Two bills have recently been introduced into the House and Senate concerning public access to the results of federally-funded research. The Research Works Act (RWA) would prevent federal agencies from mandating that research results be made publicly accessible. The 2012 Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) would require several agencies to mandate just that.
Research Works Act (RWA)
Last month I wrote a blog post opposing House Bill 3699, The Research Works Act, which, if passed, would prevent federal agencies from mandating that articles resulting from agency-funded research be made publicly accessible. RWA is supported by the Association of American Publishers and many (but not all) of its members. Their support is based on the ground that private-sector publishers add value to the scholarly articles they publish by coordinating the peer-review process. (Faculty members and researchers who participate in the peer-review process are not compensated for doing so.) Making articles publicly accessible, many publishers assert, threatens their financial viability by providing a free alternative to accessing the articles they vet and publish.
The bill is opposed by the American Library Association, the International Society for Computational Biology, and other open-access organizations. Their opposition is on the ground that this research is paid for primarily by taxpayers, and taxpayers should therefore have access to the results of the research without additional cost. Access to such articles through for-profit scholarly journals is not free but paid for through journal subscriptions or article-access fees. Sometimes the cost is paid directly by the reader through pay-per-view charges; more often the reader bears the cost indirectly through library subscriptions, interlibrary loan charges, and other institutional expenses that are passed on eventually to students, researchers and/or the general public.
The RWA was introduced in response to a 2008 mandate of The National Institutes of Health (NIH). The NIH mandate requires that articles resulting from NIH-funded research be posted to PubMed Central, a publicly accessible full-text archive of medical journal literature, within 12 months of publication.
Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA)
The Federal Research Public Access Act was first introduced in 2006 and was re-introduced into the House (H.R. 4004) and Senate (S. 2096) on February 9 of this year. If passed, FRPAA would serve as an extension of the NIH mandate to any federal agency that annually awards over $100 million to support research. The final manuscript of journal articles resulting from such research, with all changes resulting from peer review, would have to be posted in a publicly-accessible, full-text archive within 6 months of publication.
The delay between the publication of an article in a journal and its posting in an open-access archive serves to protect publishers. In most of the fields that would be affected by FRPAA, research results are very time-sensitive—it is important that researchers have access to the results as soon as possible. Because of this, subscriptions to journals in these fields will continue to be funded by most research centers and university libraries. Who will benefit from the increased accessibility of open-access archives? The benefit would be to researchers not affiliated with a major research center or university, and students and faculty at colleges and other small institutions with less money for high-priced research journals. The greater accessibility of research results will facilitate future advances in science, technology and medicine, which ultimately benefits all of us.
What can you do?
If you agree that free access to the results of publicly-funded research is beneficial and makes sense, what can you do to help defeat RWA and support FRPAA becoming law? Contact your representatives in Washington! The Alliance for Taxpayer Access (a coalition of medical educational and publishing organizations that support barrier-free access to taxpayer-funded research) provides an easy way to oppose RWA and support FRPAA.