White House announces new US ‘open access’ policy

A "massive sellout" to big publishers, with 12-month embargo on research, says a PLOS founder
February 25, 2013

Lots of new accelerating science discoveries, but you can’t see them for a year unless you make the big bucks. Is this stifling progress? (Credit: stock image)

The White House said Friday that publications from taxpayer-funded research should be available to you, but only after a year’s delay.

“The Obama Administration is committed to the proposition that citizens deserve easy access to the results of scientific research their tax dollars have paid for,” the memo said.

But that doesn’t mean fast access. And the policy would, strangely, only apply to Federal agencies with more than $100M in R&D expenditures.

In contrast, FASTR (‘Fair Access to Science and Technology Research’), introduced in the U.S. Congress on Feb. 14, would require public access to papers just six months after publication.

Big publishing teams up with big government to block access

The debate over access to federally funded studies has been simmering for years, NBC Cosmic Log explains. “Some in the scientific community have argued that such studies should be made freely and publicly available immediately because taxpayers have footed the bill for the research. Others have voiced concern that a government requirement to distribute the studies at no cost would deal a blow to the scientific publishing industry.”

“We wanted to strike the balance between the extraordinary public benefit of increasing public access to the results of federally-funded scientific research and the need to ensure that the valuable contributions that the scientific publishing industry provides are not lost,” Holdren wrote in his response to the online petition.

“This policy reflects that balance, and it also provides the flexibility to make changes in the future based on experience and evidence.”

However, continues Cosmic Log, one of PLOS’ founders, biologist Michael Eisen of the University of California at Berkeley, delivered a sharper response in a Twitter comment: “That anyone is celebrating 12-month embargoes with no reuse rights to publicly funded research just shows how much further there is to go.” He called the White House directive a “massive sellout of public interest to publishers.”

It took substantial inputs from scientists and scientific organizations, publishers, members of Congress, and other members of the public to even get to this point. More than 65,000 of them recently signed a We the People petition asking for expanded public access to the results of taxpayer-funded research.