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Congressman Presses for Broad Open-Access Bill

By a GenomeWeb staff reporter

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – Seeking support for the Federal Research Public Access Act which he recently introduced, Congressman Mike Doyle (D – Penn.) said in a press call today that the law would spur innovation and expand the reach of scientific writings.

Doyle said that the House of Representatives' version of FRPAA will help scientists, research funders, taxpayers, and publishers, alike.

The open-access legislation, which is the House version of a 2009 Senate bill (S. 1397), will enable funders to "gain more from discoveries," taxpayers to "obtain economic and social benefit from leveraging their investment in science," and scientists to get their work out to a broader audience.

FRPAA would apply to all federal agencies that have extramural research funding budgets of over $100 million, and would include the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, The US Department of Agriculture, all of the institutes and centers of the Department of Health and Human Services, and others.

Doyle called the bill a "win-win" for taxpayers as well as for publishers, because the latter will be able to "earn back their investment" in journal articles during the six-month embargo period the law proposes.

As was the case with the open-access policy adopted by the National Institutes of Health in 2008, the journal publishing community does not view the proposal (H.R. 5037) as a victory for its members.

The American Association of Publishers, which represents dozens of journal publishers, has argued that the FRPAA law would cut into journals' revenues and would infringe on their copyright claims.

"The new government mandate proposed by this legislation would result in the government distribution of copyrighted journal articles without compensation," AAP said in a 2009 letter responding to the Senate's FRPAA bill.

"Copyright is essential to protecting these works and to preserving incentives for the private sector to continue to invest in peer review, editing, publishing, and maintaining the electronic record of vetted scientific journal articles," AAP said in the letter, which was directed to Senators Joe Lieberman (I – Conn.) who introduced (S.1376) and chairs the Committee on Homeland Security and Government Affairs, and Susan Collins (R – Me.), who is a ranking member on the committee.

Today, Doyle argued that FRPAA will not harm publishers because it only seeks access to the final manuscript, and not the value-added information that publishers provide, such as charts, graphics, and other supplements.

Also participating in the phone briefing today, which was hosted by the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, was University of Vermont Professor Gary Ward, who said that the law would have a positive impact on researchers. Ward is co-director of the Vermont Center for Immunology and Infectious Diseases and he runs a lab funded by NIH grants.

"Our colleagues deal with restricted access every single day" and they "have to make do without information that would help our research," Ward explained. "Every academic institution faces this problem, from the best public institutions down to the small liberal arts colleges and community colleges."

Ward said that such an open-access law would "encourage new discoveries by enabling new ways to search the literature," and by democratizing science.

"If we're lacking information that can help us, or a new method, we won't do the experiment in the right way," he said, noting that the sciences today are more interconnected and broadly collaborative than they were in the past. "Because we're so interdependent and connected as scientists we share the whole scientific enterprise," he said, pointing out that his own research that starts in basic molecular biology now connects to drug development research that others are doing.

Doyle said today that he wants FRPAA to "move through Congress by the end of the year." He also said that he wants the policy to develop in the legislative branch alongside similar policy plans that are being developed by the White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy, which recently held a public comment period to gather information about open-access policies.