Each year, the federal government spends billions of dollars funding all sorts of important scientific research. But when that research produces important results, accessing that vital information requires subscriptions to a huge variety of journals. Subscribing to all of the publications necessary is beyond the reach of any researcher, and even strains the budgets of major universities and other research institutions. Even then, those libraries are often only accessible to their affiliated faculties and students, not the wider world of users—including the taxpayers who funded the research in the first place.
This doesn’t have to be the case. For the past several years, the National Institutes of Health has had in place a policy that conditions the grant of federal funds upon the researchers publishing their results in publicly available sources. Now there’s a petition, started with the support of a number of open access groups, seeks to expand this sort of program to all research funded by federal agencies, not just that from NIH. This could help open doors to access research in the physical sciences as well as the life sciences—areas where we’ll need to see progress in order to solve many of today’s problems.
The lack of access to research isn’t just a question of taxpayers getting the most bang for their buck, though that’s certainly a big part of it. It’s also about advancing the cause of scientific research. Increasing the number of scientists who have access to the latest research increases the speed with which they can make the scientific connections that move our collective knowledge forward. This is a plan that not only helps the U.S. taxpayer, it helps knowledge itself.
As of this writing, the petition is more than halfway to getting the signatures it needs to require a White House response, but that still leaves 10,000 more names that need to be added by June 19. Please take the time to sign the petition, and convince the government to make publicly-funded research public.