The Federal Research Public Access Act

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.

Everyone I know is talking about this now. Today, quantum physicist Steve Flammia pointed out to me that U.S. Representative Mike Doyle has a good idea:

The Federal Research Public Access Act.

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!

Emailing your congressperson incredibly easy, but telephone calls are even better, precisely because they’re a bit more work.

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

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).


8 Responses to The Federal Research Public Access Act

  1. Nick Barnes says:

    I suggested exactly this in email last week. Fear my power! Bwahahahahahahahaha!

  2. Ugo Bardi says:

    Very good work you are doing, John. I try to help with my blog; I wrote something on open access publishing at:

    I received a few perplexed comments from scientists. The “money” value of published papers remains entrenched with the scientific community. It will take some time to change it, but the movement in that direction is unmistakable.

    And congratulations for your excellent blog!

  3. Exactly right John,
    We have to pool our energy. It’s hard, as it takes us away from what we are wanting to do. But for the last five years I have been spending 50% of my time fighting to get science published Openly. Unfortunately for us as individuals we have to invest effort for the future. But it will pay off.

  4. For the record, similar legislation to this new version of the FRPAA has been introduced at least three times and died. First by, then independent, Lieberman as S. 1373 died on June 25, 2009, second by republican Tiahrt as H.R. 5253 died May 6, 2010, and most recently by democrat Doyle as H.R. 5037 died April 15, 2010. Now, Doyle is reintroducing something very similar to the dead H.R. 5037. To voice your opinion, I would recommend popvox: . The new version of H.R. 5037 is not yet available there, but I’m sure it will be soon. In the meantime, you could suggest reintroducing H.R. 5037 on popvox.

  5. Nick Barnes says:

    More information about the bill, including details of previous incarnations of it, and answers to a dozen common criticisms, here:

  6. Will says:

    You mention that someone with technical savvy should make it easy to contact congress about this bill. I would suggest contacting and asking if they’ll help out with this cause– they have a flashy website where you can send messages to congress with a click, or, equally fast, find your representative’s number. They also have a very large list of subscribers and can get the word out quickly.

  7. […] agência de financiamento pública de pesquisa científica. Você pode ler detalhes no blog do Baez e do Eisen. Isso incluiria todas as pesquisas em física financiadas pela NSF e pelo DOE, que na […]

  8. John Baez says:

    The Academic Spring is not over! The heads of 11 major midwestern US universities have come out in favor of open access. Besides arguing for the Federal Public Access Act—which you should all support! – they say:

    As the chief academic officers of our universities, we believe that a fundamental conflict around the value of open access to research was at the root of the recent call by university faculty worldwide to boycott Elsevier Publishing for practices that undermine the ability of scholars to share their work. We don’t take any pleasure in our faculty turning away from trusted outlets for publishing their research, and neither do the faculty themselves. Nonetheless, when researchers feel that the channels of scholarly publishing are not enhancing scholarship, or serving the public good, they will act to recalibrate the balance between commerce and the broader goals to which they are dedicated. By pledging to withhold their services as authors, editors and peer reviewers, these several thousand faculty members have posted an important reminder to all of us that publishing is a means to social betterment, and not a goal unto itself.

    (Emphasis mine.)

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