Public Access to Publicly Funded Research: it’s only fair

by Bill Hooker

Attention Conservation Notice: this post is here to ask you to sign a petition asking the White House to make all publicly funded research publicly available. Read on for background, or go straight to the petition.

You paid for it — this is about research funded by tax dollars.Index

You don’t own it — the majority of research is still published under the subscription model, with authors transferring copyright to the publisher.

You can’t even read it — unless you have access through a subscribing institution, such as a university library, it will cost you around $30-$40 per paper to read the research you funded. The same goes for the researchers whose salaries you also pay: either their institution pays millions of dollars per year in subscriptions, or they pay the same $30-$40 per paper to access the work they need to build on. And no matter which institution they work at, they don’t have access to everything they need. Not even Harvard can afford full access.

That’s not right.

It’s not right, but some vested interests like it that way and are spending plenty of lobbying dollars trying to keep it that way. Recently, though, researchers and the public have been pushing back.

The Cost of Knowledge Boycott coincided with the withdrawal of the RWA, universities are canceling subscriptions, editors are resigning from the boards of toll-access journals, and there has been a good deal of mainstream media coverage.

It’s important that we push back. We, meaning everyone — whether you’re a patient who wants to take control of their own healthcare, a backyard scientist who wants to know more about how the world works, or a taxpayer who wants their investment in research to yield the maximum return, it’s in your interests to stand up and tell the government that all research funded by all federal agencies should be publicly available. It is high time we took back the science we paid for.

The US government funds a lot of research. I mean, a lot. Counting just the research budgets over $100 million, we have the Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Defense, Education, Energy, Health & Human Services, Homeland Security and Transportation; the Environmental Protection Agency; NASA; and the National Science Foundation. Of all those agencies, only the NIH (which is just one part of HHS) has a public-access policy.

All of that research is paid for by taxes. All of that research should be publicly available. That’s the premise and the promise of this petition to the White House:

We petition the obama administration to:

Require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research. We believe in the power of the Internet to foster innovation, research, and education. Requiring the published results of taxpayer-funded research to be posted on the Internet in human and machine readable form would provide access to patients and caregivers, students and their teachers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and other taxpayers who paid for the research. Expanding access would speed the research process and increase the return on our investment in scientific research.

The highly successful Public Access Policy of the National Institutes of Health proves that this can be done without disrupting the research process, and we urge President Obama to act now to implement open access policies for all federal agencies that fund scientific research.

If the petition reaches the signature threshold (25,000 in 30 days), the government will respond. This is a crucial time in the access debate, and a key point at which to let the Obama administration know, as they weigh priorities in the runup to the election, that this issue matters to everyone. The petition was prompted by meetings with the President's Science Advisor, in which the clear message was that the administration will be receptive to a strong display of broad public support.

So please sign the petition, and ask everyone you know to do the same.

Oh, and it’s important to point out: you don’t have to be a US citizen to sign. That’s appropriate, because science is an international enterprise.

If you would like more information: