Our government spends more than $50 billion a year on nonclassified research. What this investment yields are new scientific discoveries and ideas, recorded in scientific publications. The authors of these research reports, the scientists, give them away to publishers, receiving in return only an audience for their work and the satisfaction of sharing their ideas and discoveries with the world. But if your mother learns she has breast cancer and desperately wants to find what researchers have discovered about her disease, or when your daughter in high school reads a story in the New York Times about the latest research on climate change and wants to see it with her own eyes, they face a perverse and unnecessary obstacle. They, and countless others around the world who would benefit from timely access to scientific and medical knowledge, cannot freely access the published results of research financed by their own tax dollars. An ever-growing online treasury of scientific and medical knowledge is open only to the fortunate few who have access to a major university library, or who are able to pay the exorbitant access fees charged by publishers who claim the research reports they publish as their private property.
Even at Stanford, the restrictions on access prevent us from being able to search the entire corpus of scientific articles for particular terms, concepts, methods, data or images and retrieve the results - you can't "Google" the millions of scientific articles that have been published online!