Open Science Revolt Occupies Congress

U.S. Capitol, by ttarasiuk. Some rights reserved; details below post

The open-science revolt, catalyzed just a few weeks ago as a reaction to publisher Elsevier’s backing of a clumsy bill introduced to the U.S. .Congress, now has a champion in that Congress, Representative Mike Doyle, a Democrat of Pennsylvania, who has introduced legislation to encourage open access to government-sponsored science. It’s notable that this bill, the Federal Research Public Access Act, seems to have bipartisan support in both houses, including from some, such as Texas’s Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, who aren’t exactly of the the radical left. From Doyle’s office:

U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA) today introduced bipartisan legislation that directs federal agencies to encourage open public access to federally funded scientific research.

“Americans have the right to see the results of research funded with taxpayer dollars,” Congressman Doyle said in introducing the Federal Research Public Access Act.  “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.”

The Federal Research Public Access Act would require federal agencies with an extramural research budget of $100 million or more to make federally-funded research available for free online access by the general public, no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

The Federal Research Public Access Act would:

• Require federal departments and agencies with an annual extramural research budget of $100 million or more, whether funded totally or partially by a government department or agency, to submit an electronic copy of the final manuscript that has been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

• Ensure that the manuscript is preserved in a stable digital repository maintained by that agency or in another suitable repository that permits free public access, interoperability, and long-term preservation.

• Require that each taxpayer-funded manuscript be made available to the public online and without cost, no later than six months after the article has been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Original sponsors of the Federal Research Public Access Act are Reps. Kevin Yoder (R-KS) and Wm. Lacy Clay (D-MO).  Identical legislation is also being introduced in the U.S. Senate today by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX).

Echoing similar aims, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) recently issued a Request for Information and collected recommendations on approaches to ensure broad public access to federally-funded scientific research.

Congressman Doyle introduced similar legislation in the 111th Congress, and he has been working since 2006 to ensure that taxpayers have access to the research they’ve paid for.

Click here to read the Federal Research Public Access Act.

I’ve not had time to read the bill myself (though it’s only 7 pages), but Peter Suber, who’s been tracking this issue closely, writes at Berkman that this bill expands the effect of existing NIH Public Access Policy, which was the open-access bill that Elsevier and the Research Works Act sought to eliminate. In short, it makes more federally funded research available to all eyes and makes it available sooner (minimum 6 months instead of 12).  Key provisions of the proposed Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA):

  • strengthens the OA mandate at the NIH by reducing the maximum embargo period from 12 months to six months, and extends the strengthened policy to all the major agencies of the federal government.
  • doesn’t merely reduce the maximum embargo to six months, but requires OA “as soon as practicable” after publication (Section 4.b.4), but no later than six months after publication.
  • asks agencies to come up with their own policies within the general guidelines laid down in the bill. It’s not a one-size-fits-all solution and agencies are free to differ on the details. They will have one year from the bill’s passage to develop their policies (4.a)
  • would mandate open access for more research literature than any other policy ever adopted.

As Suber explains, FRPAA  has been offered before. But offered amid the fracas over RWA and Elsevier’s support of it, along with the defeat of the SOPA and PIPA bills, FRPAA is likely to get more attention and possibly more push this year — one more sign that the brushfire is spreading.

This thing is moving awfully fast, and we won’t know for a while whether this is a bottle rocket or a space program. To keep up, I recommend:

On the web:

  • The massive list of posts and articles curated by librarian John Dupuis at his excellent blog, Confessions of a Librarian.
  • The Google + stream tagged #rwa.
  • Peter Suber’s Google + stream
And don’t miss this stellar post (and great convo in the comments) from Imperial College biophysicist Stephen Curry.
On Twitter:
  • Open Science Federation
  • Cameron Neylon
  • Twitter tags openscience and openaccess

Thanks to York University librarian John Dupuis for heads-up on this.

If you know of other must-follow sources, please add them in the comments. I’ll try to work them into this list here as I can.


Image:  by ttarasiuk, via flickr  & Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved

Changes: Feb 9, 4:10pm: Added material about Suber’s post at Berkman.


  1. The only thing I’m concerned about is that it makes it easily possible for those who didn’t pay for it, ie non-Americans to benefit and potentially make gains from the American tax payer. Its a risk, but what is our should not automatically be the world’s.

    1. That doesn’t make any sense.  How does this harm the tax payers? 

      Non-Americans can already access this information by paying for it.  Their payments don’t benefit the government or the taxpayer, they just benefit the publishers. 

      Sounds like you just want to punish people for being “foreigners”. 

    2.  Jeffrey,

      We’re in this together.  The British government is working towards a universal public-access mandate that will make available all the research that it funds — to Americans, Germans and Chinese as well as Brits.  Opening up US federally funded research, too, means that everyone wins.  Science is not zero-sum: research funded in America will feed into research funded in Brazil, and the results of that will benefit us all.

  2. When in doubt, err on the side of openness and truth. Yes Publicly funded research should be available ASAP to public. Public funding will be needed to keep the research out there. What will be the mechanism for dispensing peer-reviewed research published by private sector magazines. Also, how will Public Labs and PI’s be protected for patents, etc. Most Universities have policies but they may need to conform with federal law. The amount of work that goes into science research is often beyond the “contracted for” job description.I want to see science publicly available but also want to see scientists (both PI’s and lab staff) compensated for their hard work just as others in this society are compensated for outstanding work, i.e. CEO’s, elite athletes, elite actors, etc,
    As an educator of the future generation of scientists, it can be tricky to have access to original science documents without expensive subscriptions to jurnals, etc.

  3. The one big question that just LEAPS out at you from reading this article, is whether or not this will allow for the loophole of using the $100-million budget floor as a means of ‘still restricting’ valuable research? If so, I would assume that much of the ‘most important’ research will still be held private as a result of ‘entity compartmentalization’ via budgeting.  You might get to see the results of saccharin testing, but the latest Alzheimer medicines tested still won’t get to the public’s eyes, in such case.

  4. sure, why not give away american research to every foreigner so they get a head start at implementing a commercial use.  even if just 1% of research has a commercial application shouldn’t we keep the ideas to  ourselves?  americans only should be allowed access to research they as taxpayers are paying for. those with security clearance and background checks of course.

  5. U.S. Capitol, by ttarasiuk. Some rights reserved; details below post           –   this is a US public building, so should anyone control its image? If the ‘image maker’ has control , doesn’t the ‘text maker’  have control over their texts….?

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