U.S. Moves to Provide Quicker Access to Publicly Financed Scientific Research

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If you paid for it, you should be able to read it. For publicly financed science research, the Obama administration agrees.

In a memorandum issued on Friday, John P. Holdren, science adviser to President Obama, called for scientific papers that report the results of federally financed research to become freely accessible within a year or so after publication. The findings are typically published in scientific journals, many of which are open only to paying subscribers.

The new policy would apply to federal agencies, including the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture, that finance more than $100 million a year of research. The agencies have six months to submit plans for how they would carry out the new policy.

The hope is that broad access to scientific results will encourage faster progress on research and will let anyone apply the knowledge for technological advances.

"We have seen, over the last 15 years, in the era of the Internet, that the more widely available a publication is, the more likely it is to be cited and the more likely it is to be used in patent applications," said Myron Gutmann, an assistant director at the National Science Foundation.

"We know that the small and medium enterprise, the business community, doesn't have a lot of access to scientific publications right now," Dr. Gutmann said, "and the more we can make things available for those communities, the more innovation there is likely to be." He estimated that 25,000 to 40,000 journal articles based on research financed by the science foundation are published annually.

At the Agriculture Department, Catherine Woteki, the agency's chief scientist, said the new policy fit in with efforts to make agriculture data like plant genomes more widely available. "We can reduce in half the time that it takes for breeding drought- and pest- and disease-resistant crops," she said.

The agencies could model their policies on one established by the National Institutes of Health in 2008. The N.I.H. requires scientists receiving grants to ensure that their papers can be made available on PubMed Central, a publicly available Web site, within one year.

An online petition last May on the White House's Web site called for "free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research."

More than 65,000 people signed the petition, easily passing the 25,000-signature threshold that merited an official White House response. (The threshold was raised in January to 100,000 after a petition that called for building a Death Star like that in the movie "Star Wars" garnered 34,435 signatures; administration officials rejected that suggestion.)

In a response posted Friday to the signers of the open-access petitioners, Dr. Holdren agreed.

"Americans should have easy access to the results of the research they help support," Dr. Holden wrote, adding, "the logic behind enhanced access is plain."

science

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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