Debate on access to federally-funded research 'unnecessarily contentious'

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Library and publishing communities depend on each other, but there is very little real conversation in the “unnecessarily contentious” debate on access to peer reviewed research, said Scott Plutchak, director of Lister Hill Library at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He and others spoke March 29 before a House Science, Space and Technology subcommittee on investigations and oversight.

“All parties in this debate agree that increased public access is a good thing. It’s good for the economy, it’s good for science," said Frederick Dylla, executive director and chief executive officer at the American Institute of Physics. But the current system of scholarly communications does more than enough to increase access to publicly-funded  research, said Dylla. 

Section 103 of the America COMPETES Act called for all stakeholders, including publishers, to work together to increase public access to scholarly publications, grantee reports and associated data, said Dylla. This legislation sparked important collaborations, he added.

“Partnerships with the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy have produced pilot programs that link grantee reports to publications, support data mining across agency and publisher platforms, and provide new tools and methodology for identifying publicly funded work,” said Dylla.

But according to Plutchak, some open access advocates are pushing for the passage of the Federal Research Public Access Act, or FRPAA.

“I’m afraid they’re being short-sighted,” said Plutchak.

FRPAA (H.R. 4004), which was introduced Feb. 9 by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and 26 cosponsors, would require open public access to research federally funded by 11 agencies. It would require those agencies to create online repositories of federally-funded journal articles and research, which the agency would maintain and make freely available within 6 months of the time it was published in a peer-review journal.

“The true value of peer reviewed literature comes from context, when it is connected to the work that comes before it and provides a foundation for what we build upon it. Because FRPAA focuses so much on access to individual copies of articles, it falls far short of what could be and needs to be achieved,” Plutchak said.

Federally funded research should be freely available, but Plutchak said federal agencies may not be best suited to ensure corrections are made, “the retractions are handled when necessary and that context is preserved.”

For more:
- go to the hearing page (prepared testimony and archived webcast available)

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