The Obama administration unveiled a new policy in support of open access to federally funded research Feb. 22.

The policy requires all federal agencies with annual expenditures over $100 million to make the results of their research open and free to the public within twelve months of publication.

Although Georgetown faculty and staff consider the new policy an ideological success, some did not believe that the measure would enhance the quality of their own research or cut costs associated with purchasing scientific journals.

“We [taxpayers] paid for this research,” Gwen Owens, head of Blommer Science Library, said. “It should be available to the public, but it doesn’t affect how Georgetown is going to be buying our journals.”

Chemistry Department Chair YuYe Tong agreed.

“Overall I think it’s a great idea because all of the research is supported by taxpayer money and in principle should be made available free for people,” Tong said.

For faculty, however, the new policy does not do enough to improve access in a constantly transforming field.

“The National Science Foundation originally really wanted deposits within six months, and publishers really objected to that,” Owens said. “When you’re working in the sciences, not to be able to get your hands on something for a year is just too long a time to wait.”

Because of the time sensitive nature of scientific research, Georgetown libraries will continue to subscribe to the same journals they did before the new policy went into place.

One potential benefit to the measure, however, will be the increased opportunities for recognition for faculty.

“Some studies show that the more accessible your journal articles are, the more frequently they’re cited. The frequency of citations is a way people use to evaluate an author’s work,” Owens said.

He doubted, however, that the policy would address journal costs, whose increase in recent years have caused her concern. From 2006 to 2011, the price that Georgetown paid on average for a chemistry journal subscription increased by over 24 percent while that for a biology journal shot up by over 40 percent.
“It might cut into [the science publishing companies’] market a little bit, but the large research institutions are still going to have to have the cutting-edge research as it’s published,” Owens said.

In the last fifteen years, a few companies within the journal publishing industry, such as Elsevier and Wiley, have gained huge market power.

Owens said that the move to publishing journals online has forced smaller journals that do not have the infrastructure to publish electronically to approach large publishing firms for assistance.

The reduction in the number of firms is one reason that Georgetown pays around $6,000 to $7,000 per journal subscription.

“There’s a lot of consolidation going on, and it’s getting pretty scary because within about five years, I would say that 80 to 90 percent of the scientific publishing is going to be in the hands of four or five big publishers,” Owens said.

Richard Weiss, a professor in the chemistry department and an editor of the American Chemical Society Journal, thought the new policy might generate more uproar from the largest scientific publishers.

“The publishers are the ones who are going to scream and cry and complain [over the policy],” Weiss said. “Places that will probably suffer most will be the for-profits because they will no longer be able to withhold their information.”

Weiss cited smaller institutions that cannot afford expensive general subscriptions among the categories of the public who would benefit from the policy.

However, he agreed with Owens that the rising cost of scientific journals would likely continue to be a problem.
“There’s a lot of money to be made in the scientific publishing industry, and as long as there’s a lot of money to be made, there will be people who will try to find a way around whatever restrictions are placed upon them,” Weiss said.

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