There’s a bill in the California legislature that would be a huge win for open access to scientific research. The California Assembly recently passed A.B. 2192 unanimously. We hope to see it pass the Senate soon, and for other states to follow California’s lead in passing strong open access laws.
Under A.B. 2192, all peer-reviewed, scientific research funded by the state of California would be made available to the public no later than a year after publication. Under current law, research funded by the California Department of Public Health is covered by an open access law, but that provision is set to expire in 2020. A.B. 2192 would extend it indefinitely and expand it to cover research funded by any state agency.
A.B. 2192 is a huge step in the right direction. When scientific research is available only to people with access to expensive journal subscriptions or subscription-based academic databases, it puts those without institutional connections at a severe disadvantage.
When EFF’s Ernesto Falcon testified to the CA Assembly on A.B. 2192, he pointed out that locking science behind a paywall often has the unintended consequence of keeping that research out of the hands of the people who most need it.
In 2012 Malaria researcher Bart Knols noted that while western societies had made great advances in treatments for malaria, it was slow going in sub Sahara Africa. The cause for this disparity? More than half of the requisite information researchers needed for treatments was locked behind a paywall (while the other half was free to access). Researchers and medical professionals in some of the most impoverished parts of the world simply could not make use of the knowledge that had already been established.
While the California bill would be a big win for open access, it leaves a few things to be desired. Under the bill, grantees would be required to put their works in a state-provided open access repository within a year of publication. An earlier version of the bill set that embargo period at six months, but it was changed to a year under pressure from lobbyists.
It’s not a coincidence that the 12-month embargo matches the one set by most federal agencies that fund scientific research: since 2013, when the White House directed government agencies to adopt open access policies, publishers have largely fallen in line with the one-year embargo period. (We’ve also been advocating for years that Congress pass a bill to lock the U.S. government’s open access policies into law.)
But let’s face it: science moves quickly and a one-year embargo is simply too long. In our letter to the Legislature about A.B. 2192, we urged lawmakers to find ways to find ways to ensure that more state-funded research is published under a gold open access model; that is, published in open access journals, available to the public with no fee:
EFF recommends the legislature also consider additional ways to ensure that more state-funded research becomes available to the public immediately upon publication, not just within the six-month embargo period the bill permits. In the fast-moving world of scientific research, a six-month embargo can put scientists without access to paid repositories at a severe disadvantage. One way to achieve that goal would be to require that publications be either shared in a public repository upon publication or published in an open access journal, similar to the University of California system’s excellent open access policy.
We also urged the legislature to consider passing an open licensing requirement for the research that it funds. Requiring that grantees publish research under a license that allows others to republish, remix, and add value ensures that the public can get the maximum benefit of state-funded science.
We hope to see A.B. 2192 pass quickly and become a model for similar open access laws in other states.