Alliance for Taxpayer Access

Press conference: Congressman Doyle to address new bill to unlock U.S. $60 billion investment in research

Wednesday, April 21, 2010, 9:30 – 10:00 AM
Hosted by the Alliance for Taxpayer Access (

Representative Mike Doyle (D-PA), leading co-sponsor of the Federal Research Public Access Act (H.R. 5037)

Good morning. I’m Congressman Mike Doyle.  I appreciate the opportunity this morning to talk to you about legislation I’ve just introduced—HR 5037, the Federal Research Public Access Act.

When a federally-funded researcher writes a paper, too often that paper gets locked away behind a “pay-wall” and anyone who wants to learn from that federally-funded research has to pay exorbitant subscription or one-time fees. 

Science benefits when scientists are able to make connections—sometimes from across different fields of study. 

The public benefits when it’s able to read about a rare disease whose only discussion is in a scientific paper. 

Other major funders of scientific research—especially in health like the NIH and private foundations like Autism Speaks – are increasingly requiring the papers they fund to be available to the public. 

Some universities such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford and the University of Kansasrequire papers written by their professors to be made available to the public. 

I believe we’d all benefit from greater access to cutting edge research, but several specific groups would probably benefit most:

Publishers, who—with a long six-month exclusive embargo—can still earn back the value that they add for copyediting and page layout.

It’s not hard to think of the high school student who wants to major in medicine or science digging around the database looking for ideas.

Nor is it hard to foresee investigators looking at research in other disciplines to get ideas they can apply to their discipline.

Or for a college student at an undergrad institution getting access to a journal their college has never purchased.

Or a researcher’s publication getting cited more often in other studies because it’s easier to find and its reach extended past its original journal’s readers.

That’s why I’ve introduced the Federal Research Public Access Act, which would require federal agencies with annual extramural research budgets of $100 million or more to provide the public with online access to research manuscripts stemming from funded research no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

I’ve been working on this issue since 2006, when the National Institutes of Health was being reauthorized.

I’m pleased to note that since 2006, the Appropriations Committee has expanded the NIH’s public access requirements, but they still only apply to NIH.

In 2009, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) expressed interest in public access policies and issued a request for public comment on mechanisms that would leverage federal investments in scientific research and increase access to information that promises to stimulate scientific and technological innovation and competitiveness.

This bill would give OSTP Congressional direction to help it help agencies craft public access policies. I want OSTP to write the strongest, best rule possible.  But even they need help, and this legislation would give them that.

I believe that this bill strikes a good balance between the needs of scientists and the rights of taxpayers and the financial interests of publishers who have historically published this research in peer-reviewed, usually expensive subscription publications. The bill gives publishers an exclusive six-month period in which the information will be available to subscribers, and it allows them to continue to market the additional value they add to these manuscripts when they publish them.

I hope that we can move this bill through Congress before the end of the year.

James V. Maher, Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor, University of Pittsburgh

Thank you. And let me start as a constituent of Representative Doyle’s, thanking him for sponsoring this legislation. I do think it’s important legislation for the development of science and for the strengthening of the ability of the researchers of the country to help develop the country’s economy. This bill will, as the representative has already said so eloquently, be very fair to the publishers. Essentially all of us who can afford those journals now will be continuing to buy them because we can’t afford to wait six months to get at the information. But in the meantime, the results of a lot of federally funded research are not available to the broader scientific community, who could use it well if they could get access to it. So, six months after the publishers have published and sold their journals to everyone who will buy them, this information will be available to other researchers and to the general public. That’s the kind of access our colleges and universities need to accelerate the pace of research and discovery in this modern, fast-paced environment. It will enable us to maximize the downstream use of our institutions’ investments in research and fuel the nation’s competitiveness agenda in the way that we do believe that university-based research does do and could do more. [It will] provide a level playing field, democratizing access to the results of publicly funded research so that people at less affluent institutions and people who are working on their own will be able to get access to this information. I think the bill is extremely important and I do thank Cg Doyle for sponsoring it.

