Widgets Magazine

Stanford supports bill for public access to research

In an ongoing effort to raise support for the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), a number of university provosts and presidents, including Provost John Etchemendy, have released an open letter to higher education institutions.

The letter reads as an official endorsement of FRPAA, currently under review by the House of Representatives, and urges “the academic community, individually and collectively, to voice support for its passage.”

If passed, FRPAA would require federal agencies whose research budgets surpass $100 million to provide public access to research findings financed by their grants or pursued by their employees. Researchers receiving this federal funding would be required to submit an electronic copy of scholarly work that has been accepted by a peer-reviewed journal. This material would be made available to the public for free within six months of publication in the journal.

FRPAA would not apply to classified research.

Stanford and UC-Berkeley are among the 27 institutions of higher learning that voiced support for FRPAA. In an e-mail to The Daily, Berkeley Provost George Breslauer wrote that the university “welcomes the increase in access to research on a national level that FRPAA will bring.”

KC Huang, professor of bioengineering, is among the Stanford researchers who believe FRPAA is a valuable development within and beyond academia.

“I feel pretty strongly that having access available to the research that’s done in this country for a wide audience is important for establishing the credibility of science and also encouraging science in the U.S. and abroad,” Huang said. “I think this is the case where we’re making a transition toward a new way of presenting science to the public.”

Seconding this opinion, Breslauer said, “Authors of journal articles typically want their fellow researchers to know their findings as soon as they are published.”

Bearing this in mind, the six-month deadline for public access “should be no problem at all in the academy,” Breslauer said.

Indeed, fulfilling the FRPAA mandate would not seem to be a major challenge for Stanford and Berkeley; both institutions already satisfy the bill’s requirements.

“We already comply with that policy, and since the majority of our on-campus sponsored research is funded by the NIH, the impact won’t be major,” Etchemendy wrote in an e-mail to The Daily.

“Complying with FRPAA will not pose a significant burden on UC-Berkeley,” Breslauer added.

Like Stanford, Berkeley “has already adopted measures necessary to comply with the similar NIH mandate,” Breslauer said. Though no major modifications are anticipated, Breslauer expects that “minimal changes will be necessary to adapt those measures to the FRPAA model.”

Etchemendy commended FRPAA for increasing public access to University research and increasing the dissemination of scholarly work.

“That is a core part of the university’s mission,” Etchemendy said.

Breslauer emphasized that “universities and institutions of higher learning have been moving towards the provision of online content for more than a decade.”

“FRPAA’s mandate is especially important in these times of fiscal austerity, where funding for closed-access content is declining at a rapid rate,” Breslauer added. “It is only through efforts supporting broad public access to the results of federally funded research that we can ensure that persons of varying economic means have access to significant research, paid for by their tax dollars.”

But not all parties have expressed support for FRPAA. Publishers, in particular, have raised objections to the bill, claiming that it would weaken existing copyright laws.

Etchemendy and Breslauer believe such fears are off the mark, though Etchemendy acknowledged that FRPAA might impact publishers’ business models.

“It does not undermine copyright laws, it simply means that the authors will retain some rights that currently get signed over to journal publishers,” Etchemendy said.

Further worries stem from the fact that FRPAA would not provide federal funding to cover the costs of transitioning to online content. Huang said the advantages of the act, however, are “worth the cost.”

“From the perspective of a researcher like myself, I think we at Stanford are very lucky to be able to put our hands on just about any piece of research that is published in journals these days,” Huang said.

  • Transparency

    UCB Chancellor Birgeneau Loss of Credibility, Trust
    The UCB budget gap has grown to $150 million, and still the Chancellor is spending money that isn’t there on expensive outside consultants. His reasons range from the need for impartiality to requiring the “innovative thinking, expertise, and new knowledge” the consultants would bring.

    Does this mean that the faculty and management of a world-class research and teaching institution lack the knowledge, impartiality, innovation, and professionalism to come up with solutions? Have they been fudging their research for years? The consultants will glean their recommendations from interviewing faculty and the UCB management that hired them; yet solutions could be found internally if the Chancellor were doing the job HE was hired to do. Consultant fees would be far better spent on meeting the needs of students.

    There can be only one conclusion as to why creative solutions have not been forthcoming from the professionals within UCB: Chancellor Birgeneau has lost credibility and the trust of the faculty as well as of the Academic Senate leadership that represents them. Even if the faculty agrees with the consultants’ recommendations – disagreeing might put their jobs in jeopardy – the underlying problem of lost credibility and trust will remain.