NCBI needs help

Mark A. Gunnell GUNNELL at FCRFV3.NCIFCRF.GOV
Mon Jul 6 09:43:11 EST 1992


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To: bio-soft at genbank.bio.net
From: frist at ccu.umanitoba.ca
Subject: Re: NCBI needs help
Date: 2 Jul 92 15:37:11 GMT
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In article <1992Jul2.000544.48208 at embl-heidelberg.de> rice at embl-heidelberg.de (Peter Rice) writes:
>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
... rest of Robert's post deleted...
>
>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,
WHAAAAAT???? Too DANGEROUS? Could we have some elaboration on this one?

> 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.
Be careful- if you start producing your own freeware tools and (shudder)
give them away (you commies!), it might be considered economic terrorism!

>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*.
One of the many positive things to come from the 60's was the development
of an attitude of distrust for industry, which resulted in legislation
that prevented monopolies, exploitation, and allowed for greater regulation
of workplace and product safety. The propaganda campaigns of Reagan/Bush
have completely reversed this attitude in the US. We're returning to
"what's good for General Motors is good for the USA." Until this naive
assumption can be changed, we will continue to see paranoid policies
such as you describe. 
 
>What would we do without Entrez, Blast or GCG? We may soon have to find out.
In the case of NCBI, it's not just Entrez or Blast but the whole
developer's toolkit that they provide. In principle, this should save a 
great amount of reinvention of the wheel. The whole point here is that
you could NEVER get something like that from a commercial firm, because
it is not in their best interests to release source code. What they 
want to do is create more and more products. 

However, there is only  a very limited amount of money to pay for those
products. In my opinion, the availability of tools such as those from NCBI
is potentially a great boon to science, as well as a very economical
step. It costs the taxpayer a lot less if an agency like NCBI produces
tools that everyone can use. Shouldn't that be a consideration?
 
> -----------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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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