Monday, July 18, 2005

In lieu of flowers

A rather poignant open letter from Heather Morrison to the American Association of Cancer Research:

Dear Margaret Foti, CEO, American Association of Cancer Research,

According to the SPARC Open Access News of July 13, AACR is one of a group that has signed a letter on July 7 to Senator Arlen Specter, expressing "significant concerns about the National Institutes of Health duplicating private sector on-line publishing".

The banner at the top of your website this morning does not say: defending the interests of the private sector in the publishing industry.

What your banner says is quite different. It is "Saving Lives Through Research".

This is a noble reason for the existence of your association. My request is that AACR review its mission, and reconsider its position on the NIH Public Access Policy. I cannot see how such a review could possibly come to any other conclusion than that your mission compels you to fully support and participate in Public Access.

Change is difficult for anyone, and I have no doubt that the small changes needed for Public Access will be a little bit uncomfortable for your association. I urge you, however, to consider how many families, not only in the U.S. but throughout the world - have asked for donations to cancer research in lieu of flowers. How many have wanted to set aside their own comforts in bereavement to speed the research, so that others would be spared the agony that they and their loved ones went through. When so many are seeing the need to speed the research and placing it above their own comfort, surely your association can, too.

Surely you realize that the best way to "accelerate the dissemination of new research findings" - to borrow a phrase from your mission statement - is for cancer researchers to share their findings as openly as possible, as soon as possible. The ideal is to post the findings openly on the web, just as soon as the quality control process (peer review) is complete - generally before
publication. Imposing any delay, or any restrictions on dissemination, is contrary to your mission statement.

Your mission also says that you will "advance the understanding of cancer etiology, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment throughout the world." Outside the wealthy nations, there are many universities with no journal subscriptions at all; and, many places where lack of funds to purchase resources is a deterring factor to education, period. Participating in the NIH Public Access program clearly advances your mission. Lack of access is a factor in the U.S. too, of course; not all states are equally wealthy, and not all can afford all the journals for their university libraries.

Please share this message with your Board, and your members. If your basic mission has changed from saving lives to private sector profits, your mission statement needs updating. If your mission continues to be to accelerate cancer research, then you need to reverse your stance on the NIH's Public Access Policy, from opposition to enthusiastic support and

To facilitate dissemination and encourage other associations to consider their missions when thinking about open access, this is an open letter, copied to the SPARC Open Access Forum.

I congratulate the U.S. National Institute of Health and the U.S. Senate for their support for Public Access. This is one policy area where many, myself included, see the United States as providing an example of visionary leadership, which other nations would be well advised to follow.

best wishes,

Heather G. Morrison


  1. It is a mistake to think that open access is anathema to the private sector and even to reasonable profits: Societies and publishers alike need to rethink their publishing models. When they do, they will find out that open access can actually be accelerated by the private sector.

    Jan Velterop

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  3. Good point about the private sector, Jan - your work while at BMC being an excellent illustration of this.

    Thanks for your comments on In Lieu of Flowers. In case you are wondering - I have not received a reply to this letter, which was sent last July.