The White House wants your thoughts on open access to scientific publications! Deadline January 12!

Do you live on planet earth? Then you probably pay taxes. And if you pay taxes then you’re supporting scientific research. Thanks a lot – that’s really great. Thanks to you scientists can make discoveries that lead to cures for diseases. And we’d really love to share these discoveries with you…but you can’t afford them.

There are lots of problems with the way scientific findings are communicated but this is perhaps the saddest one. The public pays for scientific research and then is charged again to read the results. People who do not have access to massive library holdings simply cannot access scholarly publications. Many scientists themselves cannot even access the papers they need because their institution cannot afford the subscriptions.

Fortunately, things are changing. For example, the National Institutes of Health requires that all federally-funded research be deposited into Pubmed Central where it is freely available to the public within 12 months of publication (this allows publishers to still make money off the article for a while, which is very kind of the US government). Another example is the new publishing model put forth by PLoS One and other journals, where the authors pay a fee that covers the costs of publication, archiving etc. Then the articles are made freely available to all because subscriptions are not needed to cover costs.

The way things are going, it is only a matter of time before scholarly publications and scientific information becomes freely communicated to those that paid for it. How long this transformation will take is the big question and there are two big movements in the US government that will play a big role. Two big movements that need your input.

First, there’s the The Research Works Act, a bill that, if turned into law, would prevent the open dissemination of scholarly articles. It would be a major step backwards. The Research Works Act would end Pubmed Central. It would dramatically slow down the pace and effectiveness of science. It’s put forth by members of congress who receive donations from publishers (e.g. Elsevier) that make massive profits off of taxpayer-funded scientific publications. Essentially, it wants to protect an outdated business model at the expense of education, scientific progress, human health, the environment, the economy, or anything else that benefits from the results of scientific research. See below for more information on the Research Works Act and, if you think it needs to be stopped, contact your representatives asap. If you’re not American you can still contact Representatives Issa and Maloney, who are sponsoring it. Many are also pushing scientists to contact their professional societies and university presses which are often in favor of preventing open access, for example through their membership with the American Association of Publishers (see here and here).

The second big thing, which must be related, is that the White House has put out a Request for Information, seeking input on how to promote open access to scholarly publications. Do you think it’s important for scientific information to be easily and freely available to all? If so, you now have a chance to offer feedback that could directly impact legislation on the topic. But you have to respond by Jan. 12. Apparently this Request for Information was extended an additional 10 days because the only input received was from for-profit publishers with no input coming from scientists themselves.


Below is a list of links to the official US government sites for the Research Works Act and the open access RFI, people’s answers to the request for information, and sample letters to the representatives sponsoring the Research Works Act. Check them out:

The Research Works Act proposed by Representatives Issa and Maloney.

The White House Request for Information on public access to scientific publications (and update on the deadline extension plus link to related RFI on the management of digital data)

Kevin Zelnio’s passionate post urging scientists to get off their butts and do something about this. This is the first I read on the topic and what got me motivated to actually do something.

Michael Eisen’s post on Elsevier’s financial contributions to Rep. Maloney, who is putting forth the Research Works Act. His follow-up comment comparing publishers to obstetricians is great.

Heather Piwowar’s analysis of whether the Research Works Act protects jobs or is just fear mongering.

Cameron Neylon’s open letter to Representatives Issa and Maloney on the misguided idea that journals add value to articles which then needs to be protected as intellectual property, his note that the public pays for science not 2 but 3 or 4 no wait 5 times over, and his response to the RFI on public access to scientific publications.

Bjorn Brembs’ response to the RFI on public access to scientific publications.

John Dupuis’ very thorough list of links on the Research Works Act.

A thorough list of links and thoughts in Peter Suber’s Google+ post.


  1. Just to say that, although we’re warned that when we contribute, we don’t get any feedback, I actually got a personal note of thanks from someone at the Office of Science and Technology Policy for providing my opinion.

    A shorter one than mine and Cameron’s will probably suffice (forgive me for the self-promotion). Last day!

  2. I think that open access to scientific articles should be a law. The Journal should have sole use of the document for a set period of time then it should be in the public domain. Eg. Nature has Scientific American articles all the way back to the 1800’s tied up. It is next to impossible to obtain access unless one has access to a university library that has paid for access.

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