June 8, 2006 - ASM Comments on the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006

The Honorable John Cornyn
United States Senate
517 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510-3004

The American Society for Microbiology (ASM) would like to comment on S.2695, the “Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006.” The ASM is the largest single life science Society with over 42,000 members world-wide including scientists in university, industry, government and clinical laboratories.

Since 1916, with the publication of the Journal of Bacteriology, ASM has been a major publisher of peer reviewed science. The ASM publishes 11 journals that print over 7,000 scientific articles yearly. The Society has developed strong, well enforced procedures for peer review of manuscripts published in its journals. Over the past few years we have made major changes by automating the submission, review, editing, and composing processes and by taking advantage of the internet for delivery in a timely manner of research articles. We have invested heavily in technology and trained both the editors and the professional staff. Our current practice is:

  • Free access after six months (reduced to four months beginning later this year) for basic research journals and one year for the two review journals. All content is available;
  • Posting to both HighWire (the web hosting service administered by Stanford University) and to PubMedCentral (the web hosting service administered by the National Library of Medicine) of full text and figures, subject to the six (four) month restriction;
  • Free access to all archival issues of all journals hosted by PMC and HighWire on their sites. Both the the PMC and HighWire archive now date to 1916, the inception of the ASM journals program;
  • Free and immediate access for ASM members in the least developed countries. Membership in ASM is also free to microbiologists in these countries;
  • Permission to the author to post the published article on a personal or university-hosted web site;
  • Permission to the author to allow up to 10 downloads of the published article immediately upon posting;
  • Indexing of all ASM articles by Google, so that anyone can use keywords to locate articles.

The Society is committed to providing effective communications both internally among the membership and externally to the public. Increasing knowledge of microbiology benefits society in general, and scientific research encourages young scientists to pursue careers in the microbiological sciences. The current ASM practice appears generally compatible with the proposed policy of providing free online access to published NIH-supported research articles through PMC six months after publication.

However, S.2695 raises a number of critical issues and concerns for publishers, grantees and the scientific enterprise. In particular, we are concerned about federal mandates. The NIH approach, while needing enforcement, appears to us to be the most appropriate mechanism to make the results of research more widely and fully accessible. Extension of the NIH procedures to other federal agencies seems reasonable. ASM recommends that future legislative and agency proposals refrain from expanding this approach to include language that dictates which articles to post or withhold from public view. To this end, we fear that despite the good intent, such legislation may in fact retard the dissemination of information that would benefit public health and the environment.

Finally, there is ambiguous language in the bill, which is subject to a number of different interpretations given the wide variety of publishing practices. If the bill receives further consideration in Congress, we recommend that wording such as that in 4(b)(4) be redrafted to use more concise terms.

Legislation related to public access deserves careful attention and further dialogue and cooperation with scholarly publishers before implementation, especially in view of its impact on federal grantees, the rapid and free dissemination of scientific information, and federal agency funding and resources.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.