More research will be publicly available sooner
Research manuscripts and associated scientific data generated for projects funded by federal agencies in the United States shall be made public upon publication.
Most COVID-19 research content has been available for free since early 2020. Such immediate public access to research results, also through preprint1, has opened the eyes of researchers, regulators and publishers to the many benefits of freely accessible research results and data. Citing COVID-19 research as “a powerful case study of the benefits of rapidly delivering research results and data to the public,” the US government’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) is now instructing2 all federal agencies that fund research to update their public access policies so that peer-reviewed research and scientific data published in scholarly journals are immediately available free of charge. The OSTP therefore closes the door to public access embargoes. Since 2013, federally funded research in the United States has been subject to a voluntary embargo on free, public dissemination of research results for up to 12 months after publication in a scientific journal.
Public access to research results must be supported by equitable policies.
The new guidelines may have arrived earlier than expected. However, they are not surprising. Subscribers to Plan S — an initiative supported by the European Commission and the European Research Council — have long advocated3 for more research to be published in open access under a liberal license. And, for many years, major publishers have been launching more fully open access journals and adapting their portfolios to depend less on subscription revenue and increasingly adopt business models (usually involving fees article processing and processing agreements4) that allow more research to be published with open access licenses.
What are the recommendations specified in the Memorandum issued by the OSTP? In particular, they refer to public access through agency-designated repositories and through machine-readable formats; yet, unlike Plan S funders, they do not prescribe any particular publishing license or journal publishing model (e.g., subscription or open access), or which version of the research paper (the accepted manuscript or the registration version) to which the policies will apply. Additionally, the recommendations are for all federally funded co-authors (rather than only principal investigators) and peer-reviewed research articles (therefore, these may include non-primary research). In addition, the memorandum directs the agencies to make their plans public by the end of 2024 and to make the resulting policies effective within one year after the plans are published.
The Memorandum therefore provides a general framework and leaves the details of implementation to the agencies. Yet the OSTP is committed to facilitating coordination between them as well as engagement with the many stakeholders in the publishing ecosystem (librarians, professional societies, publishers and others) to identify best practices and reduce inequalities in access to research and in the publication of research. In fact, the memorandum states that “financial means and privileged access should never be prerequisites for realizing the benefits of federally funded research that the American public deserves.”
To facilitate the immediate and equitable dissemination of the results of federally funded research to all, the agencies should develop joint policies that ensure equitably distributed funding, technology, and infrastructure for the publication and public availability of research results. research.5.6. In this respect, free access to gold – rather than free green access without embargo, which can compromiseseven the viability of many academic journals—seems to be the best way to achieve global reach and impact and to incentivize the reuse of research findings, methods, data, and code. Yet maintaining fairness when transitioning to this publishing model can be costly and complex.8. For example, as we noted in an editorial published in January 2021 in the context of the high article processing fees associated with publishing in open access or in highly selective journals (including Nature Biomedical Engineering and other Nature-branded journals), “in a primarily open-access environment, researchers, institutions, and funders with more resources will find it increasingly easy to gain greater exposure and rewards “9. The OSTP rightly recommends that federal agencies allow their funded researchers to budget reasonable publication costs (as well as the costs associated with maintaining public accessibility to scientific data); yet, at this time, it is unclear what level of support there may be for researchers to be able to meet the requirements that will be set out in new or updated policies and for research institutions to conclude transformative deals with publishers.
To increase the return on investment of equity in publishing, having appropriate policies in place for open data and open code will be particularly important. Richer datasets and sophisticated algorithms are becoming increasingly essential for solving biomedical, clinical, and public health problems. Maintaining curated, organized, interoperable, and annotated datasets and code, and making them readily available for reuse, requires resources6. The OSTP, federal agencies, and all other stakeholders should help provide appropriate funds and infrastructure, and ultimately close the door to siloed filing and data sharing practices.
Regardless of updates to public access policies and business models for research publication, our editorial decisions on individual research manuscripts will be immune to any financial consideration and publication model. Nearly 60% of the research content published in Nature Biomedical Engineering since 2017, has been partially or fully funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, nearly 20% by the nation’s National Science Foundation, and approximately 10% and 4.5% by the Department of Defense and Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, respectively. These figures show that the United States is unquestionably a leader in applied biomedical research. A culture of leadership and measured risk-takingten should also result in exemplary, progressive, effective and equitable publishing and public access policies.