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The Research Works Act would deny taxpayers access to federally funded research.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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The short of it (covered in depth by Michael Eisen, and Razib tipped me off to the issue) is that Carolyn Maloney, a congresswoman funded by Elsevier, which is a major for-profit publishing company, is trying to pass the Research Works Act, which would deny Americans free access to research funded by taxpayer money. Currently, any research funded by the National Institute of Health must be made freely available to the public 12 months after publication. You can see why for-profit publishing companies do not like this policy. After 12 months, they can no longer turn a profit on any research they publish that was funded by the NIH. From Eisen’s post:

The policy has provided access for physicians and their patients, teachers and their students, policymakers and the public to hundreds of thousands of taxpayer-funded studies that would otherwise have been locked behind expensive publisher paywalls, accessible only to a small fraction of researchers at elite and wealthy universities.

The policy has been popular – especially among disease and patient advocacy groups fighting to empower the people they represent to make wise healthcare decision, and teachers educating the next generation of researchers and caregivers.

But the policy has been quite unpopular with a powerful publishing cartels that are hellbent on denying US taxpayers access to and benefits from research they paid to produce.


So I urge you to call/write/email/tweet Representative Maloney today, and tell her you support taxpayer access to biomedical research results. Ask her why she wants cancer patients to pay Elsevier $25 to access articles they’ve already paid for. And demand that she withdraw H.R. 3699.

Representative Maloney:

Twitter: @RepMaloney @CarolynBMaloney

Phone: 202-225-7944

FAX: 202-225-4709

Email: Use this form

EDIT: Thanks to commenter Cogitari for pointing out something I originally meant to put in this post, which is that writing to your OWN congressperson may be your best bet at getting a response. You can find your congresspeople by going to and and using the search tool in the top right corner of each.

My fellow SciAm-blogger Janet has a post up discussing the ethical issues involved in the proposed act:

Let’s take this at the most basic level. If public money is used to fund scientific research, does the public have a legitimate expectation that the knowledge produced by that research will be shared with the public? If not, why not?

Kevin Zelnio has a good discussion of the topic up on his blog, and there’s also a roundup of blog posts on the topic here.Site Meter

Michelle Clement About the Author: Michelle Clement has a B.Sc. in zoology and a M.Sc. in organismal biology, both from The Ohio State University. Her thesis research was on the ecophysiology of epidermal lipids and water homeostasis in house sparrows. She now works as a technical editor for The American Chemical Society. Like this blog on Facebook. Follow on Twitter @physilology.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

Comments 14 Comments

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  1. 1. StevanHarnad 8:37 pm 01/7/2012

    “Research Works Act H.R.3699:
    The Private Publishing Tail Trying To Wag The Public Research Dog, Yet Again”


    The US Research Works Act (H.R.3699): “No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that — (1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or (2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.”

    Translation and Comments:

    “If public tax money is used to fund research, that research becomes “private research” once a publisher “adds value” to it by managing the peer review.”

    [Comment: Researchers do the peer review for the publisher for free, just as researchers give their papers to the publisher for free, together with the exclusive right to sell subscriptions to it, on-paper and online, seeking and receiving no fee or royalty in return].

    “Since that public research has thereby been transformed into “private research,” and the publisher’s property, the government that funded it with public tax money should not be allowed to require the funded author to make it accessible for free online for those users who cannot afford subscription access.”

    [Comment: The author's sole purpose in doing and publishing the research, without seeking any fee or royalties, is so that all potential users can access, use and build upon it, in further research and applications, to the benefit of the public that funded it; this is also the sole purpose for which public tax money is used to fund research.]”

    H.R. 3699 misunderstands the secondary, service role that peer-reviewed research journal publishing plays in US research and development and its (public) funding….

    Link to this
  2. 2. JamesDavis 8:03 am 01/8/2012

    If the scientist or the university want their research published by an outside independent “worthy” publishing company that can provide immediate access their work to people around the world, they cannot expect to get that done for free. All publishing companies have bills to pay and employees to pay the same as you do. The only way a chosen publishing company (preferably a digital one like my company) can present the research for free to the public is if the government, the scientist, or the university, or all three, pays the publisher a set fee for each research paper that the scientist wants published. I, as an all digital publishing company, Davis E-Book Publishing – would be willing to publish the scientists work and present it to the public around the world for free if the government included a modest publishing fee, say $10 thousand dollars per research paper, in with the grant they give to the scientist or university. You may not be able to find another publishing company willing to publish such advanced work as science and medical research for that low a fee that can immediately present it to the whole world.

    Link to this
  3. 3. Cogitari 12:37 pm 01/8/2012

    Most politicians only pay attention to letters from people in their own district (if that). So writing to your own congressperson is more likely to have an effect.

    Psychology tells us that people with a vested self-interest are pretty much incapable of setting it aside and figuring out what the right thing to do is (and also seem incapable of admitting their inability), so the question here is whether the publishers have enough money to sway enough politicians to get this legislation passed.

    Link to this
  4. 4. MichelleClement 12:39 pm 01/8/2012

    Nobody expects open access for free (at least nobody with any idea of how publishing works). For example, the American Chemical Society (who I am employed by) offers authors the option to pay a one-time fee of $1,000-3,000 (depending on various factors) to have their accepted peer-reviewed paper Open Access immediately upon web publication in any of their 40+ journals.

    James, does your publishing company use peer-review prior to publication?

