Our Money, Our Information

There is a very interesting op ed in this morning’s New York Times from an academic who does medical research, opposing a bill that has been introduced in Congress that would “protect” academic medical journals.

Protect them from what, you ask?

Under current practice, when the NIH or other tax-supported government agency funds research, the peer-reviewed articles that are subsequently written about that research are made available on-line for free. The journals want to change that practice, so that anyone interested in the results will have to buy their journals (which are, by the way, very expensive). The op-ed’s author believes–and I agree–that research funded by taxpayers ought to be freely available to taxpayers; it doesn’t seem fair to make the public pay for something that is then given to private parties who can profit from it.

It is interesting that our debate over healthcare reform has ignored the fact that this is a widespread phenomenon in medical science. Representative of “big Pharma” talk endlessly about the money they spend on research, and what constitutes a fair return on that R & R investment. They talk a lot less about how much of the essential research is funded by taxpayers, and how much more it would cost to develop drugs if that were not the case.

When I was doing some research for a paper a few years ago–before the Affordable Care Act–colleagues from the medical school shocked me when they explained that taxpayers were shouldering between 60% and 70% of all costs for medical care. From public hospitals like Wishard, to programs like Medicare and Medicaid, to underwriting scientific research, We the Taxpayers have paid most of the tab for many years.

Whatever the merits of “private enterprise,” it doesn’t exist in medicine, and hasn’t for a very long time. Perhaps if policymakers understood that, we taxpayers would get some respect–and a return on our investment.


  1. “…it doesn’t seem fair to make the public pay for something that is then given to private parties who can profit from it.”

    No wonder you aren’t a Marion County Republican anymore. To those who wield influence and power around here, that’s exactly waht they think is “fair”. Most especially when it benefits their “friends” and relatives.

    But then, you knew that already, didn’t you? heh.

  2. While we probably differ on the fix, amen on separating free enterprise from taxpayer-paid.

    The ascent and crash of Fannie Mae with it’s public-funding/private-reaping is a vivid example. The Broad Ripple parking garage has been well and justly discussed. How much “compassion” versus political and financial gain was the impetus behind universal health care? Consider this ring through all our noses wouldn’t have happened without closed-door, after hours negotiations, making sure Pharma, AARP, AMA, unions, and trial lawyers “got theirs”. Read ‘Doctor in the House’, by House of Representatives doctor, Michael Burgess (he dislikes insurance companies too- but dislikes this “solution” even more).

    Regardless of the party in charge, it’s amazing how taxpayers usually “get ours”. How and where can be imagined.

  3. To emphasize the point, when I was working in research at the NIMH many years back, our Lab Chief started every year by reminding us that we were there to research the long shots and if anything panned out, we were expected to end our research and let the private sector take over – tax-payer risk and private gain.

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