 of them out of work."

These gems are from the following exchange:


You write below:

"I also know that, by your own admission, you are hardly
a disinterested party in the matter of PubChem."

And what are you ??

As for disinformation, you are way ahead of us all. You can add untruths, distortions, and misleading statements to that as well.

As for what happened in 1970, I was there. I was one of the leaders of the project. Whatever version of what happened that Mary Good may have put in an ACS memo is just her opinion. As for the sky falling in, the NIH/EPA CIS was not designed to put CAS out of business - and as you may notice - it did not. CAS thrived in spite of the CIS running for over a decade. And it was people at NLM who were happy to support the ACS when they went to senior NIH officials about the CIS.

You also say you were told:
"the CAS business model is outdated and outmoded."
In my opinion and that of most others who have done and continue to do work and research in the field is that we have been saying this for years and no one at the ACS or CAS listens.

You need to work on getting your facts straight. The sky is still not falling in - no matter how often you and Chicken Little say so. And this e-mail will be a record of my prediction that CAS will still be in business in 5/10 years from now.

There is essentially no duplication of information, let alone an effort to do so. All PubChem submissions come from outside sources. So if you want to stop outsiders from sending things to NIH go after them.

How dare you use the total NIH budget of somewhat less than $30 billion to say the $3 million of PubChem funds (most of which has nothing to do with chemicals) are competition or will put CAS out of business.

And give me a break - who can really take you seriously when you say 12 NLM employees can/will put 1300 CAS employees out of work? It is an insult to most every CAS employee to imply they do so little that 1 NLM satff member can put 100 of them out of work.

And speaking of Google, the useless waste of ACS funds to sue them, is just another example of misguided management who can't seem to think of anything positive to do with all the ACS money they control, other than keeping their rather high salaries and bonuses going on and on and on. And a search on Google of "acs and pubchem" will produce thousands of hits of American organizations and those outside the USA who disagree 100% with you and your management. You have unleashed a massive protest against the ACS, which has already damaged its image and reputation and will continue to do so, since I am sure you plan to go down with the ship and not work with the community which has been so vocal against the ACS position. As an ACS staff member told me in San Diego after a full day of ACS bashing at a CINF symposium, "I am sad to see that the ACS has replaced Elsevier as the evil empire." Minds, like parachutes only work when they are open. I may be a disgruntled member (and will continue to be a member), but I now see there are hundreds of others and lots of organizations in the USA and abroad who realize that while they need CAS for patents and abstracts they don't need the ACS or CAS for their biomedical data. The real question at hand is not "if" PubChem data will be available, but "where".

There is a Chinese expression for the blindness brought on by inside perspective: jing di zhi wa, "frog in the bottom of a well." The frog looks up and sees only a single circle of the sky; he thinks he sees
clearly, but "he doesn't know how big heaven really is."

Rachel Dewoskin
Foreign Babes in Beijing, 2005


On Wed, 1 Jun 2005, Madeleine Jacobs wrote:

