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Student Editorials

Who should own medical knowledge?

BMJ 2004; 329 doi: (Published 01 September 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;329:0409310
  1. Dan Engber, intern,
  2. Andy Gass, outreach coordinator,
  3. Gavin Yamey, magazine editor1
  1. 1PLoS Medicine, Public Library of Science, 185 Berry Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

Medical research articles are largely privately owned and sold to those who can pay for them. The Public Library of Science believes they should be a public resource, as Dan Engber, Andy Gass, and Gavin Yamey explain

It is a depressingly familiar story. A group of medics in Indonesia search medical literature in preparation for a study. They want to arm themselves with as much knowledge as possible, so that their own research will build on previous work. But when they go online to access the crucial articles, they are out of luck: reading the papers requires exorbitant pay per view or journal subscription fees which they cannot afford.1

We are part of a grassroots movement of doctors and researchers who believe that medical research results should be a freely available public resource. Governments worldwide invest billions of dollars in medical research every year—the National Institutes of Health in the United States will alone spend $28bn (£15bn; €23bn) in the fiscal year 2004,2 yet the results largely remain in private hands, locked behind access fees and restrictions (figure).

It will cost you $30 to read this important study on diabetes

Why is it so urgent to unlock this treasury of knowledge? Taxpayers deserve free access to the results of research that they have financed. Patients have the right to know the results of studies in which they participated and which are relevant to their condition. Researchers should be able to share knowledge to promote more efficient scientific progress—the Human Genome Project ( is a great example of what can be achieved when researchers worldwide can freely share their data. And giving health workers in developing countries access to reliable health information may be the single most cost effective and achievable strategy for sustainable improvement in health …

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