December 18, 2014

FASTR Aims to Speed Open Access to Government-Funded Research

The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) was introduced on February 14 in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. If passed, FASTR would require government agencies with annual extramural research expenditures of more than $100 million make electronic manuscripts of peer-reviewed journal articles based on their research freely available on the Internet within six months of publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

The manuscripts would be preserved in a digital archive maintained either by the agency or in another suitable repository that permits free public access, interoperability, and long-term preservation.

The law is based on the National Institute of Health (NIH) Public Access Policy, as well as the previously-proposed Federal Research Public Access Act, which was introduced last Congressional session (as well as in two previous Congresses), but never made it to a vote. It is co-sponsored in the Senate by Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), and in the House of Representatives by Reps. Mike Doyle (D-PA), Kevin Yoder (R-KS), and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). Doyle had sponsored FRPAA as well.

Affected agencies would include the departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health & Human Services, Homeland Security, and Transportation, as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, and the National Science Foundation. They’d have a year from when the law is enacted to develop implementation policies, which would ask principle investigators to submit an electronic copy of the final manuscript, perhaps similar to the policy already in use by the NIH. (Although NIH estimates that submitting a manuscript takes three to ten minutes, compliance remains far from universal. As a result, the agency recently added the ability to hold up continued grant funding until papers are submitted.)

The  bill is endorsed by the American Library Association, the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries, the Association of College & Research Libraries, the Association of Research Libraries, SPARC, and the Greater Western Library Alliance.

Heather Joseph, executive director of SPARC, told LJ, “I think of FASTR as the sort of “next generation” of FRPAA, building on its basic structure.  For the first time, we have legislation that highlights the value to the public of not only being able to access these articles, but also to use them fully in the digital environment.  Access is only half the battle; allowing researchers, educators and entrepreneurs to  analyze, text mine, and data mine these articles will fully unlock their value.”

ACRL also placed particular emphasis on the fact that the act calls not just for individual article access, but for text and data mining to be allowed. “I am particularly pleased that this legislation addresses both greater access to research and greater reuse through open licensing,” said ACRL President Steven J. Bell, associate university librarian for research and instructional services at Temple University (and LJ columnist). “As scholars undertake new research, it is crucial to build on the works of others who came before. Open licensing is an important step towards a more open system of scholarship as it facilitates subsequent reshaping into new scholarship,” said Bell, urging other academic librarians to attend National Library Legislative Day to lobby for the legislation. And in the meantime the SPARC-directed Alliance for Taxpayer Access urges librarians who support FASTR to write their legislators.

Not all librarians, however, do support the bill. Librarian T. Scott Plutchak, director of the University of Alabama’s Lister Hill Library, in a blog post called Not FASTR Enough, wrote: “The previous FRPAA versions of FASTR haven’t even been able to get a decent congressional hearing.  It’s easy enough for a congressperson to sign on as a co-sponsor, but there doesn’t really seem to be much legislative muscle behind it.  And even if it were, somehow, to get through Congress in the current session, think of the time and money that will be wasted on building the infrastructure necessary for each agency to comply. All for the sake of ‘freeing’ manuscript versions of articles, many of which publishers are already making available.”

GovTrack agrees with Plutchak about the chance of getting it through Congress, giving the bill a 9 percent chance to get out of committee in the Senate, only 6 percent in the House, and only a 1 percent chance of being enacted.

And in a post on The Scholarly Kitchen, Rick Anderson, Interim Dean of the J. Willard Marriott Library at the University of Utah (and LJ columnist) wrote, “On the one hand, [the text mining requirement] seems like a pretty reasonable position. … The HathiTrust project has not been without controversy, but few would argue that its text-mining capability puts the publishing industry at any risk. On the other hand, ‘computational analysis by state-of-the-art technologies’ is a very broad and ambiguous concept. Publishers are being neither stupid nor venal in raising concerns about it. Today’s ‘cutting-edge analysis tool’ may pose no threat at all to a publisher’s ongoing viability, while tomorrow’s may drive it out of business entirely.”

The American Association of Publishers (AAP) opposed the bill, saying that it would waste taxpayer money duplicating work which, it maintains, is unneeded because it is already being performed successfully by the private sector. However the National Institute of Health, on whose reporting requirement the bill is based, says that the total cost of its public access program is neglible—only be .01 percent of its budget even if every eligible manuscript were deposited.

AAP also says “The bill ignores crucial distinctions among federal agencies and scientific disciplines and would attempt to shoehorn every group into a one-size-fits-all mandate,” but scholarly communication librarian Heather Morrison praises it for the reverse, saying, “Technical matters such as addressing best practices for re-use are left to each department to sort out. This is wise, because while the overall guidance provided by this policy is historic in nature, the technology will continue to evolve and so these matters are best addressed at the agency level by regulation and education. For example, the bill mentions open licensing while my advice is that the departments should consider the goals of re-use and whether licensing per se is sufficient to meet the goals, or whether other approaches such as developing standards for formats and metadata to facilitate re-use are more to the point.”

For more on the bill, see INFOdocket.com.

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Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Senior Editor, News and Features of Library Journal.

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Comments

  1. It is quite predictable and laughable that the American Association of Publishers (AAP) would claim this is a waste of money since some of their members make big money charging for research the public paid for. I say good riddance to these parasites, they only serve to line their pockets while at the same time stifling science.