Public Access to Federally-Funded Scientific Research (10-12-06)

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Recent Action

Open Access Legislation Garners More External Support
An open access bill introduced in the Senate in May 2006 is still awaiting congressional action. The Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006 (S. 2695) would require each federal agency with extramural research expenditures of over $100 million to develop a specified federal research public access policy that is consistent with and advances the purposes of the agency. The bill is sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) and Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and is still waiting for consideration within the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which is chaired by Senator Susan Collins (R-ME). There is no comparable legislation that is currently being considered in the House.

There has been some strong support for open access legislation from external groups, such as health and patients rights advocates, a spectrum of organizations that favor open access and universities. This strong external support has kept policymakers from both chambers looking for ways to include open access in legislation. Although the House did not introduce a separate bill on open access like the Senate, there is language in the House fiscal year 2007 appropriations bill for the National Institutes of Health (NIH) that would require the NIH Public Access Policy to be mandatory, instead of voluntary and there is language in a House bill for the reauthorization of NIH that would require greater oversight of the public access policy to determine if it is effective. The House has not approved either bill and there is no such language in the related Senate bills. (10/12/06)

Previous Action

Senators Cornyn and Lieberman Introduce Open Access Legislation
Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) introduced S. 2695, the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006, on May 2, 2006. The legislation would require all federal agencies with a research budget of more than $100 million to develop and implement a public access policy that would, according to Cornyn's press release on the bill, "ensure that articles generated through research funded by that agency are made available online within six months of publication." These public access regulations would require each researcher who is funded totally or partially by the agency to submit an electronic copy of the finalized manuscript that has been accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed journal. The agency will be responsible for preserving the manuscript in a stable, digital repository and must ensure free, online access to taxpayer-funded research no later than six months after it is published in a peer-reviewed publication. "Classified research and research that results in works that generate revenue or royalties for the author (such as books), or patentable discoveries to the extent necessary to protect copyright or a patent" would be exempted from the public-access policy.

"The goal is to share information, avoid duplication of effort and help spur new ideas which down the road can mean new treatments and cures for researchers, medical professionals and patients," Lieberman said in a press release accompanying the bill. Cornyn added, "This legislation is a common-sense approach to expand the public’s access to research it funds. And it will help accelerate scientific innovation and discovery.”

Many non-profit science journals published by scientific and professional societies are concerned about how these public-access policies will affect subscriptions. A frequently asked questions document released by Sen. Cornyn's office states:

"This bill offers a thoughtful, tempered approach to meet a crucial policy goal of expanding access to the published results of taxpayer-funded research. The Federal Research Public Access Act explicitly acknowledges the publishers' contribution by providing for a public access embargo of up to six months. The six month embargo will preserve the important role of journals and publishers in the peer review process. This provision balances important interests and ensures that research is widely available while it still is useful.

"The proposed language applies only to federally funded research. This will provide access to a national research treasure. However, U.S. taxpayer funded research represents only a portion of all articles published around the world by scientific societies, commercial publishers, and others. Journals also publish non-federally funded research, valued review articles, editorials, news and views, letters, and opinion columns - literature that is not contained in federal public-access repositories. Journal readers will continue to seek access through their personal or library subscription to the full journal content."

S. 2695 was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, but there are no immediate plans to hold a hearing on the legislation at this point. A copy of Cornyn's press release and additional information on the bill is available at http://cornyn.senate.gov/index.asp?f=record&lid=1&rid=237171. (5/9/06)

The Public Library of Science Starts New Journals
The Public Library of Science (PLoS), a non-profit organization that publishes freely available scientific and medical journals, introduced three new journals in 2005. PLoS Computational Biology was launched in June, PLoS Genetics was launched in July, and PLoS Pathogens was launched in September. This brings the total number of PLoS journals to five, with a sixth journal, PLoS Clinical Trials, set to launch on May 19, 2006. "Today we have taken a very important first step to a new era of data and knowledge integration which has the potential to fundamentally change the way we do science," said Dr. Philip E. Bourne, editor-in-chief of PLoS Computational Biology, on the release of the journal's first issue. Formed in 2003, PLoS is made up of scientists and physicians who are committed to providing accurate, peer-reviewed research to an international public audience. For more information on PLoS, see the background section. (5/9/06)

