My comments to Times Higher Education about the White House petition

June 6, 2012

I am briefly quoted in Times Higher Education‘s new article about the White House public access petition Since my response had to be quite dramatically cut for space, here is the full text of what I sent the writer, Paul Jump:

The success of this petition is important for several reasons. First, it puts paid to the pernicious lie that open access isn’t important because research is useless to non-specialists. Support for the petition has come from many non-academic quarters, including patient support group Patients Like MeWikipedia, Creative Commons, the American Association of Law Libraries, and the Association of College and Research Libraries.

Perhaps equally important, it’s attracted support from publishers — not only open-access publishers such as PLoS, BMC and InTechWeb, but also forward-thinking subscription publishers like Rockefeller University Press. It’s also featured widely in the non-academic media, appearing on the news-for-nerds sites SlashdotReddit, and Hacker News, in newspapers like the Guardian, and in magazines like Wired.

All of this makes the crucial point that open access isn’t just an esoteric preference of a few disgruntled academics, as the hugely profitable commercial subscription-based academic publishers have consistently tried to paint it. It’s something that has huge implications for all of our lives: for health care, education, legislative deliberations, small businesses, and ultimately the health of the planet.

Open-access advocates have seen this for a long time, but now the message is getting out. Irrespective of what response the Obama administration makes to the petition’s very rapid achievement of the required 25,000 signatures, what’s been said about it around the world lays waste the idea that open access is nothing more than an alternative business model for scholarly publishing. It’s a much bigger revolution than that.

(They managed to cut that down to 69 words!)

One Response to “My comments to Times Higher Education about the White House petition”


    Open Access (OA) means online access free for all — specialized researchers and general public alike. Hence there is no conflict at all about whether OA is needed for researchers or for the public. It’s needed by both. Moreover, researcher access is itself in the interest of the public: It is for the benefit of the public that researchers use, apply and build upon the research that is funded for that purpose by the public.

    Nor is it just a few disgruntled researchers who lack access — and hence cannot use, apply and build upon — the research the public has funded. No research institution, not even the richest, can afford subscription access to all, most or even much of the research that is published every year in the planet’s 25,000 peer-reviewed journals; most research institutions can only afford access to a small fraction of them. That means that most research is accessible only to a fraction of its intended users. This is borne out by the finding, in field after field, that research that is made OA is used and cited significantly more than research that is accessible only to subscribers.

    But only about 20% of research is made OA spontaneously by its authors today, and the main reason is that authors are afraid to make it OA (even though the majority of journals have already given authors their official blessing to make their peer-reviewed final drafts OA immediately, with no embargo, by self-archiving them in their institutional repositories).

    This is why official OA self-archiving mandates from authors’ institutions and funders are so important and urgent today.

    And this is why over 25,000 people have petitioned the White House to mandate OA for publicly funded research.

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