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NCHR Comments on Public Access to Federally Funded Research

National Center for Health Research, May 6, 2020


National Center for Health Research Public Comments on
OSTP’s Request for Information: Public Access to Peer-Reviewed Scholarly
Publications, Data and Code Resulting From Federally Funded Research

The National Center for Health Research (NCHR) is a nonprofit think tank that conducts, analyzes, and scrutinizes research, policies, and programs on a range of issues related to health and safety. We do not accept funding from companies that make products that are the subject of our work.

Our research center has long advocated for making federally funded research publicly available. As a think tank focused on research and data related to human health, we have supported data sharing and other efforts to make research results more freely available, particularly for research that was funded by federal agencies or submitted to federal agencies as part of application materials to the FDA and other federal agencies. Research data and results that are partially or fully funded by or conducted by the federal government should be freely available to the public.

In this comment, we will focus on two issues: 1) Access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications and 2) Access to data for analysis.

Despite efforts to make articles in scholarly publications freely available to the public, most are not. All journal articles based on research funded by the federal government should be freely available to the public, and that should not require the authors to pay thousands of dollars for each article to be available through open access. We understand the financial needs of scholarly publications, but U.S. taxpayers should not be required to pay to read an article based on research that they also paid for. Since journals depend on high quality data to succeed, the government should require that journals have an open access policy for federally funded research results; authors either should not be required to pay anything, or should be offered a greatly discounted rate that the federal government requires the researcher to pay using the research funding that supported the work.

Unfortunately, ClinicalTrials.gov has not fulfilled its goal of making research results publicly available in a transparent and timely fashion. Despite Congressional pressure, too often study results are not reported on the ClinicalTrials.gov website or are greatly delayed, and neither FDA nor NIH has enforced the requirements or penalized those who failed to comply. In addition, results reported on ClinicalTrials.gov are often subjective summaries rather than objective charts and graphs that present the aggregate data. The information most often provided is insufficient for other researchers or medical providers to scrutinize.

In addition, research conducted partially or entirely with federal funds is not always published in a timely manner, or at all. In some cases, the authors have submitted manuscripts that have been rejected by journals; in some cases, there are competing pressures that make it difficult for the researchers to finish writing and submitting manuscripts, and in other cases, the only journals willing to publish a specific article charge thousands of dollars for publication that the authors can’t afford. We strongly urge that PIs of federally funded studies be required to make the raw data available to other U.S. researchers if it hasn’t been published within 3 years of completion of the initial study. Such data sharing between researchers is essential for ensuring that federal agencies have not wasted taxpayers’ money on research that never becomes available to potentially benefit the public.

Even when federally funded research results are published, the results may be biased or inaccurate. Sharing of raw data after publication is an invaluable tool for confirming the accuracy of reported research findings and enabling other researchers to replicate results and understand any conflicting findings.

U.S. taxpayers deserve to have the government maximize the usefulness of the funds they’ve invested in research by making that research publically available. Efforts to improve public access to federally funded research will benefit the scientific community, the medical community, public health, and the public.

National Center for Health Research can be reached at info@center4research.org or at (202) 223-4000.