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Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Cornyn, Lieberman Intro Federal Research Public Access Act; Could Force More Accountability in Government Grants

Billions of tax dollars pay every year for thousands of research projects, most of which are supported by grants issued by 11 federal departments and agencies. Those projects result in numerous articles in professional journals but those are read by only a tiny fraction of the people who actually pay for the research.

So Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX, and Joseph Lieberman, D-CT, have introduced the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006, which mandates that the results of all research reports paid for with federal tax dollars be published on the Internet within six months.

Go here for more information on the bill and links to media coverage of the proposal such as this article from Federal Computer Week. The mainstream media hasn't discovered this bill yet, but I'll bet there are lots of folks in the Blogosphere who should know about it and will enthusiastically encourage its passage.

UPDATE: More (and less) to the opposition than meets the eye

A number of professional academic groups have lined up against the Cornyn-Lieberman proposal, but there is much more to the story than the usual special interests circling their wagons against an assault by politically motivated outsiders.

Inside Higher Ed notes the increasingly vocal folks in the academic community - including some members of the groups crusading against Cornyn-Lieberman - who think the proposal will actually benefit the research community and that it is exactly what is needed in the digital age:

"There’s no doubt that many scholars do object to the legislation. But a rebellion of sorts is brewing online, where scholars who are, in theory, represented by some of these groups argue that the legislation would help research, that the scholarly associations are selling out their rank and file’s interests to prop up their publishing arms, and that the debate points to some underlying tensions about academic publishing in the digital age.

"These scholars - with the leaders of this informal movement coming from anthropology - want Congress to know that their associations aren't speaking for them, and they also want to draw attention to the fact that some scholarly groups didn't sign on."

With so much money at stake and the reputations and professional interests involved, this issue is not going to go away and it probably will get much uglier before we see resolution. As Thomas Kuhn noted some years back, paradigm shifts, particularly in the sciences, always engender opposition and not infrequently from unexpected quarters.