A Fight Over Open Access and Patent Reform

Here's a roundup of some of the science policy stories we covered this past week on Science's policy blog, ScienceInsider:

In open-access news, the powerful chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Committee, John Conyers (D-MI), has explained why he believes the National Institutes of Health (NIH) should not require scientists it funds to make their research papers publicly available via the Internet. In an essay released last week, Conyers defended a bill he introduced that would reverse that open access policy, which he sees as a threat to copyright law and, ultimately, to peer review. Stanford University Law Professor Lawrence Lessig and open-access guru Michael Eisen of the University of California, Berkeley, had attacked Conyers as "shilling for special interests" in an essay.

Nobel Prize-winning physicist and Energy Secretary Steven Chu stayed in the headlines this week over ways to make coal power more climate-friendly. He announced a new "true engineering collaboration" with science ministries from China, the U.K., and other European allies to test carbon capture and storage technologies.

Patent reform came up in the form of a bipartisan bill introduced in both the House and Senate. But judging from its reception, it's going to be another long fight to pass this always contentious legislation. The initial response from the biomedical community was a negative one, as a coalition of companies that favor strong patents blasted the bill as favoring "infringers over inventors." Others, who feel that the current system gives patent holders unfair rights, were more favorable toward it.

Meanwhile, Harold Varmus, co-chair of the President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, pitched his new memoir on The Daily Show with host and comedian Jon Stewart. Although the former NIH director played it mostly straight, he did drop a nugget of news here and there, mentioning for example that he "was not" advising President Barack Obama on his recent announcement to boost cancer research at NIH. Varmus was also on hand to witness Obama overturn former president George W. Bush's restrictions on embryonic stem cells and decry the alleged politicization of science.