More sites targeted for shutdown

After eliminating PubScience, commercial publishers aim at other government-funded services

Software and Information Industry Association

Having persuaded the Energy Department to pull the plug on PubScience, a Web site that offered free access to scientific and technical articles, commercial publishers are taking aim at government-funded information services offering free legal and agricultural data.

"We are looking into a couple of other databases and agencies," said David LeDuc, public policy director at the Software and Information Industry Association.

After more than a year of pressing Congress and the Bush administration, the SIIA succeeded Nov. 4 in having PubScience shut down. The association's members include publishing companies that offer some of the same articles for sale over the Internet that the Energy Department was making available for free.

Publishers, including Dutch giant Elsevier Science, argued that PubScience amounted to improper government-funded competition with commercial information services.

The PubScience Web site (pubsci.osti.gov) now reads, "PubScience discontinued (November 4, 2002)" and offers links to other Energy Department Web sites, including one that has a link to Scirus, Elsevier Science's online rival to PubScience.

"We're delighted with the decision [to shut down PubScience]," LeDuc said. "The administration has done a tremendous job of hearing our concerns and responding to what we've always considered to be our legitimate concern."

But library associations, which lobbied to keep PubScience alive, say shutting down the site is "a very significant loss," and an ominous sign for other government-funded information Web sites.

"The Department of Energy has been doing a lot of information gathering and making information available to the scientific community for decades. For them to drop out is a very, very significant loss," said Susan Martin, a Massachusetts-based academic library consultant.

Closure of the site means that articles from several small scientific publications "that aren't available anywhere else will no longer be available," she said.

Emily Sheketoff, associate executive director of the American Library Association's Washington Office, offered a harsher assessment. "The government recognized a need, designed a way to fill it and when it starts to be successful, the private sector says, 'Get out of the way, let us make a buck.'"

She predicted that the elimination of PubScience will have a "big financial impact" on research libraries.

Libraries now will have to pay publishing companies for a service they got for free from the Energy Department, Sheketoff said. "As libraries have shrinking resources because local tax bases and state resources are shrinking, it's really tough to put more financial pressure on them."

Scirus and another online source of scientific information, Infotrieve, charge $15 to about $40 per article, according to the American Library Association.

LeDuc said it is fairer to charge researchers for the articles they use than to charge taxpayers for the cost of running a Web site that makes them available for free.

He said about 10 companies in the SIIA were anxious to eliminate competition from PubScience, and member companies now want the trade association to challenge other government Web sites.

Two in particular rile SIIA members: "One is law-related, the other has to do with agriculture," LeDuc said. He declined to identify them further.

One site the SIIA is unlikely to challenge is PubMed, the National Library of Medicine site ({http://www.pubmed.gov} www.pubmed.gov) that provides free access to millions of medical articles and research papers. PubMed was established much earlier and has a strong foothold, LeDuc said. "We have no intention of going after PubMed."

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