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Science Policy: Open Access, Peer Review Bills Make Waves

by Britt E. Erickson , Cheryl Hogue
January 24, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 4

Scientific societies and publishers are paying close attention to two bills active in the House—the Grant Reform & New Transparency Act (GRANT Act, H.R. 3433) introduced in mid-November by Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) and the Research Works Act (H.R. 3699) introduced last month by Rep. Darrell E. Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Oversight & Government Reform Committee.

The GRANT Act is controversial because it would require public disclosure of peer reviewers. In addition, it would direct federal agencies to post all proposals and applications that support awarded grants on a website. Earlier this month, Reps. Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.) and David E. Price (D-N.C.) sent a letter to other members of the House, asking for their support in urging Speaker of the House John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to address “troubling provisions” in H.R. 3433.

The lawmakers are particularly concerned that posting grant proposals on a website would reveal proprietary intellectual information and place unnecessary burdens on the federal agencies. They also believe that disclosure of peer reviewers will undermine the peer review process.

“In its current form, the GRANT Act poses a significant threat to the research and innovation system of the United States,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “Increased accountability and transparency are valuable goals which can be achieved without sacrificing intellectual property rights and the peer review process,” they stated.

The GRANT Act was passed by the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform just one day after it was introduced. But because of concerns swirling around the bill, it has yet to come up for a vote by the full House. Observers do not think it will move quickly this year.

The Research Works Act is also stirring up debate in the scientific publishing world, particularly among advocates of open access to results of federally funded research. The bill would require federal agencies to obtain consent from publishers prior to disseminating research articles that are published by the private sector, even if the research was funded by the federal government.

The Association of American Publishers and its Professional/Scholarly Publishing Division welcome the introduction of the bill, saying it will “reinforce America’s leadership in scholarly and scientific publishing in the public interest and in the critical peer-review system that safeguards the quality of such research.”

Supporters of public access to results of federally funded research are opposed to the legislation, saying it would roll back the National Institutes of Health policy on public access to federally funded research results and prohibit other federal agencies from adopting similar policies.

H.R. 3699 is awaiting action by the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform. It is unclear whether the bill will move swiftly this year.

Elsewhere in the House, oversight of basic science within the federal government is expected to be on the agenda of the Committee on Science, Space & Technology, an aide to the panel tells C&EN. As part of this, the committee plans to hold hearings to review recent federal findings on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics education.


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