Because I signed a petition asking for increased open access of studies, I got an email from White House Science Czar Dr. John Holdren today - don't get excited, after all of the mean things I have said about him he is not suddenly writing me personally, it was a mass email - saying they had 'listened' and were making some changes, a letter we all knew was coming.

It reads, in part:   

"To that end, I have issued a memorandum today (.pdf) to Federal agencies that directs those with more than $100 million in research and development expenditures to develop plans to make the results of federally-funded research publically available free of charge within 12 months after original publication. As you pointed out, the public access policy adopted by the National Institutes of Health has been a great success. And while this new policy call does not insist that every agency copy the NIH approach exactly, it does ensure that similar policies will appear across government."

Now, a lot of people think this is a cop out.  Where have they been for the last few years?  When the law to make NIH studies open access was under attack, in summer of 2008, there was one science site that noted the Big Elephant In The Room - namely, that Demcrats were the ones trying to kill it. While the rest of science media was gushing about how anti-science Republicans are and how Senator Obama would heal the planet, they couldn't be bothered to notice the "D" in front of the name of House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, who was leading the charge against open access. 

Some scientists and science media pundits are complaining about this, but about what, exactly?  This is a big improvement over just NIH studies being open access or, if Democrats had been able to steam roll NIH leader Elias Zerhouni in 2008, nothing being open access.  This is a win.

If all taxpayer-funded studies should be published 'free' then open access is clearly only a half step - I have long endorsed Open Publication, where no one has to pay a fee of any kind. Either I would do it or the government could do it and charge no one anything. The reason is that replacing a subscription journal that charges taxpayers to read with a journal that charges taxpayers to publish is no great improvement, though it is an improvement. But you can bet if the government floats the idea of creating a repository for all science where researchers can post it free of charge, the open access publishers taking in tens of millions of dollars are going to be writing campaign donation checks to sympathetic members of Congress, arguing that they perform some valuable function to science by having an editor checking some boxes on a form and collecting a thousand bucks in taxpayer money for 'peer review' they somehow do.

The same way print journals argue about their value to science right now.  

The same point I made early in 2008 is still true today; the best friend of the open access community in the US is actually the Republican party - they want transparency and access, including in science research. But to get them to listen means science has to shuck off the 'Republicans hate science' feel-good fallacy.