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Is universal open access research in reach?

Does taxpayer-funded research belong to the masses? The Obama administration thinks so. This past February, the Office of Science and Technology Policy directed each agency that spends at least $100 million in federal funds towards research and development "to develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government." The drafts of the plans were to be submitted by August of this year. The policy guidelines state that research should be made freely available to the public within one year after peer-reviewed publication. Additionally, the policy prioritizes the availability of the hordes of digital data that are becoming a more common component of published works. But what is the cost of "free?"

The open-access debate over federally funded researched has raged for years, with a myriad of reasons given on both sides. The dilemma of how to fund "free" access was recently highlighted in The New York Times. Notably, the article stated how even Google, a business without traditional ties to academia, was interested in hosting the growing scientific data free of charge; however, this proposal fell through in 2008. It is becoming obvious that open access cannot be simply achieved by federally funding research but may also require funding its publication and storage.  

A recent Forbes article listed several reasons why open access is not as tenable as we would like—the cost of publishing or data management was not included. Rather, the discussed potential barriers to open access focused on federally funded research that is classified or industry-sponsored research that may bend to a company's interests in monetizing new discoveries.   

Along with several prominent open-access journals, California has taken the lead with passing its own open-access policy in late July. Starting in November of this year, all papers published by researchers in the University of California system will be available for free on UC's research repository eScholarship. However, an article in The Daily Californian indicated that "faculty members will also be given the choice to delay or opt out of the policy on a per-article basis." Even with state and federal funds, perhaps only time will tell how willing the researchers themselves will be to release their work in an open and timely manner.


An earlier version of this blog incorrectly stated that the Office of Science and Technology Policy dedicated $100 million "to develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government."


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