Do you want to see the research you pay for?

Then you should sign a petition to encourage the White House to require all tax payer funded research publications to be freely available online.


Require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research.

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.

* via access2research

Author: Josh Witten

8 thoughts on “Do you want to see the research you pay for?”

  1. I’m definitely on board with the idea that open access is useful for scientists and science journalists. But the argument that ‘taxpayers paid for it so they should have access to it’ is less persuasive – there are many types of information and research that taxpayers pay for that we don’t (and shouldn’t necessarily) get access to.

    On the other hand, the claim of some journal publishers that they can’t survive with mandated open access has already been proven wrong.

    1. There is certain information to which the public should not have access for security or safety reasons (eg, troop movements or weapons research) – legally mandated confidentiality. That seems like a very small slice of the pie. It is also very different from publication that is ostensibly public, but is hidden behind exorbitant paywalls. All the research in these journals has been determined to be “ok” for public consumption (witness the recent engineered flu debate), but is not actually accessible to the people who fund our research programs.

      1. There has to be more to the argument for open access than the commonly used slogan that taxpayers paid for the research and thus should get free access to it, particularly since most journals provide a valuable service needs to be paid for. (And what about, say, non-US residents, who are not paying US taxes – are they entitled to free access under this argument?) The way open access works in practice is that taxpayers pay for the research, and then pay again for open access in the form of higher author fees at open access journals. Either way, taxpayers pay both for the research and for publication.

        I’m convinced that open access is a very good thing for communication within the science community, and for science writers communicating science to the public. I’m not so convinced that it matters very much whether or not everyone outside the scientific community can get access to specialized technical articles, and it may even be problematic in some medical instances because people ignore their physicians and cherry-pick evidence from research they don’t understand.

        1. The benefits to scientific inquiry and science journalism (both access & fact checking) are hard to counter. I do not find the “we must protect the public from themselves” argument compelling. First, people already cherry pick from the info they have available. This would improve the quality of the info available. Second, I find it hard to argue that, absent a compelling reason, we should hide the research.

          Even if it is neutral from a utility perspective to the public, it doesn’t seem like there is any good reason to keep people from seeing it. The real question is “why should we make it effectively impossible for the public to see the research?” It seems to me that our null hypothesis should be open access.

          It is not entirely clear how this would work broad scale as a business model. It may mean that we return to something more similar to what we had before the rise of the journal industry, like within field. If taxpayers are going to pay for the research & the publication, they should be able to see the results. Fact is the big journals provided a distribution service we needed at one point. They still provide important services, but many of the most important, like writing papers and peer-review, they don’t pay for anyway.

          While I think it is in everyone’s interest to make the publications available for free internationally, it is perfectly possible to constrain access to one’s own borders – witness my inability to watch The Daily Show online.

          1. WRGT cherry-picking by patients, I’m just being a devil’s advocate – I’m also generally skeptical of efforts to protect people from themselves, especially when they’re not imposing substantial costs on others in the process.

            I don’t see access as an issue of hiding research, or purposely making it unavailable or difficult to access. If publication and peer-review were cost-free, then of course these publications of gov’t-sponsored research should be made available to everyone.

            But publication is not cost-free, and so the default business model is that people pay to access commercially published research. The question then is not whether we should hide research from the public, but whether there is a compelling public interest for the government to mandate a change in the default publishing business model and make research publications freely available.

            I’m convinced that there is a compelling public interest when it comes to open access for scientists and science journalists, but not necessarily when it comes to the general public.

            But I’ll admit that this is really too fine a distinction on my part, because there will obviously be no such thing as open access only for scientists, or only for US residents. I just think that the best arguments for open access are focused on the benefits to the research community and science communication, and not the slogan ‘you paid for it so you should have access.’

            1. Part of the issue is that we are having a theoretical debate about a system that is far from any theoretical ideal. We could argue about whether access is a “right” due to the funding system if access was provided at a reasonable cost. Many government services underwritten by taxes still require a reasonable-ish payment to access the service (e.g., getting a passport). The publishing system, however, is generally not providing access under reasonable terms. Frankly, it is the academics who gave the journals this power by the way we evaluate careers. The system needs a dramatic shake-up.

              Mainly, I see it as requiring a compelling public interest to maintain the current system, in which we pay a lot to prevent free flow of information. Even if open access saves no resources, it will allow free information flow.

              1. There are clearly bad actors in the science publishing world, Elsevier being Exhibit A. And scientists themselves place too much weight on a few journals like Science and and Nature, which aren’t parasites like Elsevier, but have more influence than they should have.

                I’m not sure how open access will change how careers are evaluated, or even weaken the overemphasis on Science and Nature, which, if not exactly ahead of the curve, have been experimenting with open access.

                1. The system doesn’t really need bad actors. In many ways, the publishing system has been reacting to the perverse pressures academic research creates. The fact is that every print-based distributor in every field has been struggling with how to deal with the internet eliminating the basic need for much of their infrastructure (eg, printing books). Some have responded more productively than others. Unlike newspapers, scientific journals have not face real competition to their business model until recently.

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