I’m still mildly bemused that the expansion of open access seems to have found some traction, or at least many more vocal proponents, over the last few months. Such enthusiasm has been met by actions in the U.K., internationally, and by many universities and funding groups to increase the incentives to publish scientific research under various forms of open access publishing.
Now we have a petition on the We The People portion of the White House website. The full text (there’s a limit of 800 characters, vagueness of goals and realism of promises is not necessarily an indication of intent):
“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.”
Uploaded to the petition site on May 13, the petition hit the publicly searchable threshold this past weekend, and thanks to a concerted effort to publicize the petition, there are now over 17,000 signatures as of late on May 25. The petition will need 25,000 signatures by June 19 in order to get a response from the Administration. If the publicity keeps up, I suspect the goal will be met.
The petition was started by Access2Research, a personal campaign of a few open access advocates that has the support of many organizations sympathetic, if not outright supportive of the cause. The publicity campaign has been global, and there is no requirement that signers of We The People petitions be U.S. citizens (they do have to set up an account – no fair signing twice).
The Chronicle of Higher Education has reported (H/T David Dobbs) that this petition came out of a feeling from one of the organizers of limited, if not lukewarm, support from the Administration on this issue. From my frustration at the Administration over how it is (and isn’t) handling scientific integrity policies, I can sympathize. But it’s harder for me to say that the Administration is resistant, given the work it’s doing in reviewing federal open access policies. The Office of Science and Technology Policy is just slow, and not necessarily the driver of national science and technology policy that many would assume it is.
While it seems likely that the signature goal will be met by June 19, what’s much less clear is what might come back from the Administration. While there has been an effort to look into federal policies for open access on its data, there hasn’t been as much comment on the open access legislation that typically gets introduced and goes nowhere in Congress. It would not surprise me to see a response that borrows heavily from the April 2012 report the National Science and Technology Council published on interagency open access policies.
It’s also worth repeating that the Administration responds to these petitions on its own schedule, and for its own purposes. It will even respond to petitions that do not meet the signature threshold if it feels the need. There stands a good chance that nobody will be satisfied by whatever response the Administration generates.
It may take the U.K. government carrying out its open access intentions, the Global Research Council pushing forward on open access, many more universities mandating open access for their faculty research, or all of these, for the U.S. federal government to act. I kind of don’t care whether the government leads or plays catch-up. There’s history for either outcome.