Congress Considers Killing Open-Access Journals

In recent years, the government has made moves to support making the results of taxpayer-funded research available to taxpayers for free. A new bill in Congress attempts to pull the plug.

It’s often repeated that science thrives on the free exchange of ideas. Thus, the fact that it actually costs a lot of money to get access to scientific papers ($146/year for Science alone) has struck more than one person as odd.

A recent movement has led to the creation of open-access journals, which do not charge access fees. This movement has gained traction at universities (e.g., Harvard) and also at government agencies. NIH recently required the researchers they fund to publish in journals which are either open-access or make their papers open-access within a year of publication.

Fortunately for the for-profit journal system, Congress is considering H.R. 801, which would forbid NIH and other government agencies from implementing such policies. The conceit of the bill is that NIH is requiring researchers to give up their copyrights, though of course researchers hardly ever — and, as far as I know, never — retain the copyrights to their works. Publishers require the transfer of the copyright as a condition of publication.

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