Now you can read all that scientific research your taxes pay for

In some very convoluted and mostly useless sense, every single person who lives in the United States and bothers to pay taxes is a part owner of the country as a whole. You own a little piece of the military, some infrastructure, and even bits of all the stuff in the Smithsonian, which is why you don't have to pay to get in there: it's yours. Heck, you're even a part-owner of NASA, and you're free to use any of NASA's awesome pictures for whatever you want, without having to deal with copyrights or anything like that.

The other thing that you pay for is scientific research. About two percent of your taxes goes to government agencies like the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and the Department of Energy, who pass that money on to researchers in industry and academia to help them discover things. This is your money that's funding this research, but with the exception of the NIH, it's been difficult (if not impossible) for us to get access to what we pay for due to the way that science works now. Scientists have been taking public funding, doing awesome stuff with it, and then publishing the results in journals that are locked away behind paywalls.

In response to a We The People petition, the Office of Science and Technology Policy has revealed that it's been working with "Federal agencies with more than $100M in R&D expenditures to develop plans to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication," and the official memorandum has just been released (you can read it here). This means that something like 65,000 research papers every year will now be available for you to be confused by.

Seriously, it's not like Joe Q. Taxpayer is going to have his life significantly improved by the ability to read more research papers, but it could make a huge difference for other researchers. Science progresses most rapidly when people collaborate and learn from each other, and it's unfortunate that the culture we have right now tends to emphasize secrecy. Knocking down paywalls isn't going to fix the publish-or-perish mindset that often comes along with pure academic research, but the hope is that it'll make it easier (and cheaper) for all of us to stay right at the cutting edge of science.

White House Blog, via io9

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