Admit it. You seldom get a chance to lobby the White House, do you? Even if you write lots of letters on topics of public interest, most of them go to newspapers or to your local representatives. How often do you really get to bend Barak’s ear? Here is your chance.
The White House has a petition program. Anyone can begin a petition, and it becomes visible and searchable on the WH site if 150 people sign it. If 25,000 people sign a petition in 30 days, the White House pledges that that petition will be circulated to appropriate officials (no, I cannot really guarantee that the President will read it) and an official response made public. Although 25,000 signatures does not sound too hard, most petitions do not come close.
On May 21 a petition went public that asks the White House to act to make the articles that arise from Federally-funded research — that is research you and I pay for — publicly accessible. Here is the text of the petition:
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.
As many will recall, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy did a public request for information on this topic, its second and more detailed such request, at the end of 2011. A report based on the responses to the RFI has been prepared and is circulating within the White House. This petition is designed to ask the White house to act on that report, which we believe is favorable to the idea of public access. In only two and a half days the petition has collected half of the necessary signatures, but it is important to keep the momentum going; it will be the 24,999th signature that will be hardest to get.
The technology blog Slashdot has this to say in support of the petition:
“You paid for it, you should be able to read the results of publicly funded research. The National Institutes of Health have had a very successful open access mandate requiring that the results of federally funded biomedical research be published in open access journals. Now there is a White House petition to broaden this mandate. This is a jobs issue. Startups and midsize business need access to federally funded technology research. It is a health care issue, patients and community health providers need access, not a few scientists in well funded research institutes, and even wealthy institutions like Harvard are finding the prices of proprietary journals unsustainable.”
Note that this quotation links to the Harvard Library Faculty Advisory Council’s memo to the faculty about journal pricing and suggests that the petition is one way to address the unsustainability of the current journal system. I cannot help noting, however, that the Harvard group did not say, in that memo, that Harvard could not afford the journals; they said something more fundamental. They said they were not getting sufficient value for the money they were spending under the current system and that their (substantial) resources could be better spent elsewhere. This petition, like the Harvard statement, is about increasing the value, the return on investment, that the public gets from its support of scientific research.
For an entertaining argument in favor of public access, here is a fun video from Access2Research.
If you are a librarian and believe that the current system of disseminating research and scholarship is unsustainable, I hope you will read this blog post from the ACRL and consider signing this petition.
If you are a researcher and want faster, better scientific information and collaboration, I hope you will consider signing this petition.
If you signed the “Cost of Knowledge” Elsevier boycott, I hope you will consider signing this petition.
If you are a student and want to keep the costs of your education from rising even faster, I hope you will consider signing this petition.
If you are a businessman or entrepreneur and want to encourage innovation and job growth, I hope you will consider signing this petition.
If you are a taxpayer and believe you should get what you paid for, I hope you will consider signing this petition.