Call Your Congress Critter: The Research Works Act

January 12, 2012

Websearch your CongressCritter and navigate to the email / reply form. Then give him or her an earful (eyeful) about the attempt by Reps Maloney and Issa to discontinue the requirement for public funded science to be made publicly available (by the Omnibus Appropriation passed in Mar 2009).

Please. Put your Critter on alert that this is bad legislation that is bad for taxpayers. Additional detail is after the jump.

Michael Eisen had the call in a blog 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 [NIH Public Access] 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. This industry already makes generous profits charging universities and hospitals for access to the biomedical research journals they publish. But unsatisfied with feeding at the public trough only once (the vast majority of the estimated $10 billion dollar revenue of biomedical publishers already comes from public funds), they are seeking to squeeze cancer patients and high school students for an additional $25 every time they want to read about the latest work of America’s scientists.

and then an Op-Ed piece in the New York Times.

But in fact, the journals receive billions of dollars in subscription payments derived largely from public funds. The value they say they add lies primarily in peer review, the process through which works are assessed for validity and significance before publication. But while the journals manage that process, it is carried out almost entirely by researchers who volunteer their time. Scientists are expected to participate in peer review as part of their employment, and thus the publicly funded salaries most of them draw through universities or research organizations are yet another way in which taxpayers already subsidize the publishing process.

Rather than rolling back public access, Congress should move to enshrine a simple principle in United States law: if taxpayers paid for it, they own it.

I was outraged by Rep Maloney’s response to this blogger’s request to stop her efforts:

Two-thirds of the access to PubMed central is from non-US users. In effect, current law is giving our overseas scientific competitors in China and elsewhere important information for free. We are already losing scientists due to a reduction in funding for federal research. This policy now sends our value-added research papers overseas at no cost.

This part is stupid, just plain stupid. China and other countries can buy access to the journals. There is no block. And the costs, while not trivial for researchers, Universities and the NIH budget under the present system, are certainly manageable by a sovereign nation. The “cost” return via fees paid to publishers, many of which are not even US based companies (I think? Elsevier is Dutch, Springer German and NPG English whoops, German again!, amirite? no?) are trivial against the NIH funds expended to generate the research in the first place. So come on. If this is about protectionism, she’s going to have to do a LOT better than this Research Works Act.

Rep Maloney continues:

Finally, as people continue to struggle during these difficult economic times, it is important to be mindful of the impact of various industries on job creation and retention. New York State is home to more than 300 publishers that employ more than 12,000 New Yorkers, many of whom live in or around New York City in my district. New York City scientific publishers represent a significant subset of the total, and more than 20 are located in Manhattan, publishing thousands of scientific journals and employing thousands of New Yorkers. This bill saves American jobs. No industry could survive a model whereby they invest private dollars and are then required to give it to the federal government to disseminate the final product for free.

Gak. What about the scientists who have jobs? What about the biotech industries and suppliers? What about these jobs being lost because public funds better devoted to the actual conduct of research are being siphoned off into the publishing industry? Every dollar that goes to prop up for-profit scientific publishing could be better spent on non-profit publishing and have some left over for supporting the actual research as well. The argument is shortsighted.

One can’t help but repeat Michael Eisen’s observation that of 31 contributions in FY2012 made by people associated with publishing giant Elsevier, 12 of those went to Rep Maloney and 2 went to Rep Issa. If any of you live in districts near Reps Austria, Cobles, Conyers, Cummings, Marino, Price, Rehberg, Roskam, Ryan, Schwartz, Tonko or Turner…you may want to ask them what’s up with their Elsevier love.

No Responses Yet to “Call Your Congress Critter: The Research Works Act”

  1. See:
    “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.

    It is a huge miscalculation to weigh the potential gains or losses from providing or not providing open access to publicly funded research in terms of gains or losses to the publishing industry: Lost or delayed research progress mean losses to the growth and productivity of both basic research and the vast R&D industry in all fields, and hence losses to the US economy as a whole.

    What needs to be done about public access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications resulting from federally funded research?

    The minimum policy is for all US federal funders to mandate (require), as a condition for receiving public funding for research, that: (i) the fundee’s revised, accepted refereed final draft of (ii) all refereed journal articles resulting from the funded research must be (iii) deposited immediately upon acceptance for publication (iv) in the fundee’’s institutional repository, with (v) access to the deposit made free for all (OA) immediately (no OA embargo) wherever possible (over 60% of journals already endorse immediate gratis OA self-archiving), and at the latest after a 6-month embargo on OA.

    It is the above policy that H.R.3699 is attempting to make illegal…


  2. Pinko Punko Says:

    You want to lose your lunch, check out the Elsevier VP in Eisen’s comments talking about all this value added and how it all costs money. Of course the reviewing is donated, the ed boards are donated (as noted), but worse, papers are not published for free, there are page charges AND Elsevier is profitable, so what is the problem, Dear Tom?

    Unfortunately for the gentleman, he comes across as an oil slick. Want a single article from Nature? 36 bucks! Have fun, cancer-interested cancer survivor- this knowledge is not for you. I shouldn’t pick on Nature, of course they are letting deep-pocketed (still running guns?) Elsevier take the lead.


  3. drugmonkey Says:

    Eisen notes that Rep Maloney’s reply to her constituent sounds suspiciously similar to points made by an Elsevier representative on Eisen’s blog a few days ago.


  4. Pinko Punko Says:

    How about this: NIH says that NIH-funded researchers are not allowed to peer review for journals that do not submit to PMC after one year? Or that NIH-funded researchers must be compensated if they review for those journals or have positions on the editorial boards? This could be because they do not want the appearance of “cost-sharing” between NIH funds and these duties. How would Elsevier like them apples?


  5. SewScientific Says:

    This is a ridiculous ploy by publishing giants to keep nickel and diming. Good point mentioning that a big bulk of the work done in paper publishing is by the scientists doing peer review. And don’t forget we then have to pay the journals hefty page costs to get published – even if they are an online only journal. I don’t feel sorry for these guys at all.


  6. Jill Says:

    Instead of using their website’s contact form, you can also sign into Popvox or Open Congress etc. and write your congressmen through there. You can express opposition to SOPA and other things while you’re at it. 🙂


  7. drugmonkey Says:

    Congress critters pay very little attention to advocacy drummed up by automated systems. It is always a better idea to take the extra three minutes to find the Critter’s own web form. Also better to take another five and state your opinion in your own words.


  8. […] A: Well, if a proposed US law passes (no, not the well-known one), there won’t be any original research available on the web to link to, so we might as well get used to it.  [NYT, Guardian, Scientific American, The Atlantic, Wired, others] […]


  9. Bryan O. Says:

    Thanks for the thoughts you have shared here.


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