The US Congress and selective data blindness

I’ve been puzzling just now over FRPA – the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2009, which was the topic of some lively congressional testimony yesterday afternoon.  Most commentary has focused on the immediate, and contentious, issue of whether to mandate open access to articles that are commercially published.  But I think there is another issue here.  FRPA perpetuates the misunderstanding, which seems common to much of the policy debate over open access publishing, that scientific research output is limited to whatever fits in the pages of a journal.

According to the proposed law, all federal agencies in the US with big-ticket extramural research budgets would be obligated to require of their funding recipients to make final peer-reviewed manuscripts available freely online w/in 6 mos.   The act specifically excludes “laboratory notes, preliminary data analyses, notes of the author, phone logs, or other information used to produce final manuscripts”.  So where does that leave the final dataset reported in the publication?  Good question – it doesn’t seem to be on the radar in this debate at all.

And that’s a pity, because the disposition of these data is something that funding agencies and publishers actually do agree on: “The Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) and The International Association of Scientific, Technical, & Medical Publishers (STM) issued a joint statement presenting the views of scholarly and scientific publishers concerning access to research data, including that submitted with research papers. The statement recommends that research data should be as widely available as possible…”

Well said ALPSP/STM!  I hope some congressional staffers are reading this.  If you are one of them, then please — don’t forget about the data.