Two members of congress have introduced legislation that would prohibit taxpayers from freely accessing research that they have already paid for. The Research Works Act, sponsored by Representatives Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, and Darrell Issa, a Republican from California, would forbid the National Institutes of Health (NIH) from requiring that their grantees provide copies of the papers they publish in peer-reviewed journals so that the NIH can make them available in the NIH on-line library. If this ill-conceived piece of legislation passes, it could easily spread from the NIH to the rest of the federal government.
We have written about this issue several times before and have provided examples of government funded wildfire research that is not available to taxpayers unless they pay a privately owned publishing company a fee, usually around $25 to $30 dollars for each article.
Thankfully, according to Tim Swedberg, Communications Director of the Joint Fire Science Program which provides a great deal of federal money for wildfire-related research, the JFSP has a written policy about the findings from the research they fund which the authors publish in a journal:
Journal acknowledges that Author retains the right to provide a copy of the final manuscript to JFSP upon acceptance for Journal publication or thereafter, for public archiving in firescience.gov as soon as possible after publication by Journal.
This proposed legislation has generated some interest, as you can see from this list of dozens of articles written on the subject over the last two weeks.
The New York Times has an excellent story on the topic. Here is an excerpt:
…The publishers argue that they add value to the finished product, and that requiring them to provide free access to journal articles within a year of publication denies them their fair compensation. After all, they claim, while the research may be publicly funded, the journals are not.
But in fact, the journals receive billions of dollars in subscription payments derived largely from public funds. The value they say they add lies primarily in peer review, the process through which works are assessed for validity and significance before publication. But while the journals manage that process, it is carried out almost entirely by researchers who volunteer their time. Scientists are expected to participate in peer review as part of their employment, and thus the publicly funded salaries most of them draw through universities or research organizations are yet another way in which taxpayers already subsidize the publishing process.
Rather than rolling back public access, Congress should move to enshrine a simple principle in United States law: if taxpayers paid for it, they own it…
Researchers should cut off commercial journals’ supply of papers by publishing exclusively in one of the many “open-access” journals that are perfectly capable of managing peer review (like those published by the Public Library of Science, which I co-founded). Libraries should cut off their supply of money by canceling subscriptions. And most important, the N.I.H., universities and other public and private agencies that sponsor academic research should make it clear that fulfilling their mission requires that their researchers’ scholarly output be freely available to the public at the moment of publication.
UPDATE January 22, 2012:
HERE is a link to a 3-minute audio recording from KCRW, in which Dr. Michael Wilkes, a Professor of Medicine and Vice Dean for Medical Education at UC Davis, provides his “Second Opinion” about open access to taxpayer-funded research.
Thanks go out to Tim and Lone Ranger