Half of taxpayer funded research will soon be available to the public

January 17, 2014

 

Proponents of the open access model for academic research notched a huge victory Thursday night when Congress passed a budget that will make about half of taxpayer-funded research available to the public.

Deep inside the $1.1 trillion Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2014 is a provision that requires federal agencies under the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education portion of the bill with research budgets of $100 million or more to provide the public with online access to the research that they fund within 12 months of publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

According to the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), this means approximately $31 billion of the total $60 billion annual U.S. investment in taxpayer-funded research will become openly accessible. “This is an important step toward making federally funded scientific research available for everyone to use online at no cost,” said SPARC Executive Director Heather Joseph in a news  release. The language in the appropriations bill mirrors that in the White House open access memo from last year, and a National Institutes of Health public access program enacted in 2008.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) who was instrumental in getting the NIH program launched told The Post: "Expanding this policy to public health and education research is a step toward a more transparent government and better science.”

While the government funds a significant chunk of academic research in the United States, most taxpayers do not have access to the results of that research, which is often kept in pay-walled databases controlled by commercial publishers. As the Internet has made it far easier for academics to share their research results, many have pushed for a more open system that allows public sharing of scholarly research commonly called "open access." But some publishers have cracked down, even going after individual professors who post their research on their university Web pages.

In recent years, Congress has considered various legislative proposals concerning access to publicly funded research. The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act would have mandated that publicly funded research be freed up within six months of publication. Another, the Research Works Act, would have effectively prohibited open access mandates and rolled back the NIH's public access program.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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