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Saturday, October 16, 2021

House bill could restrict access to scientific journals

The Research Works Act, a bill introduced to the House of Representatives by Congressman Darrell Issa (CA-49), proposes to keep federal agencies from distributing privately or publicly funded scientific research without the consent of the publishers.

The bill, formally called HR-3699, states, “No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work.”

The bill further defines “private-sector research work” as research that could be funded by taxpayers, as long as a publisher includes a “value-added contribution, including peer review and editing.”

The Research Works Act could put more control over access and fees of papers to publishers of scientific journals, an idea opposed by open access advocates.

“The bill is a disgrace,” said Jonathan Eisen, a professor in the departments of evolution and ecology, microbiology and immunology and the Genome Center at UC Davis. “It should be trashed entirely.”

Eisen is an advocate of open access publishing in the scientific community. Open access to scientific research involves unrestricted access and unrestricted reuse.

“Right now not only do taxpayers pay for the research, they also pay the salaries of the scientists/doctors to do the work, and they pay for scientists and others to review and edit publications,” Eisen said. “It is ludicrous that then some publishers take those publications and restrict access to them.”

According to Eisen, if this bill passes, it could increase costs to individuals and to institutions such as UC Davis to access these papers. UC Davis currently subscribes to about 52,000 journals, which gives students and faculty access to electronic copies of the papers published within them. However, the high cost of some journals keeps those publications from the UC Davis subscription list.

“This new law basically means that they [the publishers] will have full control over everything that’s been published and they can raise the prices to whatever they want, which will mean only the wealthiest institutions can have the luxury of buying all of those journals in order to read it,” said Daniёl Melters, a senior biochemical, molecular, cellular and developmental biology graduate student.

Melters also supports open access publishing, but is mostly concerned with taxpayers’ ability to access scientific research that was paid for with public money.

“I am all in favor of private companies making money in relation to scientific publishing, but they cannot be allowed to make money simply by co-opting work done via government funds and then charging for it,” Melters said.

Issa introduced the Research Works Act to the House of Representatives, with the help of cosponsor Representative Carolyn Maloney (NY-14), on Dec. 16. The Research Works Act, for which the official full purpose is “To ensure the continued publication and integrity of peer-reviewed research works by the private sector,” was then referred to the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, where it has been since.

AMY STEWART can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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