Government/private industry relations questioned

Are the folks at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) so close to the captains of the private publishing industry that they are shortchanging the interests of the public? That’s the question on the table since NIH has pulled a proposed policy of publishing its research for free public consumption within six months of an initial journal writeup.

Research that taxpayers have paid for should be made available to them quickly, say sponsors of the proposal. Friends of the medical/scientific publishing industry claim this early release of information would put them out of business.

Well, we know the government has not previously hesitated to be in the business of keeping certain industries alive–paying farmers not to farm, bailing out savings and loan institutions, etc. But is there a more compelling component when you’re talking about human health? I just wrote about the rise in self-care occurring in our society, so where might this fit in? As we take greater charge of our own health care–and the 45 million uninsured Americans often take sole charge at that–do we have a more pressing right to know what’s being discovered as quickly as possible?

It seems fair to say yes–but with strong cautions. Just as doctors don’t know upfront the full implications of many of their research findings, so we non-professional self-medicators aren’t going to know all the potential–for good or evil–that each discovery carries with it. But as knowledge on every topic becomes more accessible via the magic of the Internet, so human beings ought to be able to have all the presently known facts available when trying to make intelligent choices about their health and their lives.

Seems to be it’s better to be too open than to discover decades later that private corporate scientists did know of potential dangers–say, of tobacco–and deliberately hid them from the public. On that topic, see today’s story on giant DuPont Corporation hiding the dangers of chemicals contained in Teflon pans and utensils.