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Public can obtain federal research data for free

| Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 7:15 p.m.

WASHINGTON — The White House has moved to make nearly all federally funded research freely available to the public — the latest advance in a long-running battle over access to research that exploded into view last month after the suicide of free-information activist Aaron Swartz.

In a memo, White House science adviser John Holdren directed agency leaders to develop rules for releasing federally backed research within a year of publication in scientific or technical journals.

“These policies will accelerate scientific breakthroughs and innovation, promote entrepreneurship, and enhance economic growth and job creation,” Holdren wrote.

The directive affects agencies funding at least $100 million in research annually, including the National Science Foundation and the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Commerce, and Health and Human Services. Agencies have six months to develop plans, which then will be reviewed by the White House before initiation.

Articles can be stored in agency computers or other digital repositories as long as they can be “publicly accessible to search, retrieve, and analyze,” Holdren wrote. He encouraged agencies to coordinate their plans.

Much taxpayer-funded research now is published in academic journals that cost as much as $20,000 a year. Reading individual articles typically costs $30 or more.

Holdren responded on Friday to an open-access petition that garnered 65,000 signatures.

“This research was funded by taxpayer dollars. Americans should have easy access to the results,” Holdren said.

A teenage scientist from Glen Burnie, Md., Jack Andraka, said he relied on open-access articles to develop a five-minute, $3 test for pancreatic cancer. The project earned him first place and $75,000 in last year's Intel International Science and Engineering Fair.

“I kept running into these pay walls where articles cost $30,” said Andraka. He then searched for similar but freely available information. “Open access was absolutely critical. I couldn't have done my project without it.”

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