The United States government is taking steps leading toward open access to the results of taxpayer-funded scientific research. Too often researchers pay privately owned scientific journals “page charges” to publish their findings, which then are sold back to taxpayers in the form of subscriptions which cost hundreds or thousands of dollars a year or more than $30 to read one paper if you don’t have a subscription.
At least partially in response to an on-line petition at the White House web site which received over 65,000 signatures (including mine), the administration issued a memorandum today that increases access to research. It helps, but is not an ideal solution. The new procedures require agencies that spend more than $100 million annually on research to develop plans to make the results of federally-funded research publically available free of charge within 12 months after original publication. While that is better than keeping it secret or making taxpayers pay twice for the data, 12 months is too long. It should be much shorter, say, 3 or 6 months after appearing in a journal. In addition, ALL research should be available to the public, not just research funded by agencies that spend more than $100 million on R&D.
For the last three years Congress has dithered about the issue, doing little until last week when a bill was introduced, the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act, which would force the public release of journal articles within six months of publication. It also only applies to agencies that spend more than $100 million a year on R&D.
The for-profit Elsevier corporation headquartered in the Netherlands has published papers on wildland fire research written by government employees, and vehemently opposes the bill, according to an article in the Washington Post. In fact, in 2011 Elsevier backed a bill that would quash open access to scientific articles. The bill died after it encountered serious opposition.
At Wildfire Today we have ranted about this for the last couple of years (tag: open access), and it’s heart-warming to see some progress is being made.