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White House announces new US open-access policy

In a long-awaited leap forward for open access, the US government said today that publications from taxpayer-funded research should be made free to read after a year’s delay — expanding a policy that has, until now, applied only to biomedical science.

In a memo, John Holdren, the director of the White House office of science and technology policy (OSTP), told federal agencies to prepare plans to make their research results free to read within 12 months after publication.

“The Obama Administration is committed to the proposition that citizens deserve easy access to the results of scientific research their tax dollars have paid for,” the memo says. The OSTP also tells agencies to maximize public access to non-classified scientific data from research they fund.

The policy applies to all federal agencies that spend more than US$100 million on research and development, and is likely to double the number of articles made public each year. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH) has since 2008 required research to be publicly accessible after 12 months. “This new policy call does not insist that every agency copy the NIH approach exactly, [but] it does ensure that similar policies will appear across government,” Holdren wrote today in a separate response to a petition that was launched in May 2012, urging the president to require free access to scientific journal articles from publicly funded research. (That has gathered some 64,000 signatures.)

The policy has been a long time in preparation, both at the OSTP and at federal agencies. The OSTP had asked for public views on the subject twice already, in 2009 and again in 2011. It had been charged with improving public access to research under a re-authorization of the America COMPETES Act, in December 2010. Meanwhile, both the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Department of Energy (DOE) have been talking to researchers and publishers over the last 18 months about new public-access and data-management policies, says Fred Dylla, the executive director of the American Institute of Physics, a publisher based in College Park, Maryland.

Federal agencies have been told to provide the OSTP with their draft policies in six months’ time.  They are allowed some flexibility, with the 12-month embargo only a “guideline” — suggesting that different embargo periods might apply in different disciplines. That is a key concern for publishers, who also want to know whether federal agencies will set up repositories of their funded work, rather like the NIH’s PubMed Central (PMC). Martin Frank, executive director at the American Physiological Society, argues that PMC has pulled viewers away from accessing articles on publisher sites, for example.

The White House statement comes a week after a bill, FASTR (‘Fair access to science and technology research’), which would require public access to papers just six months after publication, was introduced into the US Congress.

Whatever the fate of that legislation, it is now clear that US public-access policy is taking a different direction from that in the United Kingdom, where government-funded science agencies want authors to pay publishers up front to make their work free to read immediately. This immediate open-access policy involves extra money taken from science budgets to pay publishers. NSF director Subra Suresh explained to Nature that he could not justify taking money out of basic research to pay for open access at a time when demand for the agency’s funding was high.

With both the United States and Europe supporting delayed access to publications, the UK government looks increasingly isolated in its preference for immediate open access. That policy is due to come in from 1 April, but the details are not yet clear. Communication around the policy was yesterday criticized as “unacceptable” by a House of Lords inquiry.


  1. Report this comment

    Mike Taylor said:

    Well, this is <i>excellent</i> news for OA in America. The irony is not lost on me that this comes on the same day that the House of Lords here in the UK made retrograde steps on our own OA policy. On the same day that the Lords succumbed to publisher pressure to allow embargoes of up to 24 months, the US doubles the coverage of its 12-month policy (and is still pushing to reduce it to six). Today represents a significant net win for the world — even though, as a Brit, it pains me to see my country yield its position of leadership on open access so cravenly.

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    Stevan Harnad said:


    The new US OATP OA policy is a wonderful step forward for the entire planet.

    Here are some implementational that will maximize its effectiveness.

    (1) Specify that the deposit of each article must be in an institutional repository (so the universities and research institutions can monitor and ensure compliance as well as adopt mandates of their own).

    (2) Specify that the deposit must be done immediately upon publication.

    (3) Urge (but do not require) authors to make the immediate-deposit immediately-OA.

    (4) Urge (but do not require) authors to reserve the right to make their papers immediately-OA (and other re-use rights) in their contracts with their publishers (as in the Harvard-style mandates).

    (5) Shorten, or, better, do not mention allowable OA embargoes at all (so as not to encourage publishers to adopt them).

    (6) Implement the repositories’ automated “email eprint request” Button (for embargoed [non-OA] deposits).

    (7) Designate repository deposit as the sole mechanism for submitting publications for performance review, research assessment, grant application, or grant renewal.

    (8) Implement rich usage and citation metrics in the institutional repositories as incentive for compliance.

    If this is all done universally, universal OA will soon be upon us — and a global transition to affordable, sustainable Fair-Gold OA (instead of today’s premature, double-paid Fool’s-Gold), plus as much CC-BY as users need and authors wish to provide — will not be far behind.

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    Joey Baker said:

    While this memo is a step in the right direction, it’s a pretty small one. It only affects research with a budget over $100 million and gives them a year to release the results. I’d predict we see a rise in multi-phase research projects that cost $99 million.

    (Cynicism and hyperbole aside, this really is not much of a garuntee)

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    stem cell cure said:

    You are absolutely right Richard. ”This new policy call does not insist that every agency copy the NIH approach exactly, [but] it does ensure that similar policies will appear across government,”
    Prediction of Joey Baker is also well calculated. We will see a rise in multi-phase research projects that cost 99 million.

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