Responses to the Federal Research Public Access Act

I woke up today planning to mail out letters of support to my representatives about the Federal Research Public Access Act. While printing out the letters in my office, I found out that the Alliance of American Publishers (on behalf of over 80 scholarly publishers) sent out letters stating their opposition to the FRPAA. Of course, these publishers include giants such as Springer, Elsevier, John Wiley & Sons, and Cambridge University Press.

Let me review their primary arguments:

It requires that final manuscripts of researchers’ journal articles that explain, interpret and extensively report the results of federally-funded research — manuscripts which have undergone publishers’ validation, digital enhancement, production, interoperability and distribution processes — be publicly available online, worldwide, no more than six months after publication.

Let’s view the text of the bill, shall we?

SEC. 4. FEDERAL RESEARCH PUBLIC ACCESS POLICY.
(b) Content- Each Federal research public access policy shall provide for–
(1) submission to the Federal agency of an electronic version of the author’s final manuscript of original research papers that have been accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journals and result from research supported, in whole or in part, from funding by the Federal Government;
(2) the incorporation of all changes resulting from the peer review publication process in the manuscript described under paragraph (1);
(3) the replacement of the final manuscript with the final published version if–
(A) the publisher consents to the replacement;
and
(B) the goals of the Federal agency for functionality and interoperability are retained;

Seems to me that this bill wants the final peer-reviewed paper submitted to the journal, but does not require the final published manuscript with the publisher’s “validation, digital enhancement, production, interoperability, and distribution process” (does anyone else want to know what the heck those words even /mean/?). The alliance’s next point:

The one-size-fits-all six-month deadline for every federal agency that funds research ignores well-known significant differences in how each research discipline discovers and uses individual articles, periods that can last several years before costs are recovered.

First off, the bill is not one-size-fits-all. To visit the text again:

SEC. 4. FEDERAL RESEARCH PUBLIC ACCESS POLICY.
(6) long-term preservation of, and free public access to, published research findings–
(A) in a stable digital repository maintained by the Federal agency; or
(B) if consistent with the purposes of the Federal agency, in any repository meeting conditions determined favorable by the Federal agency, including free public access, interoperability, and long-term preservation.

So each federal agency is allowed to come up with their own repository, as long as they are making a good-faith effort to follow the spirit of the bill. Back to the AAP’s letter:

It limits where government-funded researchers may publish their work.

I can’t find any text in the bill to counter this with because the bill simply does not say this. The only thing that could possibly limit where an author could publish their paper is the publisher’s copyright policy. This act does absolutely nothing to change that. Let’s see what the AAP has to say next:

It undermines publishers’ investments in new business models that currently provide unprecedented access for the public to such works for free or at modest cost.

You couldn’t possibly be referring to Springer’s Open Choice publishing policy, that offers open access for the modest cost of $3000.00 for the author, could you? Or perhaps you mean Elsevier’s Open Access Policy, which charges authors $3000 a pop? How generous of you! And the AAP’s final point:

At a time when Congress is looking to cut unnecessary expenses in federal government and focus budgets on priorities, FRPAA imposes additional costs on all federal agencies by requiring them to divert critical research funding to the creation and management of new databases, archives and infrastructure to handle dissemination of these articles — functions already being performed by private-sector publishers.

Are you serious? The (direct) maintenance cost of arXiv is a tad under $600,000 a year. According to the NSF’s Funding Profile, they awarded 8,509 grants with an average grant size of $165,000. That means that an open access archive would cost as much about about 5 research grants. If multiple federal agencies shared a single archive, the cost could be amortized to less than one grant a year.

As an additional note: the FRPAA only applies to federal agencies with extramural research expenditures (meaning: they give out grants summing to more than) $100,000,000. One hundred million dollars. That means that the arXiv would cost an agency about 0.6% of its external research budget. What do you think their internal budget looks like? I bet it’s a drop in the bucket.

After reading through the above letter, I finally mailed out letters to all three of my representatives — Senators Scott Brown and John Kerry, and Congressman Michael Capuano — asking them to co-sponsor and/or otherwise support the Federal Research Public Access Act. The contents of my letter is below:

Dear [Representative]:

I am writing to ask you to co-sponsor the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2012 ([S.2096/H.R.4004). This bill provides an important mechanism for ensuring that American taxpayers have free open access of peer-reviewed scientific articles funded by U.S. government agencies. It continues a growing trend by both federal agencies and higher education institutions to prioritize open access of research results

One of the fundamental goals of science is not only to perform research, but to disseminate the results to the rest of the scientific community. Yet the cost of journal subscriptions and witholding of research results prevents knowledge from being disseminated as widely as possible; this stunts the rate of scientific discovery by forcing scientists to constantly recreate each others’ work. As the old saying goes, “Six months in lab can save you an afternoon in the library” – without access to current research, countless hours of research efforts are going to waste.

As both a student and researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, I have access to all of the scientific journals that my institution subscribes to. I use them nearly every day in my professional life; however, I also have access to these manuscripts for projects unrelated to my professional duties. Significant work that has helped others has come out of my efforts as an entreupeneur and citizen-scientist – and much of it would not have been possible without access to up-to-date scientific research. As both a potential author and subscriber to research affected by this bill, I enthusiastically support it.

Not only does the FRPAA provide open access, but it is flexible with regards to the interests of journal publishers and federal agencies. The bill asks agencies to develop their own individual general guidelines, recognizing that there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution. The bill provides an exclusive six month window for journals to provide access to the published material, and only peer-reviewed manuscripts (not the final published edition) are required to be made available.

Please support and consider co-sponsoring the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2012.

Thank you for your time,

Nathan S. Lachenmyer

My position as a researcher (at MIT, no less) puts me in the minority of people that have access to most peer-reviewed publications out there. I’ve used that wealth of knowledge to learn more about current research, help me find solutions to difficult problems in classes and personal projects, and even in my recent work at H@cking Medicine (where I used sensors to come up with a quantitative way to measure symptoms of patients diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease). A large portion of this work would have never happened without access to current publications; and for that reason alone I want to enable others to have that same experience.

I encourage you to send a letter to your representatives! Here’s how:
-Find out who your representatives are via services at the websites of the House and Senate.
-Write a letter to your representatives! Feel free to use reuse parts of my letter above. The Alliance for Taxpayer Access has some great talking points as well.
-If you’re feeling like being extra active, please support the sponsors for the bills — a list of the sponsors in the Senate and House are readily available.

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~ by asymptoticdesign on 6 March, 2012.

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