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February 23, 2012

Federal bills on opposite sides of open-access issue

Should the public have free access to the published results of federally funded scientific research?

The issue is on the minds of federal lawmakers. Diametrically opposed bills have been introduced in Congress: One would expand the National Institutes of Health’s public access policy to other agencies; the other would ax the NIH policy.

In 2008, NIH began requiring researchers to submit their peer-reviewed journal manuscripts that arise from NIH funding to the PubMed Central digital archive upon acceptance for publication. NIH public-access policy requires those papers be available to the public within 12 months of publication.

Federal Research Public Access Act

On one side are those who would like to broaden open access by requiring even more federal agencies to get on board. U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) has introduced the Federal Research Public Access Act (HR 4004), which would require federal agencies with an extramural research budget of $100 million or more to make the federally funded scientific research available online no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The legislation would require materials to be preserved in a digital repository that allows free public access.

Doyle sponsored similar legislation in 2010. A Senate version of the legislation, SB 2096, was introduced Feb. 9 by Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX).

In introducing the House legislation on Feb. 9, Doyle stated, “Americans have the right to see the results of research funded with taxpayer dollars, yet such research too often gets locked away behind a pay-wall, forcing those who want to learn from it to pay expensive subscription fees for access.”

Doyle said the act “will encourage broader collaboration among scholars in the scientific community by permitting widespread dissemination of research findings. Promoting greater collaboration will inevitably lead to more innovative research outcomes and more effective solutions in the fields of biomedicine, energy, education and health care.”

The federal agencies that stand to be affected include the departments of agriculture, commerce, defense, education, energy, health and human services, homeland security and transportation, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the National Science Foundation.

Research Works Act

The Research Works Act (HR 3699), introduced in December by representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), is the latest attempt to reverse NIH policy. HR 3699 would dismantle NIH’s public-access policy and forbid other federal agencies from implementing similar public-access policies. Similar proposals were introduced but not enacted in 2008 and 2009.

Proponents of open access are lobbying hard against the Research Works Act, which is supported by scholarly publishing companies.

“We’re not going to let it succeed,” University Library System director Rush Miller told the University Times. He said the publishers’ backing of the proposed measure indicates they are nervous about open-access publishing, which stands to erode their existing business model. That model, he said, “depends on total control” of the dissemination of scholarly knowledge.

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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