Publicly funded research is public domain

As taxpayers, we have grown accustomed to blindly following the rules — chipping in every year without giving a second thought about where that money is going, who it’s going to, or what it’s being used for. At the same time, we expect to have access to those things that we know lie within the bounds of the public domain — if a road’s been repaved, we expect to be able to drive on it. If a new park has been built, we expect to be able to walk through it. However, taxpayers will probably never know how the government’s share of their hard-earned paychecks will be allocated; most likely, it’s because the government presumes they don’t care.

Every year, taxpayers of every education level and economic status unknowingly contribute to the $55 billion that the federal government spends annually to fund research, the results of which are only published in scholarly journals, according to the American Library Association (ALA). Because accessing these journals requires a paid subscription, the journals are most likely viewed by a small subgroup of the academic elite, who have both the interest and the money to read what are effectively the fruits of the public’s labor.

Fortunately, Senator John Cornyn (R–Texas) and Senator Joseph Lieberman (I–Conn.) understood the injustice of the system and introduced a bill last year that would require federal agencies that spend more than $100 million a year on external research to make articles based on that research as available to the public as roads or parks, via the Internet.

The bill, called the Federal Research Public Access Act, would be particularly advantageous to students, who are often interested in research but unwilling
to spend money on a scientific journal.

If the research is shared, its effects will reach and eventually improve the lives of a much wider audience than it would if it continued to be limited to such a narrow demographic.