Archive for February, 2009

Open Access Limits Intellectual Freedom

Wednesday, February 25th, 2009

I just ran across an editorial, Preserving Intellectual Freedom in Clinical Medicine, from Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics that was posted last October. Giovanni A. Fava raises a number of issues in the piece, some of which are quite familiar to us, such as the role of corporate interests in medical research. He cites one study that found that of 74 FDA registered trials of antidepressants, 37 of 38 trials with positive results were published, but only 3 of the 36 trials with negative results saw the light of day.

There has been much publicity of the way drug companies consciously and unconsciously exert influence over research and publication. What made this editorial stand out was his claim that open access publishing also can negatively impact intellectual freedom in the life sciences. As more and more journals move to an author pays open access model, independent researchers who don’t have the leverage of large grants to help pay these fees are forced to publish in journals whose content becomes harder to find in our current state of information glut.

Interesting claim. Anyone?

- Dan Lee

University Research Restricted by IP Policies

Friday, February 20th, 2009

The New York Times has a story about a letter 26 university researchers sent to the EPA charging that biotechnology firms use their intellectual property rights to limit research into the effectiveness and safety of genetically modified crops. Farmers (or researchers) who use the seed sign contracts that require them to honor patent rights and from planting the seed for research. And when companies do allow researchers to test the products, they often insist on viewing the findings before they can be published.

The story makes it clear that the researchers in question are not opposed to genetically modified crops. Rather, they are interested in discovering their effectiveness in a range of contexts, including side-by-side comparison of competing products, and learning more about the impact on environmental and food quality. This sounds like worthwhile research for the companies and for the rest of us. Here’s hoping the EPA can help open things up.

– Dan Lee

Israel, Palestine, and Academic Freedom at Columbia University

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009

Issues in the Middle East are once again affecting the academic environment at Columbia University. Columbia and Barnard faculty have written an open letter to the University’s president, Lee C. Bollinger, asking him to speak out in favor of academic freedom for Palestinians. President Bollinger has formerly been the target of complaints alleging that under his watch, the University allowed anti-Semitism and intimidation in its Middle East studies classes. He has also previously defended the University against David Horowitz’s Academic Bill of Rights, and gained some notoriety for inviting Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to speak at Columbia.

- X. Avalos

Access to Information as a Social Responsibility

Friday, February 6th, 2009

Recently, I’ve come to the realization that Intellectual Freedom, as envisioned by this committee and ALA in general, is a social responsibilities issue. For librarians, providing access to all types of information is a fundamental responsibility, and one that is taken very seriously.  This responsibility is one we have to all patrons, regardless of their backgrounds and regardless of what kind of library we are working in. Of course, we are all limited by budgets and collection development policies, and seemingly simple words like access and information can get bogged down by things like scope and value considerations, but this cornerstone of librarianship prevails.

For a librarian to include a variety of information sometimes means including more information than might be proportionately available. This also involves sometimes including material in a collection that has been proven to be wrong (or is highly contended), in order  to fully demonstrate the spectrum of information made available on any one subject.  These aspects of collection development are known and discussed. Also discussed is the fact that an individual librarian’s (or library’s) views should affect the provision of this variety of information.

One aspect of collection development I have never heard discussed is this:

For a librarian to most honestly provide the greatest degree of access, must the bibliographer’s biases be made known at a certain point, so that patrons (and/or supervisors and colleagues) may have more knowledge and information with regards to what informed certain purchases? If excellent service is being provided, does it matter? Does knowing a librarian’s opinions vary from your own make one more likely to put the collection under greater scrutiny? Or is the reason I haven’t heard this discussed because we, as a profession trust one another to allow our commitment to this responsibility to transcend our individual politics?

-Xima Avalos

Legislative Interference?

Friday, February 6th, 2009

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a story today out of Alaska about a legislative budget hearing wandering towards tying university funding to the specific views of students and faculty. The source of the story, and more complete reporting, is a piece in the Juneau Empire.

Representative Anna Fairclough is highlighted for making the economic point that the oil and gas industry drive the Alaskan economy and supply most of the state revenue from which university budgets are created. She further states that university staff and students are often seen as not connecting North Slope oil field development and state revenue that supports universities.

So far so good. Sometimes we need to be principled; sometimes we need to be pragmatic. We all make these choices based on our own priorities, and we make different choices at different times. But then, Rep. Mike Kelly is quoted as saying “They come down here and rail against anything that brings in the very bucks that they come down here and tell us that we owe them.” As a statement of fact, this could be innocuous. But coming from a member of a legislative Finance Committee, it can also sound like intimidation. There is more than a hint that if Alaskan students want an education, then they ought to have different political views.

To be sure, this isn’t censorship. The state is not stopping anyone from expressing a viewpoint. But by tying funding to expression, they are proposing a limit on what can be studied on campus. As we work through these economically difficult times in all states, we need to be on the lookout for legislative limits on academic concerns.

– Dan Lee