With Introduction of FASTR, Congress Picks up the Pace on Open Access Legislation
By Heather Joseph
The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), introduced today in both the House and the Senate, represents an important step forward in the legislative progression toward the goal of Open Access to publicly funded research. Based on the framework laid out by the highly successful NIH Public Access Policy, (as well as the previously-proposed Federal Research Public Access Act) the bill proposes terms and conditions that fully enable digital reuse of publicly funded research articles - as well as calling for their timely, barrier-free availability.
FASTR hones in on federal science agencies, applying to only those with annual extramural research expenditures of $100 million or more. The bill calls for manuscripts of journal articles resulting from publicly funded research to be made freely available online to the public through a digital archive maintained or designated by the agency that permits free public access to those manuscripts, enables their robust reuse, and ensures their interoperability and long-term preservation.
Fittingly introduced on the day that marks the start of the Open Access Movement (today is the 11th anniversary of the release of the Budapest Open Access Initiative BOAI), the bipartisan FASTR Act challenges U.S. policymakers to think not only about the accessibility of publicly funded articles, but also to consider the importance of maximizing their utility in the digital environment – the twin pillars of the BOAI definition of Open Access.
Along with a strong emphasis on the need to leverage the power of the Internet to share articles resulting from federally funded scientific research broadly and quickly (the text suggests a maximum embargo period of 6 months), the proposed bill underscores the value of reuse, and includes in its findings that Congress notes that:
“The United States has a substantial interest in maximizing the impact of the research it funds by enabling a wide range of reuses of the peer-reviewed literature reporting the results of such research, including by enabling automated analysis by state-of-the-art technologies.”
To support this finding, FASTR calls for affected agencies to require articles be provided in formats and under terms that ensure researchers have the ability to freely apply cutting-edge analysis tools and technologies to the full collection of digital articles resulting from public funding.
This is a crucial step. As the volume of research information increases, with a mind-boggling 1.5 million research articles published each year, no person can realistically hope to make full sense of this information by simply accessing and reading individual articles on their own. We must enable computers as a new category of reader to help power through this volume, thousands of articles at a time, and to highlight patterns, links, and associations that would otherwise go undiscovered. Computational tools like text mining and data mining are crucial to achieving this, and have the potential to revolutionize the research process.
This is an important and timely consideration, and one well worth taking the time to educate all policymakers, researchers, and members of the public about. The recent tragedy of Aaron Swartz, arrested for allegedly downloading massive amounts of journal articles, effectively highlighted the need for policies that promote not only better access to journal articles but also provide users the ability to work with them in new ways. Today, digital articles are essentially stored as data, and we should enable all users to treat them as such.
The introduction of FASTR is an opportunity for us to take a giant collective step in this very important direction.
Thanks to the Congressional sponsors of FASTR - Sens. Cornyn (R-TX) and Wyden (D-OR) and Reps. Doyle (D-PA), Yoder (R-KS) and Lofgren (D-CA) for their leadership on this crucial issue.