Government Informational Sites Dropping Like Flies

Pressure from an industry organization, the Software and Information Industry Association (SIAA), has forced the Department of Energy to take its PubSCIENCE site offline. Once heralded as a way to "search through more than 500 scientific and technical research publications," the site now reads "PubSCIENCE has been discontinued."

We've noted in the past where special interest groups were using laws like the Data Quality Act to expunge scientific research from government sites. This story is slightly different as the argument put forth is that the government is competing with private business. Specifically, PubSCIENCE provides free access to articles for which other Web sites charge a fee. Since that fee is usually between $15 and $30, you can certainly see why people -- researchers, librarians, students, etc. -- would prefer PubSCIENCE.

With this success under its belt, it seems likely that the SIIA will challenge other government Web sites. Though they've stated that they will not go after such popular sites as PubMed, it would seem to be a foregone conclusion that others will, using the PubSCIENCE site as precedent.

Though no one wants to see government compete with business, it will be disconcerting if the companies which pushed for this go the same way the rest of their dot-com brethren have gone. The PubSCIENCE site was the only source for articles from smaller publications with limited distribution. As such, they will now be unavailable to most people. Those articles which are only available for a fee will also be virtually unavailable to people on fixed budgets such as students.

Hopefully, one of these companies will fill such niches, provide articles at a discount or specialize in digging up the really obscure publications. With cut backs in every sector, this may happen later rather than sooner, but it undoubtedly will happen. In the meantime, however, many people will be left in a lurch.

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