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Open-Access Costs

Congress should direct the National Academy of Sciences to examine the challenges open-access publishing raises in the US and suggest ways to address those issues, writes Michael Lubell, the director of public affairs of the American Physical Society and City University of New York professor, in a blog post at The Hill.

A bill in the US Senate, S. 779, also known as the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) Act, aims to make federally funded research publicly available. That way, proponents of the bill say, taxpayers who fund research don't have to pay again to see its outcomes. The bill would apply to any researcher working for or funded by a federal agency with a budget greater than $100 million and require those researchers to submit any accepted peer-reviewed paper to a digital repository and enable public access to the manuscript within a year of its publication.

Lubell argues, though, that requiring papers to be freely available to the public will only shift the cost on to researchers and that that cost won't be spread evenly among investigators. The average National Science Foundation grant is $130,000, he notes. Paying open-access publication fees, which he says can reach $3,000 per article, would result in this average lab allocating nearly 10 percent of its grant fees. At the same time, Lubell notes that some fields — particularly in his field of physics — receive smaller grants, but publish the same number of papers, driving up the portion of their grant researchers would have to set aside for fees.

The three outcomes he envisions as a result of such a bill —increased federal research funding to cover costs, outside funding sources to cover fees, or decreased research quality — all present challenges. To that end, he suggests that Congress ask the National Academies to look into it and propose solutions.