NCBI needs help

Peter Rice rice at embl-heidelberg.de
Wed Jul 1 18:05:44 EST 1992

In article <9206261908.AA19473 at rna.cshl.org>, roberts at CSHL.ORG (Dr. Richard
Roberts at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory) writes:
> 		NCBI in trouble
> David Lipman and the NCBI are under attack from Congressman Natcher's
> Appropriations Sub-committee.  It is being argued that they should stop
> producing Entrez, BLAST and other software products for distribution to
> the scientific community, because they compete unfairly with commercial
> enterprises that do the same thing.  As a result there is a move to delete
> as much as 50% of their funding.  This would wreck NCBI and cause the rest
> of us to be deprived of the resources currently being provided by NCBI.  I
> strongly oppose this move since I believe that companies actually benefit
> from the free software and services provided by NCBI.  A company would need
> to be very insecure to find the existence of NCBI threatening.
> To help avoid the potential destruction of NCBI I would urge all readers of
> this column to write directly to Congressman Natcher in support of NCBI and
> to ask colleagues also to write in support.  This is the most effective way
> to avoid a potentially disastrous situation.
> Write before July 1st to:
> Congressman William H. Natcher
> Chairman
> Appropriations Committee on Labor, Health and Human Services,
> Education and Related Agencies
> 2358, Rayburn House Office Building
> Washington DC 20515
> FAX #  (202) 225-3509
> Note that there is some urgency here because the committee
> meets very soon
> Rich Roberts

I have seen absolutely *no response* to this on the net, apart from an
assurance via Dave Kristofferson (only to bionet.announce) that:

>I posted a message from Dr. Richard Roberts to this forum the other
>day about the current predicament at NCBI.
>I should also say, in the interest of fairness, that a response will
>be made by the Biotechnology Software Manufacturer's Association in
>the very near future.
>I would submit that fairness requires your hearing both sides of the
>story before reaching a conclusion and acting on it.

Nice suggestion, but Rich Roberts asked for responses by 1st July, and
so far there has been no further explanation.

It all looks reminiscent of what happened around this time last year.
The GCG package was banned by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce as too dangerous
to be released to anyone outside the USA, and nobody complained (well, all
the customers complained loudly to GCG, but nobody complained publicly).
After three long months of no support (waiting for release 7.0, so I could
test my programs which were included on the tape), it was released to a
restricted list of friendly countries which still excluded several of the
EMBL member states.

The main reason for the lack of response that time appears to have been CYA,
in the hope that "I won't be next". I wonder how much NCBI did to help that
situation, as now they find themselves in the firing line and hoping to be
rescued, as indeed they should be.

These are not the only idiocies in US Biotechnology, as seen from outside. We
have also seen the refusal to sign the Biodiversity treaty at Rio because of
the possible financial impact on biotechnology companies, and a curious
clause in the PDB distributors contract. Also I recall GCG leaving the
University of Wisconsin in a hurry to stay ahead of the lawyers in a similar
sounding case to this one.

The choice is easy here - if we in Europe and the rest of the world can't depend
on the availability of the US products, we will have to do everything ourselves.
First the software is hit, then the databases, then the services. When will it
stop? Only when somebody with influence in the US cries *ENOUGH*.

Come on Dave, let's see that response from the other side, and some more
background, like who are the Biotechnology Software Manufacturers' Association
and how are they involved in this affair?

Maybe even a posting or two from NCBI - do they want help or not?

What would we do without Entrez, Blast or GCG? We may soon have to find out.

 Peter Rice, EMBL                             | Post: Computer Group
                                              |       European Molecular
 Internet:    Peter.Rice at EMBL-Heidelberg.DE   |            Biology Laboratory
                                              |       Postfach 10-2209
 Phone:   +49-6221-387247                     |       W-6900 Heidelberg
 Fax:     +49-6221-387306                     |       Germany

 ... and occasionally price at crc.ac.uk ...

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