Gary Ward, Professor of Microbiology & Molecular Genetics, and Co-Director, Vermont Center for Immunology and Infectious Diseases, University of Vermont

I don’t feel I can start without thanking Congressman Doyle for his efforts on this issue. My colleagues and I very excited about the many ways in which this bill will help our research and our teaching, as I’ll try to explain in a minute. We’re very grateful to the congressman for his leadership on this issue.

As Heather said, I’m on the faculty at the University of Vermont. My role in this group of distinguished speakers is to provide the perspective of someone who’s in the trenches. I know Dr. Maher was in the trenches for a few years; I’m still in the trenches: I run a research lab that studies infectious disease. I’m funded by three federal grants from the National Institutes of Health. I also teach medical and graduate students. I want to start off by saying that, in our role as researchers and educators, my colleagues and I deal with this issue of restricted access to the literature every single day.

In the lab, I frequently find that I have to essentially make do without articles that would clearly help my research. For example, new methods that we would like to learn that other people have developed, experiments that others have done that will help us decide the best way to do our experiments.

In my role as educator, I often find myself teaching my graduate and medical students what I have access to rather than what they most need to know. Just as one example, in a recent lecture I was preparing for our medical students on how drugs can get across the barrier between the blood and the brain to treat neurological disease, I was only able to access about two thirds of the articles that I needed in order to make sure that I was providing these budding young doctors with everything they needed to know about the subject. I can tell you that’s extremely frustrating to me as an educator and it’s clearly not in the best interests of my students.

I also want to stress, as Dr. Maher just pointed out, this problem isn’t unique to the University of Vermont. Every academic institution faces this problem – from the best-funded private institutions down to the small liberal arts colleges and community colleges. It’s just a question of degree. I would say the small liberal arts colleges and community colleges really are severely disadvantaged by this issue.

The other myth I just wanted to address is—one of the arguments you’ll hear from people who oppose this legislation is—that everyone who needs access already has access. This is simply not true. There’s plenty of data showing that providing greater access to an article results in more people reading it.

Having said that, given these problems, let me take a minute or two to flesh out why I, as a researcher, think this legislation is so important and how it will benefit science. You can make a compelling argument for such a policy based on how it will encourage new discoveries by enabling a whole new way to search the literature – based on text mining for example or how it will enable some powerful new ways to integrate the various databases that we scientists use on a daily basis or as doctor Maher pointed out how it will democratize science. These are all very good and strong arguments, compelling arguments.  

But, in fact, the main reason why I so strongly support greater access to the literature is more fundamental. Congressman Doyle touched on this. The research that I do every day in the lab is really only valuable insofar as other people read it. The more widely my results are disseminated, the more readily they can be applied and built upon by other scientists. And, likewise, when I’m sitting in my office with a graduate student planning out experiments for the week, if we’re lacking information on a new method that can help us or a new finding that impacts how we interpret our data, we’re working at a disadvantage and chances are we won’t do the experiment in the best possible way or sometimes even the right experiment.

This is the message that I really want to get across. Because we are so interdependent and connected as scientists, the whole scientific enterprise relies on the widest possible sharing of results. Otherwise, people end up reinventing the wheel or going down blind alleys they didn’t need to, or – worst of all in my mind – missing those insights, those sort of “a-ha” moments, that come from the work of others that very frequently affect how we do our own research.

Moving back to FRPAA, this sort of perspective is not just true for biomedical research, which I’m involved in, but for all forms of science. And that’s why public access needs to be expanded beyond just NIH-funded biomedical research, if we want to get the most out of for every dollar we spend on research.

Just one more point: this idea of interdependence has become even more critical as research has become more and more cross-disciplinary, in these recent years. My own research, for example, has moved from studying the basic biology of these agents toward drug development.  As a result, we now collaborate very closely with chemists. I have to say I’ve been shocked to learn that, as problematic as I feel access to the biomedical research is, access to the chemistry literature is even worse. This again convinces me that we need to expand this policy. So, whether someone is working on drug development for infectious disease, as we are, or clean energy technology that might involve research at the interface of, let’s say, microbiology and engineering or global warming studies that involve ecology and meteorology, it’s really important that everyone have access to as much information as possible to make sure that science advances as quickly as possible in order to address some of these pressing problems we face.