I read an interesting blog post at Derek Lowe’s In ThePipeline about a proposal for a “Federation of Independent Scientists”.
Some background: drug discovery and thus the pharma industry are in big trouble (we all know about the increasing costs and small number of approved drugs). Taking the extremely large economical contribution of the pharma industry the consequences are very serious. Unfortunately, drug discovery projects typically span 10-15 years and therefore even if we change something at the front, we won’t see the difference for a while at the end. Nevertheless, everybody agrees that something should be done differently. Different companies give different answers to the problem. Some of them, like AstraZeneca and Pfizer, chose to shut down several sites to cut back costs, thus increasing the number of unemployed scientists and this is the point where this gets a social problem. Since the chances to find a place at another big pharma is relatively low these days, and the number of available academic positions is limited, some of these people join to small biotechs, or found a company themselves or become consultants. While these plans have several advantages, being alone or playing in a small team always limits the resources for getting the job done. Thus the proposal of Mrs. McGreevy:
“What about a voluntary association of independent research scientists?”
Proposed names for this association were: "Federation of Independent Scientist" or "SCA - Society for Chemistry in America" (opposite of ACS).
Members of the association could basically get:
- Group rates on health and life insurance
- Group rates on access to journals and library services
- Online community for support and networking
- Support for grant writing
- Marketplace (advertising and bidding for contracts)
- Special rates for other resources like HTS libraries
I think using the group power to negotiate with suppliers on the above products/services is definitely a good idea. On the other hand, it looks to me that ACS has already addressed most of these points, at least they are offering group rates for insurances, ACS publications, plus free networking, and career opportunities. To make it clear, I’m not saying these problems have been solved already. In fact, there are a lot of non-ACS journals and access to the ACS publications is still too expensive especially for unemployed people. All I’m saying is that before starting a new association, why not trying to urge ACS to make further steps? Building up a new association is hard work, and unemployed people don’t have years to wait for this to be evolved. ACS probably has enough power to negotiate with suppliers of any kind, and probably can provide better discounts of his own publications if it is forced. The question is: do the supporters of the idea have enough power to persuade ACS to make such changes? ACS currently has about 160,000 members. I think if this initiative can gather ~10,000 supporter members, then it can make a difference. I'm maybe a little naive, but if the number of demanders will be large enough, I don’t think ACS could ignore them.
Besides this, several of the commenters mentioned already available solutions for some of the listed problems. In particular, DeepDyve can be an alternative for annual journal subscriptions. DeepDyve provides a renting service of scientific papers for $0.99. Renting means: viewing is allowed, downloading is not. While the list of accessible journals is impressive, I don’t see any ACS journals. Again it might sound naive, but why not urge ACS and DeepDyve to start negotiating and make an even more attractive renting service model for ACS members?
Some of the commenters brought up another major problem, namely the need of modelling software. Most of the small biotech companies and also consultants need some tools to work with, but prices of commercial software are high and it is not the only expense here: hardware infrastructure, maintenance, data and software integration, etc. Looks like mcule.com was a good idea! I will write about our solution for these problems in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!