March 11, 2014 | By Adi Kamdar

House Introduces FIRST Act, and It's Still Awful for Open Access

The campaign for open access to publicly funded research was going in the right direction: the White House issued a strong mandate last year, federal agencies have taken up the mantle to create public access policies, and the solid open access bill FASTR was introduced in both the House and the Senate.

And then yesterday happened. House Science Committee Chair Lamar Smith and Rep. Larry Buchson introduced the FIRST Act (PDF), a scientific research bill that contains language that sends the progress made on the open access front in the exact opposite direction. We've written about this bill's bad draft language before, and we hoped the substance would change before the bill was introduced. Unfortunately, it did not.

Markup is on Thursday. Tell your lawmakers that the FIRST Act is not the open access reform we need, and to support FASTR instead.

Section 303 of the FIRST Act—which stands for the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology Act, H.R. 4186—restricts access to publicly funded research articles by up to three years. This is unheard of in the world of public access. The current NIH policy, for example, makes sure important health research is publicly available within a year. A three year delay is chilling to scientific and technological progress, especially when many researchers and startups cannot access articles in the first place due to exorbitant journal costs.

The bill also still allows federal agencies to link to final copies of articles, rather than archive them themselves. As the publishing industry is in a period of flux right now, this option is far from scalable; archiving the papers, which is what the NIH—which is responsible for $30 billion of the federal research budget—already does, clearly is a more sustainable option. Having a more centralized source for research papers also lends itself better to meta-analysis and downstream work.

Section 303 puts up too many unnecessary obstacles that hinder the research, academic, and technological communities that its STEM mandate hopes to spur. A prime example: the bill calls for agencies to go through an 18-month planning period to figure out how to implement its policies, which they are already going through right now through the White House mandate. When it comes to FIRST, the only winners are big publishers, who have clearly hijacked the bill's language to serve their own needs.

Let's stop this nonsense. Demand open access reform that actually works.

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