The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Monday January 24th

Free access to research will be available

University researchers say a recent decision to grant free access to research conducted with federal money will benefit both the UNC community and the surrounding area.

On Feb. 22, President Barack Obama’s administration directed agencies and universities that receive more than $100 million in research and development money to release the findings of that federally funded research within one year of publication.

Online access to data and research has become part of a broader national debate in recent months, with the White House taking note of a recent petition signed by more than 65,000 people in support of increased public access to taxpayer-funded research.

The petition comes after the suicide of internet free speech activist Aaron Swartz.

Swartz faced legal action after downloading articles from JSTOR, an online library that he was not supposed to be able to access. Federal prosecutors suspected that he planned to republish the articles online.

UNC spent $10.7 million in 2011-12 on subscriptions, including access to scholarly journals, e-books and online newspapers, said Judy Panitch, spokeswoman for UNC’s libraries.

She said the libraries’ research offerings will remain the same.

The libraries subscribe to databases with articles that are not federally funded, meaning the University will continue to subscribe to those databases, she said.

She said the libraries are excited about the federal policy change.

“Open access is something that the library community vigorously advocates, because libraries are all about the open flow of information,” she said.

Another result of the change will be increased access to research for alumni and the general public, Panitch said.

Broadening the community’s access to research in turn benefits the University’s professors, said Gregory Copenhaver, a UNC biology professor.

“We benefit when more people see, and make use of, our work,” he said. “If people have access to research results, they will become better educated about science and be able to make more informed decisions about the importance of funding future research.”

Copenhaver said public access to federally funded research will promote UNC’s research community by giving academics’ work more exposure to the public.

“We’re moving away from traditional models, in which researchers are evaluated by how often they publish and where they publish, to newer models that try to gauge the influence of their research,” he said.

Deborah Wing, spokeswoman for the National Science Foundation, a federal agency and one of the groups that lobbied for free access to federally funded research, said the movement to expand research access will continue.

“This is just the beginning stages,” she said. “It will spur innovation, certainly opening communication and expanding this access, ultimately helping the nation prosper.”

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