Thursday, October 25, 2012

U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder touts bill that would make research more available during KU visit

By MATT ERICKSON, The Lawrence Journal-World

If taxpayers help fund scholarly research, U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder said Wednesday, then it ought to be free and available for anyone to see.

During a talk at Kansas University’s Watson Library, Yoder, an Overland Park Republican, outlined a piece of legislation he’s supporting that would make that the case more often.

The bill is called the Federal Research Public Access Act, and it would require that scholarly journal articles fueled by federal research funds be easily available for free online, within six months of their publication.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay twice for research,” Yoder told listeners.

By that, he said he meant universities shouldn’t have to pay thousands in state funds for access to research that already made use of federal tax dollars.

Yoder said he became a supporter of open access to research after a meeting in Washington, D.C., with former KU provost David Shulenburger, who now works for the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges there.

Shulenburger helped create an open-access repository of research by KU faculty during his time as provost.

“I think it’s consistent with what KU’s mission has been all these years,” said Yoder, who has bachelor’s and law degrees from KU and served as student body president during his time there.

He said KU was often mentioned along with Harvard University as a leader on the cause of open access.

Yoder spoke at KU as part of Open Access Week, an international event in which the KU Libraries are taking part. Lorraine Haricombe, KU’s dean of libraries, said KU had long advocated for open access to research. In 2009, the Faculty Senate made KU the first U.S. public university to adopt a policy of open access to published research by its faculty.

Haricombe said increased access to research would help universities like KU to better accomplish their mission.

“We’re a state university, and we work to build better communities and improve the environment for our residents,” Haricombe said after Yoder’s talk.

More than 30 KU faculty members, including Provost Jeff Vitter, have signed an online boycott petition against the major journal publisher Elsevier that alleges exorbitant subscription prices and other practices that discourage free access to research.

Yoder earlier this year was one of two original co-sponsors of the FRPAA bill, along with Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat.

It’s now up to 34 co-sponsors, though he said it would likely need at least 218 — a majority of the House of Representatives — to be successful. That’s unlikely to happen for the current Congress, he said, but he has hopes it may have a chance in the Congress that begins in January following this fall’s election.

A companion bill has also been created in the U.S. Senate.

Yoder said he thought the law, which has bipartisan support, would be an easy sell despite possible opposition from journal publishers wary of losing subscriptions.

“This is one that I think has a lot of promise,” Yoder said.

The National Institutes of Health, one of the biggest sources of federal research funding, already has a requirement for research published in academic journals to be made openly available within a year of its original publication. But the bill supported by Yoder would shorten that window to six months, and it would extend the requirement to research funded by any federal agency that distributes $100 million or more toward research each year.

Yoder said he believed that the rest of the country would continue to move toward more open access, a direction in which KU has already been heading for years.

“It’s a real feather in our cap here on campus that we’ve had folks that have had a vision for what seems like a pretty common-sense idea,” Yoder said.

After the talk, Yoder noted that the law could also help free up some funds at state universities that currently go toward journal subscriptions. KU Libraries currently spend about $4.5 million each year on those subscriptions so that faculty can stay up to date on the latest research in their fields.

“That’s money that could go towards departments, towards learning,” Yoder said.

Yoder said none of the rest of Kansas’ congressional delegation had yet signed onto the bill. When he was elected to his first term in 2010, his 3rd District included part of Lawrence, but redistricting earlier this year moved Lawrence entirely into the 2nd District, currently represented by Republican Lynn Jenkins.