Wednesday, May 30, 2012

take five minutes: support open access

tl;dr: Sign this petition to support open access for publicly-funded research!!

Here's the situation: there's lots of scholarly work being done. And you, as a citizen of a country, are paying academics to do science (or whatever), write about it, and review the work of other scholars. The work that makes it through the reviewing process gets published, typically in a journal or at a conference.

Here's the problem: a lot of that scholarly work is then inaccessible to you. You have to pay to read it, and often you have to pay a lot. If you're at a well-funded academic institution, your university library has to pay a lot. It's a serious problem for universities as wealthy as Harvard. Where does this money go to? It doesn't go to the academics who wrote the papers, or those who reviewed them: it goes to publishing companies with absurd profit margins who have trouble pointing at what value they add to the process, aside happening to own prestigious journals.

Concretely, this is a problem for the independent researcher, for the small business developer-of-stuff who wants to get the latest developments, for the interested public who wants to read and learn and grow, for the precocious teenager. I've come to care kind of a lot about this issue: it's because I believe in science. I think it's pretty important: it should get out to as many people as possible, not just because the citizens paid for it in the first place, but also so we can make progress faster.

The National Institutes of Health have famously set up an Open Access mandate: all the research that they fund must be available to the public pretty soon after it's published. Many universities are doing the same thing. The Association for Computational Linguistics (who run the conferences and journals where I'm personally likely to publish), do a bang-up job of making all of their articles publicly available, and I'm really proud to be associated with them. But not every professional organization, and not every field's journal are like this. Most are not!

How can you help? Right now, there's a petition on the White House website where you can ask the administration to expand the NIH-style mandate to other funding agencies: I'd really appreciate if you'd take a minute to make an account and sign the petition. Click here:

(hrm, I seem to have written about this back in 2007 too)

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