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Opinion

Positive news for access to tax-funded science

William L. Brown

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In a victory for almost everybody, the leading publisher of academic journals has withdrawn its backing for a bill in Congress that would have barred Uncle Sam from requiring Internet dissemination of federally funded research without publisher approval.

But Elsevier, the industry leader, said it would "continue to oppose government mandates in this area," which means it's still on the wrong side of the issue, to say nothing of history.

Elsevier's support of the Research Works Act had triggered a global boycott by more than 7,000 scientists. The larger issue is that journal publishers have been jacking up subscription prices for years, bleeding libraries and angering researchers.

Yet a great deal of modern research -- $60 billion a year at a minimum -- is paid for by U.S. taxpayers. There's no reason to keep it from the public while allowing private firms to charge university libraries a fortune for it.

That's why Congress should pass the proposed Federal Research Public Access Act, which would mandate that all such research be made freely available within six months of publication.

Even that delay is a stretch in the modern world. Someday, America's massive output of taxpayer-supported research likely will be published promptly on the Internet, hastening the spread of information as well as the pace of innovation and economic growth. The sooner we get there, the better off nearly everyone will be.

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