Site helps researchers with public access rules

08/20/15

Researchers are facing new requirements to make federally funded results freely available to the public, and the rules can be complex, are not universally known and vary by governmental agency.

But help is here for Cornell researchers: A new website is live, and other efforts are underway to help faculty avoid delays or other problems with their funding. For example, researchers need to make sure they don’t sign publishing contracts calling for restrictions that may conflict with the public access rules.

“Basically, we’re helping people understand what the requirements are, and we help them comply,” said Gail Steinhart, head of research services at Mann Library, who, with the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP), is leading efforts to advise and assist faculty with the public access policies. 

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a directive in 2013 calling for public access to all taxpayer-funded research, and a bill to the same effect was approved last week by a U.S. Senate committee.

Though some federal agencies have yet to establish their rules for public access, others have had such requirements in place for years. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has required its funded research to be publicly available since 2008. In recent years, it started penalizing researchers who don’t comply by withholding or delaying their funds.

“The directive dramatically increases the number of affected researchers, and NIH’s move means that noncompliance has real consequences,” Steinhart said. “We might reasonably expect other funders to do the same.”

Around 80 percent of sponsored research at Cornell’s Ithaca campus is federally funded, said Christine Ashdown, a senior grant and contract officer at OSP.

“Up until the requirement for public access, most faculty members had much more freedom about where and when they could publish,” Ashdown said. “But because the federal government is paying for it, the public wants to know what they’re doing with those dollars.”

The new rules may be confusing now, but eventually they will increase the exposure of Cornell research and enable new discoveries as researchers share findings, Steinhart said.

Currently, some journals automatically submit government-funded work to public databases, but others require embargoes before the research they publish can be shared. Members of the public access assistance team can advise faculty members before they sign contracts that might be too restrictive. They also can help faculty find places to publish their papers or data that will meet government requirements.

“We really want faculty to understand that they’re not out there alone,” Ashdown said. “We understand what’s going on and the requirements they have to meet to continue getting their funding. There are resources to help them. So this website is a great first step in getting that information out there.”

Faculty members who need help understanding or addressing compliance requirements can check with their grant and contract officer in OSP or write to publicaccesshelp@cornell.edu for help with publications or rdmsg-help@cornell.edu, or check data.research.cornell.edu for help with research data.

This story originally appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.