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PAYING TO ACCESS TAXPAYER-FUNDED RESEARCH

A MATTER OF PRINCIPLE

The academic publishing industry is frequently criticized for being in "a world of its' own", usually by Open Access advocates arguing for lower costs and less restrictions on access to research material. When the conversation comes around to federally funded research, comments about "blatant piracy" and "daylight robbery" often ensue as the paradoxical relationship between those who paid for the research and those that control it is reviewed. The illogicality of the arrangement is certainly worthy of review. Taxpayer dollars fund research that is then submitted to academic journals for publication. Those journals then charge subscribers for the privilege of accessing information that many of them already paid for as taxpayers. These same journals go to great lengths to promote their commitment to research ethics by requiring allegedly exhaustive peer review of all accepted articles prior to publication while failing to mention that no compensation is paid to authors or peer reviewers.

A WHITE HOUSE DIRECTIVE

In February 2013, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a federal directive that all agencies with R&D budgets larger than $100 million will make the results of that research available to the public for free within one year of the results being presented. The OSTP directive basically formalized a 2008 National Institutes of Health (NIH) policy that required investigators to post their studies in the NIH's PubMEd Central archive within one year of publication in a journal. The only difference was that the OSTP did not require publication in a journal prior to access, although large studies backed by federal dollars have never had a problem getting their research results published.

A WORK IN PROGRESS

The directive received broad bipartisan support as "an enormous step forward" with no apparent concern over how many of the operating details still needed to be ironed out at the of the announcement. The benchmark of $100 million was never explained. Would the requirement be too much work for an agency that only had a $50 million budget? In addition, the flexibility for specific agencies to request permission to "tailor" their response to the directive left many to wonder what degree of consistency would be achieved with this new torrent of research data. The directive did require that data storage solutions allow text mining and full text and data search capability.

A SYMBOLIC VICTORY

Cynics will no doubt want to mention the fact that much of the support for and attention paid to this directive is overblown. Full taxpayer access is all well and good, but the material being provided will only be of interest to a very small percentage of the general population paying those taxes. Open Access advocates would argue that those cynics are missing the point. A formal acknowledgment of ownership of the material will, they hope, lead to a broader discussion of the persistent dysfunctionality of the current academic publishing model.

About Author

I am Robert Smith, Global Marketing Manager, Enago Inc. Enago is the flagship brand of Crimson Interactive Inc, one of the world's leading language solutions providers, offering english paper editing and journal-publishing support to more than 81,000 authors across the globe.