January 12, 2012

Time to terminate the "Research Works Act" which aims to terminate public access to publicly-funded science?

The Research Works Act aims to terminate the NIH Public Access Policy which ensures that results of publicly-funded research are publicly available. Michael Eisen has raised attention to this issue, including an eloquent nytimes op-ed essay.

I wrote to Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, the sponsor of the bill, with these concerns, and below is her reply.
Dear Dr. Kentsis:
Thank you for taking the time to contact me about your opposition to HR 3699. As someone who represents thousands of researchers, research institutions, and publishers, and a strong advocate who helped double NIH funding, I appreciate the opportunity to respond. 
First, I think it’s important to point out that this bill does NOT impact research reports and raw data generated by government-funded research. This information would still be available at no cost to the public. Reports that suggest that these NIH funded research papers (prior to peer review) will not be available for free are wrong. Authors still retain the ability to share data, reports, and other forms of research findings derived from the taxpayer-funded research. However, once a publisher has worked on a manuscript, spent private funds to improve it and has peer-reviewed it, under this bill, the government would not be able to take that work-product and disseminate it for free. The information, the manuscript, and the data can be made available for free before they receive any private investment. 
The purpose of HR 3699 is to support the continued investment and innovation by private-sector publishers in scientific, technical, medical and scholarly journal articles and to advance the public interest in the important peer-review publishing system that helps ensure the quality and integrity of scientific research. 
The importance of peer review cannot be overstated. It is the system by which experts give informed comments on papers in highly specialized fields of science. It is essential to providing independent, informed, objective assessments to maintain the quality of scientific articles and ensure that science develops independently of ideological and political interests. Because peer review happens and fixes problems prior to publication, we never hear about the false or erroneous research that would otherwise make it into journal articles. 
Moreover, the publishing industry has invested in providing public access to scientific journal articles. Patients can get free access to information on new research through various publisher programs including PatientINFORM. Anyone can go into research libraries for free access to the articles in which publishers have invested substantially to ensure their high quality. 
Two-thirds of the access to PubMed central is from non-US users. In effect, current law is giving our overseas scientific competitors in China and elsewhere important information for free. We are already losing scientists due to a reduction in funding for federal research. This policy now sends our value-added research papers overseas at no cost. 
Finally, as people continue to struggle during these difficult economic times, it is important to be mindful of the impact of various industries on job creation and retention. New York State is home to more than 300 publishers that employ more than 12,000 New Yorkers, many of whom live in or around New York City in my district. New York City scientific publishers represent a significant subset of the total, and more than 20 are located in Manhattan, publishing thousands of scientific journals and employing thousands of New Yorkers. This bill saves American jobs. No industry could survive a model whereby they invest private dollars and are then required to give it to the federal government to disseminate the final product for free. 
Once again, I appreciate your taking the time to contact me. 
Sincerely,
CAROLYN B. MALONEY
Member of Congress

This response speaks for itself, particularly the last 2 sentences, which invert the logic of public access to publicly-funded science to suggest that the "final product" of our science belongs to commercial publishers.

19 comments:

Anonymous said...

Can you explain what the Representative means by:

"data, reports, and other forms of research findings derived from the taxpayer-funded research"?

Does she mean authors can share the same manuscripts they submit to publishers with the public (such as by publishing their submitted manuscripts on a website)? Would doing so violate the rules of the publisher?

Thanks for elaborating.

Anonymous said...

This is reminiscent of Rick Santorum's crusade against the National Weather Service (http://dyn.politico.com/printstory.cfm?uuid=360C37BB-0F0C-4082-802F-FF954501C368). He wanted to ban the Weather Service from disseminating data except to folks like Accuweather (headquartered in his state) who could then sell it.

Anonymous said...

"However, once a publisher has worked on a manuscript, spent private funds to improve it and has peer-reviewed it..."

She does realize that academics do the peer review/improvement part for free? And the authors do 90% of the formatting for free? The amount of "investment" by publishers is built on the backs on free work by academics.

Anonymous said...

"She does realize that academics do the peer review/improvement part for free? And the authors do 90% of the formatting for free? The amount of "investment" by publishers is built on the backs on free work by academics."

Free? There is no free. I am paid by a university system--some of which is paid for by an endowment and other contributions, some of my salary comes from tuition, and the rest of my salary comes from the state since I am in a public state uni. I review manuscripts as part of my job description--it is called 'service,' ie the service that I do for my field of study. Service is not free, it is paid for by the public.-CoR

Anonymous said...

So if a publisher puts in even one cent, that gets locked up?

That's a low and terrible bar.

Anonymous said...

"Anyone can go into research libraries for free access to the articles in which publishers have invested substantially to ensure their high quality."

It's not free! Libraries pay for those subscriptions and students often pay some library support fees with tuition. Just because you don't pay out of your pocket when you view the article, it does not mean that the access is free.

Marcelo Magnasco said...

The final phrase

are then required to give it to the federal government to disseminate the final product for free. "

is a lawyerly construct where the "for free" is dangling. The correct parsing is that the agencies give the product to the Gov, who then disseminates it for free to its taxpayers. The implied incorrect parsing is that the agencies give their work for free to the Government, which is most emphatically not true since we already pay for this work with page charges.

Marcelo Magnasco said...

And, of course, "no industry could survive a model..." is blatantly false. It's called the advertising industry. They create products, for a fee to the contractor, and then give them away.

Surely my representative (yes, I voted for Maloney) would not want to hire an advertisement agency that charged her potential voters to see her ads.

Anonymous said...

"Two-thirds of the access to PubMed central is from non-US users."

Please explain where is the number 2/3 comes from?
What is the period of time that 2/3 number related to?
What is the content this number refers to (whole PMC, manuscripts deposited based on NIHPA policy, Open Access articles or something else)?

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