Economists Urge Universities to Evaluate Journal Cost-Effectiveness
Two economists, Ted Bergstrom of University of California Santa Barbara, and Preston McAfee of Caltech, have written "An Open Letter to All University Presidents and Provosts Concerning Increasingly Expensive Journals". The letter suggests that universities should charge an editorial overhead of about $12,000 for the most expensive journals and university libraries should refrain from purchasing bundled packages that are more expensive. The letter also refers readers to a price comparison web site, www.journalprices.com, which lists the cost per page and cost per citation of for-profit and non-profit journals, so that universities can easily compare the values of their subscriptions. For example, for atmospheric science journals, the average cost per page among for-profit journals is 95 cents compared to 15 cents for non-profit journals. The average cost per citation of for-profit journals is 88 cents compared to 7 cents for non-profit journals. If you go to the price comparison web site and search all of the "Geology" journals, you will find all of AGI's Member Society journals at the bottom of the list as the most cost effective journals published in the field. The full text of the letter is available here. (12/05/05)

Library of Congress to Create Free World Digital Library
On November 22, 2005, the Library of Congress announced a new initiative to create a World Digital Library (WDL). The WDL would consist of a freely accessible online collection of rare books, manuscripts, maps, posters, stamps and other materials held by the Library of Congress and other national libraries from Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa. The Library of Congress has accepted $3 million from Google Inc., as the first contribution of a public-private partnership to support WDL. Google has already digitized 5,000 books from the Library of Congress in a pilot project to refine their abilities to handle fragile materials. Google will only digitize materials that are in the public domain. According to the Allan Adler, vice president for legal and government affairs at the Association of American Publishers, there is unlikely to be any controversy over copyright because the U.S. Copyright Office is housed in the Library of Congress and should serve as a consultant about any copyright issues. (12/05/05)

Google Announces 3-Month Suspension of Scanning Copyrighted Material
On August 11, 2005, Google announced that it will stop scanning copyrighted materials for its Google Print Library Project until November, giving copyright holders a chance to opt out of the program. Google Print, which was launched in October, 2004 has so far partnered with five major libraries with the ambitious mission of making the full text of all books searchable online. The New York Public Library and Oxford University agreed to share only materials without copyright restrictions, while Stanford University, Harvard University and the University of Michigan agreed to share all of their books with Google.

A search on Google Print allows only a limited viewing of each book, however, various publishing organizations and authors have argued that, because the full text is stored, the project could lead to unlawful use of copyrighted text.

In response, Google's new policy states that, "any and all copyright holders - both Google Print partners and non-partners - can tell us which books they would prefer that we not scan if we find them in a library." The three-month suspension of scanning operations gives publishers an opportunity to protect copyrighted materials from the Google project. According to the Washington Post, publishers are still challenging the lawfulness of Google's policy as it places the burden of copyright protection on the publishers themselves. Google maintains that, "the new approach would best balance the rights and needs of users and publishers while remaining consistent with [its] web search policy. (9/1/05)

Letter to Senate Appropriations Urges Reconsideration of NIH Public Access Policy
On July 7, 2005, the American Geological Institute joined 50 other private sector journal publishers in signing a letter to Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, urging the Senate to carefully reconsider the National Institutes of Health (NIH) public access policy. Effective May 2, 2005, the policy requests that all NIH-funded research articles accepted for publication by a peer-reviewed journal be made available to the public through a government-owned, online database. The letter came in response to language attached to this year's House Labor, HHS and Education Appropriations bill that fully endorsed the policy as a good "first step" to broad public access and recommended an "aggressive education and outreach initiative" to further maximize participation.

The letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee explains that the House bill "prejudges the value of [the NIH] policy," calling on the committee to attach language to the Senate bill requesting that NIH provide information on the costs of carrying out the program, and to evaluate the existing availability of NIH research articles on the internet from other sources. The letter states,

"Given Federal budget constraints, every effort should be made to avoid establishing a federally administered and funded program that would duplicate private sector publishing activities, particularly one that may undermine the activities of nonprofit peer-reviewed journal. Rather than create a publication/distribution system for articles already available in the private sector from nonprofit publishers, NIH should use its limited resources to carry out its prime mission of funding biomedical research."

