Sign up to receive email updates
Doyle Calls for Greater Public Access to Federally Funded Research
Washington, DC – Earlier today, U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA) spoke in favor of policies to increase public access to the results of federally funded research at a panel discussion on that issue held at The Brookings Institution in Washington, DC.
Congressman Doyle has introduced legislation that would require that certain federally funded research be accessible online to the public within 6 months of its publication in a peer-reviewed journal, in order to facilitate innovation and research in the sciences (HR 4004 – the Federal Research Public Access Act.
His statement follows below:
Good afternoon. I would like to thank the Brookings Institution for inviting me to speak here at this important event. Thank you also to our panelists for joining us to continue to work through the issue of public access to federally funded research.
I think everyone here will agree that the Internet has been an agent of remarkable change over the course of the last 20 years. More than anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes, it has revolutionized the way people communicate and the way many businesses operate. It is making it possible for people to talk to families and friends in real time, even when they’re thousands of miles away. And it’s making it easier for innovators and researchers to communicate faster and more effectively. This is what we are here to talk about today. Just like every other Internet user, scientists are also seeking to be able to communicate better through the web. They realize the Internet’s potential to allow them to access information faster and disseminate their research more widely.
There is a substantial benefit from making research more accessible to the public. The more minds are at work on a problem, the better the chance it has of being solved. And scientists know this, which is why they want as many people to see their work as possible.
But in the current political and economic climate, many university libraries are seeing drastic budget cuts. Even the most prominent research institutions in the country are feeling strained by funding reductions. So they are forced to cut back on spending and to cancel subscriptions to important academic journals. To me, this is a very worrisome development.
In Pittsburgh, the region I represent in Congress, we are lucky to have some of the most renowned research institutions in the country – from schools like Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh, to government institutions like the National Energy Technology Lab, to research labs run by private for-profit companies like Westinghouse. These institutions are constantly making advances that create jobs along with revolutionary new products. There are dozens of high-tech companies in western Pennsylvania that are spin-offs from research done at local universities. And much of their work is based in whole or in part on federally funded research.
I think it is critical that we protect the ability of these institutions and others nationwide to innovate. We must not let an economic downturn get in the way of critical research in energy, health care, engineering, and other fields. This country has been home to some of the most vital and influential scientific discoveries in the world, and those discoveries have driven our economy in recent decades.
According to the OECD, the U.S. spent $400 billion dollars on research and development in 2010, and one-third of that money was funded by the federal government. I think we have to do everything we can to get the most out of those research dollars so we can maintain our role as a world leader in research and development. But when libraries have to cut back on journal subscriptions, that has a very serious impact on the ability of college students and university researchers to access the data they need for their work. If that one really great journal article you need isn’t accessible through your library, that’s going to prolong your research process or shift your research in a different direction.
Journal subscriptions are among the largest expenses for libraries – often THE largest. Subscription fees range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to more than 20,000 dollars a year for access to each journal. So the average academic library spends nearly 2 million dollars per year on academic journal subscriptions. That’s a substantial amount of money.
Those subscription fees go to journal publishers, who use them to recoup their costs for copy editing, formatting, and printing an article in a journal. In fact, library subscription fees comprise an estimated 80% of the average journal publisher’s revenue base. While the role of the publishing community has been very significant in disseminating research results, I think it’s noteworthy that the largest commercial publishing companies have made enormous profits from receiving subscription fees. The average profit margin for commercial publishers in 2011 has been estimated at around 35 percent. That’s also a substantial amount of money.
I don’t mean to understate the important function of the publishing community. I think journal publishers contribute a great deal to making a final academic research product presentable to the public. That contribution should be valued and respected. But publishers are also restricting access to that research with such high subscription fees. And that imposes real costs on our society, especially today when our economic growth depends upon knowledge-based industries.
I believe it’s in our national economic interest to help scientists share ideas better, in order to solve crucial research questions faster. Companies that spend their own money on research have an obvious interest in restricting others’ access to their results, and they have every right to do so. But when research is funded by the federal government with taxpayer’s money, the public has the right to see the results.
What’s more, as I suggested a moment ago, our society, more than most, benefits from the rapid dissemination of publicly funded research. And so I believe the federal government has an obligation to ensure that it has policies in place to disseminate the research it funds as rapidly and efficiently as possible.
The bill I introduced in the House of Representatives seeks to find a balance between the business model of journal publishers and the tangible benefits of making federally funded research more broadly accessible. My bill, the Federal Research Public Access Act, would require all agencies with an outside research budget of 100 million dollars or more to make articles supported by federal dollars available online 6 months after publication in a journal.
As many of you know, the White House announced a few years ago that it, too, is interested in the idea of making federally funded research available to the public. I am pleased to see that the Office of Science and Technology Policy in the White House has collected comments from the public about this issue, and is currently preparing recommendations for next steps. I eagerly await the outcome of the OSTP process.
One thing we already know for sure is that public access policies have not been demonstrated to cause financial harm to the publishing industry – quite the opposite, in fact. Since the National Institutes of Health implemented its policy four years ago as a result of congressional mandate, no publisher has reported subscription cancellations resulting from the articles being available on the NIH’s PubMed Central web site.
On the other hand, I have heard a whole lot of praise for the NIH’s effort from a wide range of students, scientists, libraries, and university chancellors. Even some publishers have come out in support of the NIH policy, as well as my bill, because they see the value in giving something back to the public that funds the research they publish.
My bill spells out a shorter, 6-month embargo than the NIH’s 12-month policy contains. Some have raised concerns that 6 months are too short for the publishing industry. But to this date, I have not received any credible data to show that a longer embargo is necessary. In fact, most of the funders around the world who have similar public access policies, like the Research Councils in the UK and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, use a 6-month embargo period. Like them, I think taxpayers should have access to articles as quickly as possible. But I am working with our stakeholders on this point and will be glad to continue this important conversation.
I hope that the panel discussion today will delve into some of these issues in greater detail so that our audience can continue to learn more about why public access is so important for education and innovation. I’m glad we’re having events like this because I think this issue really does speak to our nation’s role as a leader in scientific development. Thank you again for having me here.