As of this minute, 5030 scholars have joined the Elsevier boycott. You should too! But now is the time to go further and take positive steps to develop new, better systems for refereeing and distributing scholarly papers.
It’s simple: we should get to see the research we paid for with our tax dollars. We shouldn’t have to pay for it twice: once to have it done, and once more to see the results.
As Doyle puts it:
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.
The Federal Research Public Access 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.
But what does the bill actually do? It says this: any federal agency that spends more than $100 million per year funding research must make that research freely available in a public repository no later than 6 months after the research has been published in a peer-review journal.
This is already done by the National Institute of Health: the bill would expand this practice to the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and other agencies.
What we should do
Someone with technical brains should make it easy for US citizens to contact Congress and support this bill. Google got 4.5 million people to sign their petition against SOPA, the so-called Stop Online Piracy Act. But we’ve been playing defense for too long. Let’s go on the offense and do something like this for a bill that’s good!
Here’s a sample of what you could write or say:
I am your constituent, and I urge you to support the Federal Research Public Access Act. As a taxpayer, I help support scientific research out of my own pocket. I deserve to see the results! The National Institute of Health already demands this for all the research they support, and the system works well. Broadening this policy will advance science and improve the lives and welfare of all Americans.
I believe an emphasis on ‘taxpayers getting their money worth’ and ‘improving the lives of all Americans’ may resonate well with the U.S. Congress: that’s why I’ve worded the message this way. Taxes and patriotism are hot-button issues. But of course you should feel free to modify this text!
Why it’s important
I think this bill is important: even if it doesn’t pass, it changes the debate and puts the publishers on the defensive.
Remember: the Association of American Publishers is still supporting the Research Works Act, a bill that would prevent federal agencies from requiring that the research they fund be made freely available online. It seems this bill would even roll back the existing requirement that research funded by the National Institute of Health be made freely available at PubMed Central!
There’s a built-in imbalance at work here. Publishers pays lobbyists to work full-time on advancing their agenda. Scientists and other scholars prefer to spend their time thinking about more interesting things. So, we’re usually reactive: we wait until something becomes intolerable before taking action. That’s why we’re fighting against a crisis of journal prices that bankrupt our libraries, and battling bad bills like the Research Works Act, when we should be developing better systems for communicating the results of our research, and supporting good bills…
… like the Federal Research Public Access Act!
For more, see:
• David Dobbs, Open science revolt occupies Congress, Wired, 9 February 2012.
• Call to action: Tell Congress you support the Bipartisan Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), Alliance for Taxpayer Access, 9 February 2012.
• Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Council, SPARC FAQ for university administrators and faculty: Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA).
The original sponsors of the Federal Research Public Access Act were Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO). Identical legislation is also being introduced in the U.S. Senate by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX).