US moves to ease access to tax-funded research

2013-02-25T00:00:00Z US moves to ease access to tax-funded researchThe Washington Post The Washington Post Arizona Daily Star
February 25, 2013 12:00 am  • 

WASHINGTON - The White House is moving to make nearly all federally funded research freely available to the public, the latest advance in a long-running battle over access to research that exploded into view last month after the suicide of free-information activist Aaron Swartz.

In a memo Friday, White House science adviser John Holdren directed agency leaders to develop rules for releasing federally backed research within a year of publication in scientific or technical journals.

"These policies will accelerate scientific breakthroughs and innovation, promote entrepreneurship, and enhance economic growth and job creation," Holdren wrote.

The directive affects agencies funding at least $100 million in research annually, including the National Science Foundation and the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Commerce, and Health and Human Services. Agencies have six months to develop plans, which will then be reviewed by the White House before launch.

Articles can be stored in agency computers or other digital repositories as long as they can be "publicly accessible to search, retrieve and analyze," Holdren wrote.

Currently, much taxpayer-funded research is published in academic journals that cost as much as $20,000 a year. Reading individual articles costs $30 or more.

Holdren also responded to an open-access petition that garnered 65,000 signatures.

A teenage scientist from Glen Burnie, Md., Jack Andraka, said he relied on open-access articles to develop a five-minute, $3 test for pancreatic cancer. The project earned him first place and $75,000 in last year's Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

"I kept running into these paywalls where articles cost $30," Andraka said. He then searched for similar, but freely available, information. "Open access was absolutely critical. I couldn't have done my project without it."

"Open access" has also become a rallying cry for activists trying to set information free. Swartz, 26, a prominent computer programmer, faced severe federal charges for allegedly downloading some 5 million academic articles from a pay-walled journal repository. Swartz died by suicide in January as a court date loomed.

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