    Link to this
  5. 5. MichelleClement 12:40 pm 01/8/2012

    Cogitari, that’s a good point. I meant to put a note in there about writing your own congressperson as well, but I must have left it out. I’ll add that in.

    Link to this
  6. 6. JamesDavis 1:31 pm 01/8/2012

    “MichelleClement”: No, Michelle, right now, we publish authors in all genre from around the world. If we published medical and scientific research papers, I do not know how that works, but I imagine that the author of the paper would send the peer review with their research; if they do not then the research would also be free to the peer review and their review would be made available with the research.

    Link to this
  7. 7. priddseren 3:46 am 01/9/2012

    There should be minimal Federally Funded anything but if the Taxpayer pays for it, then it is public domain. That is it. If a private company wants to keep their research private, then they should do that research on their own dime. This insanity, where taxpayers pay for some research a private company can then make money from by blocking all access to the information is insane, worse if the company can make a patent on something they did not pay for. So make it simple, if you are any person or company and you take taxpayer money, then what you use that money for is public domain. This should include the details of union contracts, the details on just about anything with perhaps a restriction on information that could compromise inteligence or military operations and that does not mean the government and these researches can use this exception as justification to claim everything is national security.

    If you do the research on your own and sell a finished product to the government, then you have every right to keep the efforts of your work and what you paid for private or do anything you want with it.
    If you dont like the public having access to what they pay for, then dont get take the public’s money for research. If you dont want the public to know the details of your contract with the government, don’t do government contracts.

    Link to this
  8. 8. MichelleClement 7:54 am 01/9/2012

    priddseren, you misunderstood the point. It is NOT the researchers or their institutions who are supporting this act (in fact, all researchers I’ve talked to are very adamantly against the act). Rather, it is the publishing companies that publish the results of the research who want to keep the results from being open access.

    Link to this
  9. 9. Just saying 12:33 pm 01/9/2012

    At the end of the day, the user-fee model of a reader pays is far more efficient and fair than requiring all taxpayers pay for free access to something that 99.9% of people don’t want/wouldn’t understand.

    This debate has been and continues to be an astroturf campaign on behalf a small group of technologists that want their legacy to be that of “opening access” (read: demanding free access) to a set of journals that only they and their peers can understand. Well, them and the schools that would love to pass the fee for publications to the taxpayers. For the patient community, all this does is take grant money away from actual research, cost shifting it away from affluent researchers and well-endowed institutions. Meanwhile, most large publishers have policies that if a patient requests an article, they are granted free access to it anyway.

    No STEM education will be hurt by the proposed legislation. Instead, you will continue to have access, just not free access (like most things in life and your education). Much like a museum – it might have been built with public funds, but there is an efficient and fair user fee on only those folks that choose to use the facility.

    Stop asking everyone to pay for your trips to go see the dinosaurs.

    Link to this
  10. 10. MichelleClement 12:39 pm 01/9/2012

    #9: This isn’t a discussion about open access publishing, although it is a tangential issue. This is about research that was done using public funds. Right now, all research that is conducted using funding from the NIH (which gets its money from the taxpayers) is required to be made public after 12 months AT NO FURTHER COST to the taxpayers. We aren’t talking about forcing the taxpayers to pay for everyone to have access, we’re talking about them having FREE access to research that their tax money paid to conduct in the first place.

    Link to this
  11. 11. MichelleClement 12:40 pm 01/9/2012

    From here on out I will probably just delete comments from people who can’t be bothered to figure out what the post is even talking about.

    Link to this
  12. 12. Just saying 12:50 pm 01/9/2012

    Of course it’s an open access discussion. Why do you think the bill was introduced?

    Before you ask taxpayers to pay for the articles that you and a small section of the population want to read, I would ask you to better define what you intend to make free? The research? Well, call up the researcher. the end of grant report? Well, not many PIs I know put all of their findings in there, but sure, if that was done while the PI was still being funded by the taxpayers, OK. But you’re talking about an article, that the PI has asked a journal to peer review and publish. The taxpayer doesn’t fund the journal. So why should their product be free?

    Let’s take it one step further. Say the PI invents a new product or medical device with the taxpayer funded research. Should that product be free? If a developer invested money, shouldn’t we prorate the cost of the product by the amount the taxpayer invested?

    The fact is, OA proponents’ arguments have never been principled. They have never defined key terms, IP or property. They simply want something for free based on an overgeneralized and inaccurate argument that a journal article belong to taxpayers.

    Researchers and MDs, by the national standard, are affluent. They also represent a very very small section of the population that actually wants journal articles. Why would you then ask all taxpayers to earmark $1000-$3000 per grant, money that could be used for actual research, to pay for the publication process, when, at the moment, you have a very efficient user-fee model that asks a very affluent, educated and specialized class to pay for their own articles?

    Link to this
  13. 13. Just saying 12:53 pm 01/9/2012

    I’m not sure why you would want to delete posts that get to the heart of a lively debate.

    To get more at the heart, I think we’ve done a poor job in this country determining when the taxpayer’s investment in federally funded research actually ends. I tend to think an OA approach along those lines is a lazy policy fix that passes the buck from scientists to the taxpayers. But I’m certainly open to hearing both sides.

    Link to this
  14. 14. AAPCommunications 1:16 pm 01/11/2012

    The Research Works Act does not deny taxpayers access; in fact, commercial and non-profit publishers are already providing access through a variety of channels.

    Link to this

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