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.