Tell the White House: Make government-funded research open-access

As J.B.S. Haldane put it, “I think … that the public has a right to know what is going on inside the laboratories, for some of which it pays.” He was referring to the need for scientists to explain their work in popular media—which, amen, brother Jack!—but the point holds with regard to access to original scientific articles, too.

It doesn’t make much sense that U.S. citizens, whose taxes fund most of the basic science in this country, are then expected to pay upwards of $50 for a single PDF copy of a journal article presenting government-funded research results. The National Institutes of Health already requires that research it funds be archived online and accessible to the general public free of charge—why not expand that to all government-funded research? And hey, there’s a way to suggest exactly that out to the man in charge: a petition on

We believe in the power of the Internet to foster innovation, research, and education. Requiring the published results of taxpayer-funded research to be posted on the Internet in human and machine readable form would provide access to patients and caregivers, students and their teachers, researchers, entrepreneurs, and other taxpayers who paid for the research. Expanding access would speed the research process and increase the return on our investment in scientific research.

The highly successful Public Access Policy of the National Institutes of Health proves that this can be done without disrupting the research process, and we urge President Obama to act now to implement open access policies for all federal agencies that fund scientific research.

It needs 25,000 virtual signatures within 30 days before it’ll get any meaningful attention, so sign this thing and then start badgering all your online “friends” about it, why don’t you? Especially the jerks who keep filling your update stream with branded product promotions and/or time-sucking adorable cat videos and/or news about how they’ve just spent real money for a virtual cow—post this directly on their “walls,” if those are even still a thing, with or without a witty and/or pleading comment appended.

I mean, it’s Monday morning; it’s not like you’re going to get do anything else for the benefit of humanity in the next minute or two, you slacker.◼

University of California system vs. Nature

Holy cow is right. In response to a threatened 400 percent increase in institutional subscription fees for 2011, the University of California system is threatening to boycott Nature and its sister journals [PDF].

… unless NPG [Nature Publishing Group] is willing to maintain our current licensing agreement, UC Faculty would ask the UC Libraries to suspend their online subscriptions entirely, and all UC Faculty would be strongly encouraged to:

  • Decline to peer review manuscripts for journals from the Nature Publishing Group.
  • Resign from Nature Publishing Group editorial and advisory boards.
  • Cease to submit papers to the Nature Publishing Group.
  • Refrain from advertising any open or new UC positions in Nature Publishing Group journals.
  • Talk widely about Nature Publishing Group pricing tactics and business strategies with colleagues outside UC, and encourage sympathy actions such as those listed above.

UC scientists will still get Nature articles—but now via e-mail from colleagues with personal subscriptions or access through non-UC libraries—and NPG will make nothing on those transactions. Refusal of peer review services—free labor provided to journals as a sort of scientific civil duty—also seems like it could reasonably inconvenience NPG. The full text of the memo mentions a similar successful boycott of Elsevier and Cell Press back in 2003, so clearly withdrawing the collective scholarly involvement of the UC scientific community can make a journal publisher take notice.

Open access on the line: H.R.801

A bill presently under consideration by the House Judiciary Committee would end the National Institutes of Health open access policy – which requires NIH-funded research to be made freely available to the public 12 months after publication – and ban other federal funding agencies from enacting similar measures.

This is, of course, primarily for the benefit of scientific publishers, who rely on subscription and online access fees as a major source of income. But it means that taxpayer-funded research would be inaccessible to members of the public who don’t benefit from institutional subscriptions. How we fund scientific publishing in the Internet Age is a tricky question – but legal fiat is not a good way to negotiate that question. Contact your representatives, and tell them to vote “no” on H.R. 801.

Via OpenCongress. See also coverage on Greg Laden’s blog.