Open Access for Publicly-Funded Science

Read Mike Carroll’s thoughtful response to news that spilled out into the popular press the other day: Some scholarly societies/private scientific publishers oppose proposed federal legislation that would mandate “open access” treatment for scientific research funded with federal dollars.

Mike takes down the elitist argument that “the people” can’t be trusted with science. He’s absolutely right, but the elitism that he hears goes more deeply than he describes in that post. The “science for scientists” mantra that holds back open access isn’t just about protecting the public from itself. It’s also about protecting the privileges of science. Open access won’t simply help scientists do better research; in its most idealistic (though not unrealistic) form, open access will create a better informed public — that is, a public that not only hears research scientists tell them what’s authoritative but also teaches itself about science. Is the United States serious about scientific literacy and science education? If so (and that’s a big “if”), then it should throw open the doors to archives of material stocked with publicly-funded research, and let the educational process begin in earnest.