Dear Dr. Roberts:
I deeply regret that you are pulling out of the ACS-CSIR conference in India
in January. You will deeply disappoint your Indian colleagues who have been
looking forward to hearing from you. I am not sure why you want to punish
your global colleagues because you disagree with some policies of ACS.
Through my editorship of Chemical & Engineering News, I was well aware that
for some time you have been openly in favor of open access journals and free
information. Indeed, as Editor-in-Chief, I gave you space and time to
present your views. I also know that, by your own admission, you are hardly
a disinterested party in the matter of PubChem. I can look at your
distribution list and see that you have sent your notice to many people at
NIH who have nothing to do with the India conference. What are your motives
for sending your letter to this group?
I am glad you're giving me the chance to set the record straight and correct
the misinformation on the subjects that you bring up. I realize that I will
not change your mind since you've stated that you're an advisor to PubChem
and are quoting verbatim in your letter the arguments that one disgruntled
ACS member, who is also an advisor to PubChem, has been putting on various
listservs and feeding to the media. Much of that information is wrong and
So let me provide some additional context and to correct the misinformation
that has been deliberately propagated by NIH staff and its consultants. I
also hope to explain why ACS believes the circumstances are alarming and
could threaten the very existence of Chemical Abstracts Service and many of
the excellent programs we provide to the nearly 158,000 members of the
American Chemical Society and to the profession at large. This is, after
all, a controversy about science.
The short summary is this: NIH has created a database called PubChem that
has the stated purpose of publishing data generated by NIH grantees for the
Molecular Library Initiative and the NIH Roadmap. Such information is to be
linked to bioassay data for use in designing new drugs or other medical
research. The data will be made available free of charge. Contrary to
anything you may have read, we do not now and never have opposed this
concept. Indeed, we do not oppose PubChem. We want it to stay with its
stated mission, as described to us by Dushanka Kleinman in a letter of
January 21: "PubChem's purpose is to archive and make publicly available
for search and retrieval chemical structure and bioassay data generated by
the Molecular Libraries Screening Center Network." I sure you will have
noticed that not one molecule currently in PubChem has been generated by
this network.
ACS is not against NIH or PubChem. ACS worked long and hard for years to
mobilize its members to advocate for a doubling of the NIH budget. Our
presidents, our Board of Directors, and our members supported this doubling
because we thought the money would be used to advance research through
research grants. We succeeded in helping NIH.
Now, what we are seeing is something that goes far beyond what NIH first
proposed. PubChem duplicates the CAS Registry, the world's hallmark database
for identifying all chemical substances encountered in the scientific
literature and patents since 1907. The Registry is also the underpinning for
many of the related information tools that CAS has developed since 1907.
Together, these tools have compressed what would formerly take weeks or
months of research time into minutes or seconds-literally fast-forwarding
scientific progress. Following on some starter grants from the National
Science Foundation, ACS has invested $500 million in developing,
maintaining, and enhancing this database.
It appears that there are individuals in the Library of Medicine who, for 25
years, have wanted to own the CAS Registry, and now that ACS, along with
sister organizations, helped get NIH's budget doubled, they finally have the
money to simply replicate the Registry. This is not speculation. We have
strong evidence in the minutes from the ACS Board of Directors meetings in
the 1979-80 timeframe, in the clear recollection of Dr. Mary Good (chair of
the Board of Directors at that time), and in current information from people
inside the Library. So there is much more going on than would first appear.
Why are we concerned about PubChem?
· This duplication of effort constitutes unnecessary, unfair, improper
competition from the government, with a proven service that has been
operating successfully for nearly 100 years.
· Using taxpayer money to fund the same work that is performed by CAS
and offering it at no charge is both a wasteful use of public funds and one
that threatens nearly 1,300 jobs at CAS and the viability of that entire
operation. In contrast, ACS has used its own financial resources and the
skills of thousands of highly skilled scientists to create the world-renown
Registry. The costs are borne by the users, which is an effective and
appropriate business model.
· If Registry subscribers turn to the "free" services of PubChem, it's
not only the Registry that is threatened. Also at risk are the many other
CAS information products that are essential to the research community and
which are not likely to be duplicated by PubChem.
· More than half of the Society's net revenues are generated by CAS,
and all but a fraction of one percent is reinvested back into our publishing
activities-journals and CAS products and services--or into Society programs
and member services. A serious reduction in revenues from CAS will have
immediate and severe consequences for the viability of our publishing
operations and thus for our ability to continue many of our member services
and programs.
· We question the premise that the federal government should be the
funder, publisher, and repository of all scientific information. That's what
is happening now with NIH and the National Library of Medicine. Yes, Rudy
Baum has called this "The Socialization of Science." Concerned citizens
should be alarmed.
Chemical information is the cornerstone of the ACS mission and its Federal
Charter. There is no other organization more devoted to the mission of
ensuring accurate and timely chemical information and its stewardship. ACS
journals and CAS products such as SciFinder and SciFinder Scholar are
mainstays in universities, corporations, and government labs around the
globe. The business model for CAS products makes them available to the
academic world at discounts of up to 90 percent and still provides enough of
a return to fund remarkable innovation. Later this year, CAS will
introduce CAS Mobile, which allows users to conduct complex searches from
BlackBerrys and other hand held devices-a first for scientific information
retrieval. Also, in July, CAS will be introducing a new data mining tool
that will help scientists glean even more information from the
ever-increasing reams of information. New and important features in
SciFinder are being introduced early next year. This is the kind of
innovation we have come to depend upon and we cannot afford to take for
By contrast, creating and publishing chemical databases is not the primary
mission of the NIH. Their $30 billion budget dwarfs the ACS budget, as does
the size of their workforce. NIH's mission is to fund medical research and
find cures for diseases, for which we are all grateful beneficiaries. In a
time of flat budgets, when we would all like to see more research money
across the board, is duplicating a highly respected database a good-or
proper-use of government resources and our collective tax dollars? The rate
of success for research grants has been declining, despite a growing NIH
budget. I hope you agree with me that NIH should use its money to support
research grants to advance its mission.
In addition, as someone who talks to thousands of our industrial members
each year, I am alarmed when I hear an NIH official tell me, as he did in a
meeting with ACS in March, that "the CAS business model is outdated and
outmoded." Our free enterprise society in the U.S. operates on the premise
that the government will not unduly compete with its citizens. The U.S. also
operates on the premise that the users of information, not taxpayers, are
the appropriate people to pay for these services. ACS information services
cost substantially less than information services provided by the private
sector. Our journal prices and costs per article are among the lowest among
scientific publishers.
Our hope has been to reach an agreement with NIH whereby they would focus
PubChem on its stated mission. We believe that both of our organizations
can have an optimal role in promoting and facilitating scientific research
without jeopardizing the value either of us brings to the community. NIH has
turned down our approach for a working group that could resolve the
controversy. Indeed, one NIH director has stated that "NIH will not back
We are still trying to work with NIH to resolve this issue for the
advancement of science. In the meantime, it is clear that there are
individuals who want to cast ACS in the worst possible light.
When I have talked to our members and explained in detail what it is we are
asking of NIH, they do understand why what NIH is doing is unfair
competition. They do not like the idea of their tax dollars going to
duplicate a service that is used in thousands of organizations around the
world. If NIH would stop putting out misleading and erroneous
information-including taking statements out of context in letters that ACS
has sent in good faith-and come to the table to work out this situation in
good faith, instead of waging a media campaign, this entire controversy
would be resolved.
On several other points, I would add the following: The lawsuit against
Google is about the use of a name we have had in the marketplace for many
years: SciFinder Scholar. It is strictly about unfair competition, not
about its product per se.
ACS remains firmly committed to its charter. I sleep with a copy of it by my
bedside. It is perhaps the most important 100 words in the ACS Constitution
and Bylaws. I believe firmly that we are carrying out that mission in good
Madeleine Jacobs
Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer
American Chemical Society
1155 16th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: (202) 872-6310
Fax: (202) 872-6055

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