ISCB to respond to Research Works Act (HR 3699)

By Grant Jacobs 11/01/2012 5

Most readers will by now be aware of the considerable fuss over a bill being presented to the U.S. House of Representatives that will (to my understanding) revert the requirement that centrally (NIH) funded research in the USA be published in an open-access manner. There has been widespread commentary on this bill.*

A key international organisation representing computational biologists is the International Society for Computational Biology. Below is a transcript of a letter they have distributed in response to the filing of this bill:

Dear ISCB Members and Colleagues,

As many of you may be aware, the U.S. House of Representatives has recently been presented with a bill called the Research Works Act (HR 3699) that threatens the current U.S. requirements of public access to federally funded research results. ISCB strongly opposes this bill. Burkhard Rost, ISCB President, and Richard Lathrop, ISCB Public Affairs & Policies Committee Chair, are drafting a letter to the bill’s authors that expresses our opposition and emphasizes the importance of the ISCB Public Policy Statement on Open Access to Scientific and Technical Research Literature that was released in 2010. If you are a member of ISCB and have not yet signed on to our statement, you are invited to do so at your earliest opportunity via the link to current signatories on the policy page noted above.

Thank you,

BJ Morrison McKay, ISCB Executive Officer

on behalf of Burkhard Rost, Richard Lathrop, and the ISCB Board of Directors

(Embedded link as in original.)

Although this issue is nominally one for researchers based in USA, it sets a precedent. With that in mind it deserves wide consideration, including by those outside of the USA.

The bill refers to ’private-sector research work’ is the key passages, but my current understanding is that this reference makes public-sector work become private-sector once private-sector publishers** ‘add value’ in the form of addition steps such as co-ordinating peer-review,*** editing, etc. Janet Stemwedel has some thoughts on this. Whichever way you interpret this, computational biologists will want to understand the direction the community is taking.


* This is only a small sampler. There’s a lot more commentary out there.

** Rather than private-sector researchers, as it might be misread.

*** They don’t do the peer-review: that’s done unpaid by researchers.

Other articles on Code for life:

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Computational biologists at ScienceOnline2012

Who has the most bioinformatics scientists?

Reproducible research and computational biology

The Roots of Bioinformatics in Theoretical Biology

5 Responses to “ISCB to respond to Research Works Act (HR 3699)”

  • 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…

  • […] An earlier article on this same issue on this blog links to a few of the early commentaries on-line. Since then has branched out, drawing very wide commentary elsewhere, with one arm of protest largely directed at major academic publisher Elsevier. One of many places to pick up the thread on this on-going story is the latest of four articles* by crystallographer Stephen Curry at his blog, Reciprocal Space. Another source of commentary would be to draw from the References in the wikipedia entry, or simply search on-line. There’s more than you can possibly read. One of the more off-beat developments has been a satirical twitter stream,@FakeElsevier. […]

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