US Federally Funded Research: Open Access, Folks

September 7, 2022

In a surprise announcement, reports Ars Technica, “US Government to Make All Research it Funds Open Access on Publication.” The new policy was issued by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) at the end of August. We expect this will be a windfall for researchers—in and outside the US. Though the US government is believed to be the world’s largest funder of scientific research, only those paying for subscriptions to academic journals have had access to many (most?) publicly funded studies. Writer John Timmer notes this constraint has loosened in recent years as a result of increased open-access journals and, especially with COVID-19 research, a trend toward preprints. We learn:

“Some people involved in scientific publishing worried that these trends would undercut the finances of the entire publishing industry, while others hoped to push them to open up all scientific publishing. This tension played out in the halls of Congress, where competing legislation would mandate or block open access to federal research. A truce of sorts was reached during the Obama administration. For federally funded research, publishers had two choices: either make the publication open access from the start or have subscription-only access for a year before opening things up. Government-sponsored repositories were opened to host copies of papers that weren’t made open access on the publisher’s site. In the intervening time, there has been a lot of growth in open access journals, and many subscription journals allowed authors to pay a fee to immediately open published papers. Most subscription journals also offered COVID-related papers as open access without any additional fees. OSTP has apparently decided that these adjustments have prepared the industry to survive even greater access levels.”

One provision requires a digital identifier, like a DOI, for all data and documentation. The policy memorandum argues the benefits of open access became apparent during the pandemic, when it accelerated researchers’ understanding of the virus and the development of a vaccine. Acting head of the OSTP Alondra Nelson expects the change will lead to gains across society. She stated:

“When research is widely available to other researchers and the public, it can save lives, provide policymakers with the tools to make critical decisions, and drive more equitable outcomes across every sector of society.”

Publishers have some time to pivot—the policy goes fully into effect in 2026. The article notes they could still make a buck from these papers by creating versions with added features like integrated graphics / videos or cross-references to other studies. Will that be enough to sooth ruffled feathers?

Cynthia Murrell, September 7, 2022


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