The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine
Board on Research Data and Information
Policy and Global Affairs
Quick Links


Contact Us
Board on Research Data and Information
Policy and Global Affairs Division
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine
500 Fifth Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

Symposium Remarks by Heather Joseph

My name is Heather Joseph, and I serve as the Executive Director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), a membership organization of more than 225 academic and research libraries in North America. I also serve as the spokesperson for the Alliance for taxpayer Access, a coalition of universities, libraries, patients groups, consumer groups and other organizations working to ensure that the American public receives adequate access to the results of the research that our tax dollars fund.
I’m here today representing those who are among the ultimate consumers of the results of publicly funded research – the academic and research library community, and the researchers, faculty, students  and members of the general public that they serve.
From this perspective, expansion of the current National Institutes of Health Public Access Policy to apply to all other agencies that conduct federally funded research is not only logical, it is imperative.
Remember why we collectively fund scientific research in the first place - Federal Agencies don’t fund scientific research in a vacuum, nor do they fund it in hopes that the results will reach only a small portion of the audience to whom it might have value.   They invest in research with the expectation that it will result in improvements to the public good – that it will accelerate the pace of research, stimulate further discovery and innovation, and advance the translation of this knowledge into public benefits.
But this can ONLY happen if the reach of the results of the research is maximized. An essential characteristic of research is that it is cumulative – it can only advance through sharing results, when others have the opportunity to build on the concepts and ideas being generated through the research.  We increasingly recognize that dissemination is an essential component of the research process – if an agency funds me to do an experiment, and I can’t share the results with others who can help to advance the work, what was the point of funding that experiment in the first place? The value of our collective investment in research can only be maximized through the widest possible use of its findings.
It seems common sense – but the reality we are living in today is that far too often these research results are simply not widely available to the community of potential users – but rather only available to those who can afford to pay increasingly steep prices for the privilege of accessing them. As a representative of the library community – which is responsible for the purchase of vast majority of the scientific journals which in many cases, is the public’s only access point to the results of this information – I can say that no library can afford to buy access to all of the journals it wants – needs – to provide its users.  High prices have forced cancellations – and this is a decades-long cycle, not a by-product of today’s weak economy.  Year in and year out, libraries find themselves spending more and more to provide users with access to less and less.
The current economic climate will only exacerbate this situation; we will see additional journal cancellations this year, but make no mistake – it will be because libraries can not afford the subscriptions, not because of the NIH Public Access Policy.
While this access situation was perhaps (marginally) understandable in a paper-based world,  we now live in a completely new digital age.  The Internet provides us with the opportunity to bring this information to a much broader audience at virtually no marginal cost, and to also to use it in new, innovative ways. This has resulted in the need for new framework to enable research results to be more easily accessed and used. The NIH Policy is a crucial part of this framework, and should now be expanded to other Federal agencies.
I want to underscore three crucial points:

First, what is perhaps a common-sense point: Taxpayers deserve access to the results of research that their tax dollars fund.

U.S. taxpayers pay for tens of billions of dollars of research each year, and they understand that the sharing of the results of this research is an central component of that investment. They have the right to expect its communication and use will be maximized, and most importantly, that they themselves will have access to it.
The information we are talking about today is, after all, generated by public agencies tasked with protecting and improving the public good.  This information is not esoteric research of interest only to elite scholars. In the case of the NIH policy It is crucial, health-related information that can make a life-or-death difference in the lives of the American public. As of today, the NIH database contains more than 50,000 papers on AIDS research, 29,000 on breast cancer research, 77,000 on diabetes research and so on. This is a vital resource for individuals looking for health care information from anywhere, anytime.
In a recent report on Internet Use, the Pew Charitable Trust reported that – 113 Million Americans seek health related info online each year.  Most strikingly, more than half of these - 57 million Americans -  take this information to their health care providers for interpretation or action. This is information that the public wants and uses.
Similarly, information generated by other agencies – the Environmental Protection Agency, or the Department of Energy, for example, on research areas such as alternative energy sources, climate change data, environmental impact assessments of all kinds – are of similar interest to the public and should be made just as readily accessible to them.
The second point I want to make is this:  Public access to the results of federally funded research is good for science.  As you all know, there has been an explosive  (and sustained) growth in the sheer volume of research data being generated.  There are hundreds of thousands of new research articles generated each year, making it impossible, in many cases, for a person to be able to physically read all of the material that may be of potential interest and use to her.  As research becomes increasingly interdisciplinary, the volume of potential articles of interest to any given scientist expands exponentially.
Researchers need to be able to apply smart search tools to these articles, allowing new technologies to help them to make connections that otherwise would go unmade.  They need to be able to data mine these digital articles, and to make links among these articles – and to supporting data – to enable new research paths and discoveries. The ability to create links, and to follow them seamlessly, is a critical component in enabling effective scientific research in the digital age.  Researchers cannot do this if the primary research articles continue to be locked up in silos, or hidden behind toll barriers.
Access is digital, and so too, is use– and we need policies that enable the application of new technologies to fully exploit the value of the information we have funded. Just as biomedical researchers can now, as a result of the NIH policy, move from references to gene sequences embedded in the text of research articles to the gene sequences themselves in Genbank, or to one of the other important publicly accessible databases at NIH, so too should researchers at NOAA or the EPA be able make similar links from research articles to data sets on climate change, for example, and apply data mining techniques, modeling programs, etc. to accelerate understanding of this crucial arena and hundreds of others that directly impact the public good.

Finally: Ensuring public access to the results of publicly funded research will fuel innovation and economic growth –and as a result, it is way the rest of the world is world is evolving.

Expanding access to the results publicly funded research offers the very real potential for downstream economic stimulus. Industry analysts commenting on the NIH policy, for example, have pointed to the  "clear opportunity {it generates} for private-sector content companies to more aggressively pursue the business of bringing taxpayer-funded information to market" in new formats, creating new business and service opportunities.
Just as significantly, the expanded exchange of these credible scientific results can spark growth in patentable discoveries and their commercial application. New jobs may be created within the research sector, as well as within industries that support research. Taxpayers, from educators to small business owners, will benefit from the wider availability of this crucial, currently largely inaccessible layer of information.

The competitive advantage and opportunity to stimulate innovation inherent in a policy that unlocks the results of publicly funded research is starkly illustrated by the increasing rate of adoption of such policies worldwide. 
There are now more than 30 policies from Funding agencies in countries around the world that that call for the results of research paid for using publicly dollars be made publicly available.  After years of extensive discussion and debate, nearly all of them have settled on using the methodology of author deposition of a final manuscript generated as a result of the funding into a publicly accessible, digital repository.  Many of the policies are more stringent than the U.S.’s NIH policy, calling for public accessibility within only 6 months of an article’s publication. 
All, however, share the same explicitly-stated goal:  To boost innovation and to get a better return on their investment in publicly funded research by making research findings more widely available - and by doing so, to maximize social returns on public investments.
This has surely never been more important then it is today - As the Obama Administration noted in a memo to all U.S. Agency Heads last week: “Government should be transparent …Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action…to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use.”
Public Access to the results of all federally funded research will advance the governments’ efforts to be open and transparent, accelerate the pace of scientific discovery, fuel innovation and the feed the public good.