Proposed bill would make federally funded science research results free

Nathan Hall

A Minnesota representative has introduced a bill that would make all federally funded research results available to the public free of charge.

According to Rep. Martin Sabo, D-Minn., Americans are essentially paying for scientific research twice. Taxpayers currently pay $45 billion per year for scientific and medical research, Sabo said in a general press release. But if taxpayers want to see the results of that research, they have to subscribe to private and sometimes expensive journals that publish the results.

Sabo’s proposed Public Access to Science Act is drawing mixed reviews from University officials, despite library budget cuts resulting in hundreds of scientific journal subscriptions not being renewed – nearly 8,000 since 1995, said University librarian Wendy Lougee.

University Provost Christine Maziar said the bill does not clearly define what research to which it would apply.

“However, we are extremely grateful he introduced the concern because some commercial journals may be impeding the dissemination of information. Pricing subscriptions at $20,000 annually is squeezing out informational access,” she said.

David Hamilton, the University’s interim vice president for research, said a few European commercial journals are inflating their fees more than 12 percent per year.

“They’re pricing us out of the market and that’s incredibly detrimental to research institutions like us,” Hamilton said.

Lisa Tomlinson, Sabo’s senior policy adviser, said in an e-mailed response that the bill would not adversely affect the University in terms of funding or prestige.

“The bill would present an even playing field with the rules applying equally to all the researchers,” Tomlinson said.

Ginger Pinholster, press representative for the journal Science, declined to comment because the legislation is still pending.

Others say the legislation could threaten scientific journals, which rely heavily on charging for subscriptions to data access.

Dr. Mark Paller, assistant vice president for the Academic Health Center’s research department, said the bill could harm smaller journals that publish exclusive research data.

Larger, more mainstream journals, on the other hand, would likely not be as affected because they generally have more diverse content, he said.

Paller said if the legislation passes, it could also affect the tenure process. Tenure boards currently consider the prestige of publications in which researchers are published.

Maziar said a particular journal’s prestige is also determined by the rigor of peer review, which translates into dues charged to members by the societies that publish the results.

The San Francisco-based nonprofit Public Library of Science spearheaded the movement to make scientific research freely available online. The library could not be reached for comment.

Tomlinson said the legislation would not change stipulations on classified Department of Defense research, which could potentially aid terrorists.

That issue is moot at the University since it does not accept any unpublishable government or private enterprise research, Maziar said.

In a similar move, the National Institutes of Health announced last week that effective Oct. 1, all grant applications requesting $500,000 or more will be required to include a plan for data sharing. Those who object to the rule must present a clear rationale for why data sharing would not be acceptable.

Nathan Hall covers University research and technology and welcomes comments at [email protected]