Thursday, September 24, 2009

Do We Really Need Senate Legislation?

Senate legislation was introduced on June 25th which would require any US government agency or department with a budget of over $100 million to make various research findings available on the Internet. Click here to view the text of the bill. Understandably, the policy does not apply to various pieces of information like phone calls or classified research. It does dictate that non-classified research be made available online as soon as possible after the article has been published.

While I believe this is valuable legislation, I wonder if it goes far enough. $100 million is a lot of money - but so is $50 million, or $10 million. I know that these figures may be small change to the government, but in the real world they are pretty substantial. Perhaps the government would argue that that would be too much information to publish online, but as far as I am aware the Internet does not have a limit to the amount of information that can be published. If the research will already be published in a pear-reviewed journal (as the legislation dictates) then it does not seem like a stretch to add a quick Internet link to a copy of the research findings which can be viewed by anyone with an Internet connection.

I can also foresee the argument that certain topics which require small funding budgets do not have the level of interest required to publish online. 10 years ago, I would have welcomed any opportunity to ease my research on Finnish syllable structure. I realize that the US government probably contributes virtually no (if any) funding to this topic. But hypothetically, a small amount of research that I could have accessed online may have saved hours of cross referencing and trips to various different libraries. I received no funding for my thesis research and I would have happily published my findings online - knowing full well that the interest in the topic may extend to about 10 other people.

I may be naive, but it seems that it should not take legislation to require research findings be published online. Is it actually that difficult? As I stated, I know that there are topics that should remain classified; however, if I came up with a finding that I believed was important or interesting enough to share, why not share it with everyone? It seems like a logical decision.

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