By Kyle Kenney
Science Communications Intern
On Sunday, May 20th, Access2Research’s (A2R) petition supporting open-access (OA) policy went live on the White House’s petition webpage. 50 hours later, the petition titled “Require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research” had gathered 10,000 signatures, setting a pace that will undoubtedly beat the White House’s 30-day window for a petition to get 25,000 signatures. This morning the number of petitioners crossed the 19,000-mark.
Why has this petition achieved such quick success? Well, along with the help of social media and A2R’s dedicated leaders, the petition provides an unmatched opportunity for ordinary Americans without the means to financially influence members of Congress to make a difference in the country’s research infrastructure. And it’s an opportunity we can’t afford to pass up — literally.
Publishers can charge up to $30 for an article you have already paid for (through taxation), a practice that costs Harvard University upwards of $3.75 million per year, according to this memo. To Harvard this figure may not make much of a dent in its $26 billion endowment, but to a school of smaller means, the price-tag that large publishers are slapping on journals and papers can result in a financial crater. To a given individual, paying for a taxpayer-funded research paper should seem absurd.
So what exactly is A2R’s petition aiming to do? Its website makes the goal loud and clear: “Require free access over the Internet to journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research.” A2R and other OA advocates wish to urge the Obama administration to address this issue in order to eliminate paywalls that publishing companies have constructed in order to profit from research, a great deal of which has already been paid for by the American public. Along with breaking down financial barriers, OA supporters also seek to make research immediately available rather than waiting a year for NIH-supported information to become free, a policy that the NIH adopted in 2008.
Why should you care? For starters, you’ve already paid for research funded by the government. I’m not going to pretend to know the ins and outs of the publishing system, but for-profit journals are raking in dough while authors of the research — and the funders — may not see any of it. Signing A2R’s petition can be seen as part of a movement that seeks balance in the weight that wealthy individuals and corporations exert over federal policy-making.
We’re all familiar with the Occupy Movement’s call to arms, “We are the 99 percent!” According to Harvard law professor Larry Lessig, the Occupy Movement’s claim isn’t exactly correct. In fact, Lessig points out that 196 Americans, or .0000063 percent of the country’s population, have given 80 percent of this year’s total Super Pac funding. (If you click the link to Mr. Lessig’s presentation, skip ahead to 29:50 for this particular argument.) The logical conclusion from petitions like A2R’s is that hopefully “The People,” as Lessig refers to the public at-large, can take Congress back from “The Funders,” Lessig’s nickname for the corporations and well-endowed individuals who have been pouring money into the political machine.
What’s most important, though, is that federal research benefits you. What if America can start producing its own clean energy? What if there is a drug out there that can cure, treat or prevent ME/CFS? These are just a few important questions that research can possibly answer. So why should anyone require you to pay twice for it? In the interest of spreading knowledge, fostering innovation, and unlocking discoveries, this petition is something we should all get behind.
- Argentina recently produced pro-OA legislation
- The UK is transitioning over to open-access to research
- The University of California – San Francisco has moved to OA
- Scientific American and The Chronicle of Higher Education bloggers have thrown their support behind A2R’s petition.
So please take a few minutes to sign the petition (http://wh.gov/6TH). It may not be perfect, but even those who don’t completely agree with its wording cannot deny that it is the first step to our country’s very own piece of pro-OA legislation.
Kyle Kenney is the CFIDS Association of America’s summer science communications intern. Kyle is a sophomore industrial engineering major at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a native of Charlotte, North Carolina. He has family members with CFS.