Department of Energy to launch free database of federally funded research

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Starting in fall, all scientific papers funded by the the U.S. Department of Energy will be made free to the public a year after publication.

On Monday, the Department of Energy announced the creation of the Public Access Gateway for Energy and Science portal. According to DOE spokesperson Dirk Fillpot, papers published after Oct. 1 will be added to this free database 12 months after appearing in academic journals. These publications often restrict public access through paywalls, which require users to pay to see journal content.

These changes were spurred by a White House memo issued last year, which called for federal agencies to make government-funded scientific research more accessible to the public. According Fillpot, the department expects to add between 20,000 and 30,000 articles and manuscripts to the new database each year.

Michael Eisen, a UC Berkeley biology professor and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researcher, criticized the department’s decision to allow publishers 12 months to make money through paywalls as a “conservative” response to the White House memo.

“This is another long line of bad decisions by government agencies in terms of basically saying it’s more important that the publishers make money off of publicly funded research than that the research be available to the public,” Eisen said. “It is nothing like the great step forward they try to make it sound like.”

Rodrigo Ochigame, a UC Berkeley senior who co-founded UC Berkeley’s Open Access Initiative, which promotes the free and immediate availability of research articles, said the new database still “reinforces publisher ownership over publications.” Ochigame said a better policy would prevent authors from handing copyright to publishers and allow for bulk downloads and data mining — a way of extracting information from databases.

“Open access is important because the dissemination of research results is crucial to the advancement of knowledge,” Ochigame said in an email. “Across the world, people are denied access to research hidden behind pay walls.”

The Berkeley lab receives a large portion of its funding from the Department of Energy, Eisen said. The policy, however, will not immediately affect the Berkeley lab because all articles produced by researchers there are already made free to the public, according to John Stoner, manager of reports coordination at the Berkeley lab.

Stoner said when research from the Berkeley lab is published in an academic journal, the lab releases its text on two open-access services, eScholarship and Office of Scientific and Technical Information. Since 1947, eScholarship has published more than 15,000 Berkeley lab papers.

Contact Sophie Mattson at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @MattsonSophie.