The Senate Appropriations report language, which was released a week later on July 14, 2005, was supportive of the policy but less enthusiastic than the House bill, and did not request that the NIH administer an outreach program. To improve upon the policy, the committee did request that the NIH provide the costs of implementing the program and an assessment of the policy's impact on research availability and the peer review system. The full text is below:

"Public Access- The Committee has noted that the National Institutes of Health has begun to implement its public access policy which is geared to ensuring that NIH-funded research results are made available as soon as possible to the public, health care providers, educators, and scientists through the National Library of Medicine's PubMed Central [PMC] database. The Committee agrees with the need for, and a goal of, issuing a balanced policy to help promote increased public access to NIH-funded research while maintaining the integrity of the peer review system which is essential to ensure the quality and accuracy of medical research in the United States. The Committee urges NIH to work with all stakeholders as it moves forward in implementing this policy. To assist the Congress in assessing the degree of success of this new policy, the Committee requests a progress report by no later than February 1, 2006. Specifically, the Committee requests that the report contain the following information: (1) the total number of peer-reviewed articles deposited in PubMed Central since the May 2, 2005 implementation date and the distribution of chosen delay periods; (2) an assessment of the extent to which the implemented policy has led to improved public access; (3) an assessment of the impact of the policy on the peer review system; and (4) the cost of operating the database." (7/27/05)

NIH Public Access Policy Unveiled
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) held a 30 minute telephone press conference on February 3, 2005 to unveil their new policy on public access to federally funded scientific research and respond to a few questions. The new policy requests any author whose research received any direct support from NIH-funding to submit their accepted, but not necessarily edited, manuscripts related to that research to PubMed Central, the digital library maintained by the National Library of Medicine (NLM) within 12 months of acceptance. PubMed Central will post the paper within 12 months of the final publication date. This new policy is voluntary and allows for a longer time period from publication to posting than the previously suggested 6 month period. Although this new policy will only affect NIH-funded research, it will probably influence the future of publication and dissemination practices for all federally-funded scientists, publishers and funding agencies.

An AGI Government Affairs Program Special Update was sent to AGI's Member Societies. It can be found online by clicking here. (2/05)

Background

In early 2004, The Washington Post reported that most of the 50,000 to 60,000 research articles published each year as a result of federally funded science ends up in the hands of for-profit publishers that charge $15-50 to view the results of a single study online. In response to such practices, the Public Library of Science (PLoS), a non-profit organization of scientists and physicians, launched a campaign aimed at making the world's scientific and medical literature a public resource. The founders include Harold Varmus, who won a Nobel Prize in 1989 for his work with cancer viruses, headed the National Institutes of Health from 1993 to 1999 and is now president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York; Patrick O. Brown, a genomics expert at Stanford University School of Medicine and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; and Michael Eisen, a computation and evolutionary biologist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the Unviersity of California at Berkeley. Other supporters include DNA discoverer James Watson and the renowned sociobiologist and author E.O. Wilson. Flush with a $9 million grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, they have hired editors and reviewers and began publishing PLoS Biology in October, 2003. A second journal, PLoS Medicine, was launched in October, 2004.

As reported by AIBS, PLoS Biology "will compete with prominent publications such as Science, Nature, and Cell to publish the most significant works of biomedical research. Unlike these established journals, all works published by PLoS Biology will be immediately and freely available."

Their experiment takes recent publishing industry developments regarding public access to another level. In the past few years, several journals have widened their access. Most online publications allow free searching and reading of titles and abstracts, and researchers have reprints to give out on request. Many make their journals freely available to scientists in developing countries. Some release results freely to everyone six to twelve months after publication. This interval of time allows the scientific community at large to debate and reproduce studies, a process integral to the advancement of science. But critics say that the delay is unnecessary and would deprive scientists and others of the latest and best information. Ira Mellman, chairman of Yale's Department of Cell Biology and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Cell Biology, explained the budding congressional interest in this topic when he told The Washington Post that, "saying you're for free access is like motherhood and apple pie." But Mellman also cautioned elected officials against leaping into this debate at a tenuous time because the PLoS model is just beginning and cannot yet be called successful. Until this "publishing experiment" is concluded, policymakers should not force any particular model on the entire industry.

