Culture Fail: Victory for Free Public Access to Research

An important victory was won for Open Access advocates last week with an announcement from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), who directed, “each Federal agency with over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development expenditures to develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government.”

In plain English, all major research arms of the United States, including the NSF, NIH, USDA, DOE, and more, are to begin making available online all data and peer reviewed publications that were financed with your tax dollars.

Rights activists, including the late Aaron Swartz, have been fighting for years to liberate research from publishers databases and to stimulate academic discussion in broader society. This announcement from the OSTP, in response to their actions and the “We the People” petition signed by 65,000 people, is the first major victory in the battle to make publicly funded research actually available to the public.

Citing the value of freely accessible weather data and genomics research, the OSTP affirmed what rights activists have been saying all along: “Open Access will create innovative economic markets for services related to curation, preservation, analysis, and visualization.” It will also “accelerate scientific breakthroughs and innovation, promote entrepreneurship, and enhance economic growth and job creation.”

While this is a victory in the battle for Open Access, it is far from over. This memo still allows for an artificial 12 month embargo on Open access in a nod to publishers that, “provide valuable services, including the coordination of peer review, that are essential for ensuring the high quality and integrity of many scholarly publications.” It also fails to adequately deal with the potential copyright shenanigans that for-profit publishing companies may engage in to mitigate their potential losses from this policy.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation was quick to point this out and to note that, “because a future administration could just as easily change its policy away from open-access, a legislative solution is necessary for ensuring a future of innovation and access to knowledge.・

The battle has been won, but the war continues. While it’s important to be mindful of editorial costs to journals, publicly financed research need not necessarily be monetized by third party rent-seeking entities. Peer review can be, and is, coordinated by groups like and Call your legislators and let them know that Open Access to ALL publicly funded research is a requirement if they want your vote.

by William Tatum

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