WASHINGTON — The White House moved Friday to make nearly all federally funded research freely available to the public, the latest advance in a long-running battle that exploded into view last month after the suicide of free-information activist Aaron Swartz.
In a memo, White House science adviser John Holdren directed agency leaders to develop rules for releasing federally backed research within a year of publication in scientific or technical journals.
“These policies will accelerate scientific breakthroughs and innovation, promote entrepreneurship, and enhance economic growth and job creation,” Holdren wrote.
The directive affects agencies funding at least $100 million in research annually, including the National Science Foundation and the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Commerce, and Health and Human Services. Agencies have six months to develop plans.
Articles can be stored in agency computers or other digital repositories as long as they can be “publicly accessible to search, retrieve, and analyze,” Holdren wrote. He encouraged agencies to coordinate their plans.
Currently, much taxpayer-funded research is published in academic journals that cost up to $20,000 a year. Reading individual articles typically runs $30 or more.
Holdren on Friday also responded to an open-access petition that garnered 65,000 signatures, writing, “this research was funded by taxpayer dollars. Americans should have easy access to the results.”
A teenage scientist from Glen Burnie, Md., Jack Andraka, said he relied on open-access articles to develop a five-minute, $3 test for pancreatic cancer. The project earned him first place and $75,000 in last year’s Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.
“I kept running into these paywalls where articles cost $30,” said Andraka. He then searched for similar, but freely available, information. “Open access was absolutely critical.”
The new policy traverses a middle ground between the demands of advocates for immediate free access to research and the pecuniary interests of the $21 billion academic publishing sector. It appeared to placate large segments of both sides.
The Association of American Publishers, which has fought open-access proposals in Congress, called the policy a “fair path.” A coalition of academic libraries fed up with high journal prices also praised the plan.
“I think it’s a huge step in the right direction,” said Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, which represents libraries.
Some open-access advocates, meanwhile, took issue with the policy’s one-year waiting period.
“It’s a major sellout to publishers,” said Michael Eisen, a University of California, Berkeley, biologist and a vocal proponent of immediate free access to research papers.
“Open access” has also become a rallying cry for activists trying to set information free. Swartz, 26, a prominent computer programmer, faced severe federal charges for allegedly downloading some 5 million academic articles from JSTOR, a paywalled journal repository. Swartz died by suicide in January as a court date loomed.