That industry is made up of roughly 28,000 different journals and each publishes original research that can be found nowhere else. As a group, they perform the same basic tasks: communicate findings; control quality by peer review; create a historical record and document authorship. Due to mergers in recent years, some commercial mega-publishers have emerged. Due to their monopoly on the information and the marketplace for it, subscription rates have increased by leaps and bounds -- sometimes as much as 25 to 35 percent per year according to Michael Keller, who oversees the libraries at Stanford University. Commercial publishers generally charge between $1,000 and $5,000 for a one-year subscription to their journals. Highly specialized journals in crucial fields can be even more expensive -- The Washington Post reported that the one-year subscription for Brain Research costs $20,000. Publishers have defended themselves by pointing out the real costs associated with publishing a journal -- articles must be peer reviewed, edited and formatted; there are websites and databases to maintain. In short, quality control comes with a price.

PLoS is seeking to change the way the scientific publishing world does business. Instead of having readers pay to read scientific results, scientists who are having their work published would pay $1,500 per article for publication and the dissemination of their research. This cost would be incurred up-front and, ostensibly, rolled into the amount of the grant that was bestowed on the scientist to conduct the research.

Smaller, not-for-profit publishers are eyeing these developments carefully. They are looking for the smallest hint of exodus when PLoS Biology is released in October. They are also annoyed that Congress would try to impose standards on their industry (before the PLoS model is deemed a success or a failure) that would run them out of business. Further consolidation of the industry would likely happen, giving the large publishers even more of a monopoly. This runs contrary to America's trust-busting past and is not good for science, either.

In late July, 2004, the House of Representatives' Committee on Appropriations endorsed open access to material published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which would require that all published articles be archived into an online database called PubMed Central, the digital library maintained by the National Library of Medicine (NLM), within six months of publication. This endorsment flows from the idea that research funded through the public sector, which encompasses all public universities and research institutions, should be available to the public free of charge. This model, which is already established in the U.K. under the name of BioMed Central, will also soon be the policy of Germany's Max Planck Society. In November, Congress addressed the NIH open access model in the Consolidated Appropriations Act for FY 2005 (H.R. 4818), directing NIH to provide the estimated costs of implementing their open access policy in its annual Justification of Estimates to the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and "to continue to work with the publishers of scientific journals to maintain the integrity of the peer review system."

In November, 2004, the British government rejected most of the recommendations by a parliamentary committee that favored making the results of state-supported scientific research freely available, denying that there were major problems in accessing scientific information, and asserting that the publishing industry is both "healthy and competitive." While some lawmakers accused the government of bowing to pressure from commercial publishers, others called it "a clear statement of support for the current market and the current system, which confirms that the publishing market is competitive and innovative." Britain is responsible for 5.3 percent of all articles published in scientific, technological, and medical journals around the world, and a governmental commitment to open access would constitute a major victory for the movement's backers. But, even without official endorsement from the government, the councils that disburse public funds for research may elect to follow the parliamentary committee's suggestions. The research councils are in the process of reviewing their strategy and are expected to issue a plan in January, 2004.

Sources: Public Library of Science; The Washington Post; The American Institute of Biological Sciences; The Economist; The Chronicle; Press Release for Senator Cornyn; Press Release for Senator Lieberman

Contributed by Linda Rowan, Director of Government Affairs; Emily Lehr Wallace, Government Affairs Staff; Margaret Anne Baker, Government Affairs Staff; Katie Ackerly, AGI/AAPG 2005 Spring Semester Intern; and Jenny Fisher, 2006 AGI/AAPG Spring Intern.


Please send any comments or requests for information to AGI Government Affairs Program.

Last revised on October 12, 2006