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UC backs bill to make state-funded research public

Open Access Policy In California

  • Would require all state-funded research to be made public for free
  • Requires open access within one year of initial publication
  • Does not apply to UC-funded research, but does to state grants used by UC researchers

SOURCE: Assembly Bill 609
Compiled by Katherine Hafner, Bruin senior staff.

By Christopher Hurley

May 9, 2013 1:14 a.m.

The University of California and several University professors recently expressed their support for requiring state-funded research to be made freely accessible to the public.

The UC spends about $40 million per year just on licensing subscriptions for access to journals, said Christopher Kelty, a UCLA professor of information studies and society and genetics who is also in charge of the systemwide University Committee on Library and Scholarly Communication.

AB 609, a bill proposed by Assemblyman Brian Nestande that is currently circulating in the Calif. legislature, would mandate that any published research directly funded by a state grant be made available to anyone free of charge, no later than a year after initial publication.

The UC announced its support for the bill in a statement released last month, after several revisions were made to the original bill. Faculty members across the University have also expressed support for the legislation.

The revised bill clarifies that UC-funded grants are exempt from the policy, as opposed to state-funded grants used by UC researchers. The revised bill also extends the period between original publication and open access from six to 12 months, according to a statement from Adrian Diaz, a UC legislative director.

The open access policy would apply to published research, regardless of whether a state grant funded all or part of a study’s funding, said Annabelle Kleist, a science fellow in Nestande’s office who recently received her doctorate in plant biology from UC Davis.

Kleist originally came up with the idea for the bill, which she later passed onto Nestande when she was approached by weed-removal workers who wished to see her research on invasive weeds but couldn’t afford the journal subscription.

“These weren’t researchers or academics. The people I wanted to have it couldn’t access it,” Kleist said.

Some doctors and dentists she knew also told her that it was difficult for them to afford active subscriptions to all of the journals in their field, she said.

Open access advocates often point to the success of a 2008 National Institutes of Health policy that requires public access for research funded by any of its grants, Kleist said.

Earlier this year, the White House released similar guidelines to make federally funded research publicly available. The federal policy requires any published research that received funding of at least $100 million by federal grants to be made publicly available within a year of publication.

Academics and researchers generally support open access, Kelty said.

“Faculty don’t make money off of the publication of their research,” Kelty said. “You will not find an academic opposed to their work being more widely circulated.”

Opposition to the bill has mainly come from publishers, especially the Association of American Publishers, which claims that such bills hurt their business, Kleist said.

The association has said bills that require research publications to be open access wrongly assume that the taxpayer has paid entirely for the process of publishing an article.

“(The policies ignore) the complex, extensive work done by publishers,” said Andi Sporkin, vice president of communications for the American Association of Publishers, according to an op-ed piece in the Illinois Observer. Other states like New York and Illinois are also considering similar policies.

Publishers are the only entity to benefit from restricted access because it increases their profit, Kelty said.

The period of time between publication and open access, known as an embargo, is a way for publishers to make money by charging for immediate access rather than waiting a year, he added.

The conversation about open access to research has evolved with the advancement of technology.

Before the Internet, publishers had a significant cost in distributing academic material, but in the digital age, the cost has declined significantly, Kelty said.

“You can now push a button and it’s available all over the globe,” he said.

While he is a proponent of open access materials, Kelty said he thinks there is still a place for publishers.

“Publishers provide valuable services. Nobody wants to do their own copy editing, typesetting, or manage the infrastructure of the peer review process,” Kelty said.

A part of a professor’s job is to peer review research and vet it for publishing; the publisher is responsible for facilitating the review process, Kelty said.

As opposed to the subscription model in place today, one option for the future is to pay the publishers a one-time, upfront fee for reviewing and distributing the research material.

But currently, he said the momentum is with expanding open and free access to academic information – as shown through AB 609.

The bill passed its first committee in the state Assembly with bipartisan support early this month. It will now move on to the Appropriations Committee, after which it could then hit the Assembly floor for a vote.

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