The recently proposed Fair Access to Science & Technology Research Act, or FASTR, has the research community buzzing.
If passed, the FASTR Act will require federal research agencies like the National Science Foundation, which invests millions of taxpayer dollars in scientific research on an annual basis, to design and implement a plan to facilitate public access to scientific research.
“The legislation of the FASTR Act is consistent with the trend in the Federal Government over the last few years with moving toward greater public accessibility of research results,” said Elizabeth Tranter, the chief of staff at the Virginia Tech Office of the Vice President for Research.
As Tranter explained, one of the advantages this legislation would provide is it would enable federally-funded researchers to build on each other’s work, especially if data is made accessible to the public through creating websites or other publication methods.
“As scientists, it is our goal to conduct and publish research that will make the world a better place,” said Timothy E. Long, associate dean for strategic initiatives in Tech’s College of Science. “The passing of the act would help not only the VT community, but the entire country, by enabling more awareness of data and issues using the increased public access to research.”
According to Tranter, significantly more guidance of what the government really expects for the data management plans has been provided in recent years.
“So many fields are becoming more computationally intensive, so when you look at a data management plan for a project, you must consider the requirement of publishing both the papers and the data sets that correlate with them,” Tranter said.
The National Institutes of Health is an example of a federally-funded medical research agency that has been extremely successful since establishing its research public access policy in 2008.
“Since the establishment of NIH’s public access policy, other federally-funded agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, have followed suit,” Tranter said
The NSF has followed the example of the NIH by setting new research requirements as recently as 2010. For example, if a researcher makes a project proposal, it is required that the proposal have a data management program, taking into account the factors of the data types being produced, the metadata that could result, and the format in which the data will be presented. Making those kinds of preparations and plans before conducting research would make the computationally-intensive information more comprehendible for the general public.
The act may have financial benefits for universities as well. In the past, research subscription prices have been extremely expensive, forcing university libraries to pick and choose between journal subscriptions. As a result, students and citizens have had difficulty accessing information they need. However, passing the act will help this issue.
“As a result of the act, there may be increased dialogue
between agencies about policies that would impact federally-funded research and its accessibility at research universities,” Tranter said. “In the research office at Virginia Tech, we are in constant communication with the university library in an effort to help all students and faculty comply with these new expectations.”
The research department at Tech is currently working on an information letter that will be sent out to the faculty explaining all the new research tools and opportunities available.
“The greatest outcome of passing the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act would be that it can give students new hope for solutions or cures for medical issues or other life circumstances they may be struggling with that they may not have been able to discover with limited access to research,” Long said.