Technology

The White House Takes a Leap Toward Open Access

By Anita Ferrer / Feb 25, 2013 (iStockPhoto/Thinkstock)

An initiative from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy would provide public access to taxpayer-funded research. Associations are keeping a close eye on the proposed changes.

With the legacy of internet innovator and activist Aaron Swartz drawing attention to the open-access movement, the White House is acting to ensure that taxpayers have access to the results of research they pay for.

Responding to an online petition on the administration’s “We the People” website, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a memorandum on Friday requiring that federal agencies with more than $100 million in research and development expenditures make the results accessible to the public via the web within a year of publication.

“Scientific research supported by the federal government catalyzes innovative breakthroughs that drive our economy. The results of that research become the grist for new insights and are assets for progress in areas such as health, energy, the environment, agriculture, and national security,” OSTP Director John P. Holdren wrote.

The petition, launched in the wake of Swartz’s suicide in Janaury, sought free online access to taxpayer-funded research. It drew in nearly 66,000 signatures. What does the White House directive mean for the future of research and publishing?

The catalyst: The topic of open internet access to journals and articles has been getting plenty of coverage ever since Swartz’s death. Despite his failed attempt to provide free access to academic journals by hacking JSTOR—a pay-for-access online library—the activist left a legacy: the idea that taxpayers have the right to the information they fund. Members of the open-access movement see the White House directive as a significant step. ”It really does move us forward to having people understand the importance of fast access and full reuse of articles and data that result from scientific research,” Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, told Mashable.

The bill: The issue is moving on Capitol Hill as well. Earlier this month, several lawmakers introduced the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research (FASTR) Act, which would require federal agencies to develop open-access policies. ”We believe that since the American taxpayers have paid for this research, they deserve to have access to it—and they shouldn’t have to pay again to see the results of the research they themselves funded,” Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA), a bill cosponsor, told Information Today.

Associations React

The American Association of Publishers, the largest trade association in the publishing industry, issued a statement last week backing the White House initiative. “We support the OSTP’s compatible goals of broadening access while preserving the high-quality, peer-reviewed articles on which the science community and the public rely,” President and CEO Tom Allen said in the statement. However, AAP does not support the FASTR Act, saying the bill will create costly redundancy in the publishing process.

The American Library Association, meanwhile, put its support behind FASTR, writing in an action alert that the legislation “will make these articles freely available for all potential users to read. By doing so, FASTR will accelerate science, fuel innovation, and improve the lives of people all over the world.”

Anita Ferrer

Anita Ferrer is a contributor to Associations Now. More »

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