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White House issues open access research policy



Months publishers have to seek alternate revenue before releasing their research publicly


Number of people who signed a “We the People” petition so far, prompting the new policy

$100 million

Amount of funding a federal agency must receive for new policy to apply

SOURCE: The White House, Office of Science and Technology Policy


Feb. 28, 2013 2:44 a.m.

A new White House policy may soon give UCLA students and researchers greater access to federally funded research.

The White House released an executive memorandum Friday, calling on major federal agencies to come up with policies to make their research available for free electronically one year after publication.

The directive applies to federal agencies that receive at least $100 million in federal research funding, including the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Defense, said Nick Shockey, director of student advocacy for The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, an international alliance of libraries that advocate for the open access of academic research.

Shockey said the new policy is an incredibly significant step in the growing push for open access of research that is easily accessible online with full re-use rights.

This will give students and faculty more access to research materials they need without paying large subscription fees, he said.

Christopher Kelty, a professor at the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics, said the White House directive aims to make scientific research available for the public, which funds the agencies that produce the research.

“The taxpayers pay for the research and therefore they should get access to that information,” Kelty said.

The directive, however, does not provide guidelines on how agencies should implement policies to make their information available or mandate how agencies are supposed to enforce these policies, Kelty said.

A bill introduced in Congress on February 14, called the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act of 2013, is attempting to make more federally funded organizations legally obligated to release their research publicly, said Sharon Farb, associate university librarian at UCLA.

The Association of American Publishers, a leading association for the U.S. publishing industry, said in a statement that it supports the White House’s new policy because it establishes a pathway to collaboration between federal agencies and publishing companies.

But the association previously released a separate statement that criticized the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act as a “waste” of taxpayers’ money.

A common argument against open access stems from concerns that academic publishers will not receive adequate compensation for their work.

Farb said she does not think there will be any adverse effects on publishers as a result of the White House directive, which may explain why many publishers are supporting the new policy. The directive’s 12-month waiting period allows publishers to release their material behind a paywall to maintain their revenue stream, Farb said.

UCLA does not plan to cancel subscriptions to journals because of a need to have the latest research available for students and faculty, she said.

Higher education institutions are also more likely to want to protect smaller niche journals because of their alternative addition to research materials, Farb added.

Malcolm Gordon, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, said he thinks taxpayers should have access to the research they fund, though he has a problem with the one-year deadline for public release of the research.

“The (12-month) embargo is too arbitrary; it should be defined functionally as when the paper is ready to be published,” he said.

Traditional avenues of publishing help to ensure the quality of work in academic journals, he added.

Farb said the University of California and UCLA specifically have been dedicated to making research more available to students and faculty as part of the mission of trying to create and disseminate new knowledge as widely as possible.

The University Committee on Libraries and Scholarly Communications, an Academic Senate committee, has also submitted a campus-wide policy for open access of UC research for reviews, Kelty said.

Farb said the UC has also instituted a program called eScholarship, that provides open access academic publishing services to the UC.

“We’re not supporting (open access) because it is a cost-saver,” Farb said. “We’re supporting it because it is the right thing to do.”

Federal agencies have six months to devise a plan of action for implementing the suggestions in the White House directive.

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