Interim OSTP Director Alondra Nelson (Image credit – Neil Adams / Army Research Laboratory)
The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy set off a tectonic shift in scientific publishing last week, issuing a memorandum that directs federal agencies to ensure peer-reviewed articles stemming from research they fund are freely available upon publication. This guidance is to be implemented no later than the start of 2026 and also applies to data that are necessary to validate scientific findings reported in the publications.
The memo updates a 2013 OSTP policy that allows publishers to limit article access to paying customers for one year. The new policy is accompanied by an economic analysis that argues the benefits of eliminating article embargos now “greatly outweigh” the costs and anticipates the move will accelerate recent innovation in publishing business models.
OSTP offered little indication it was contemplating such a change and, though the Trump administration considered making a similar move, it has generally caught publishers by surprise. Open-access advocates were quick to celebrate the new policy while publishers have generally kept their responses muted as they digest the news.
OSTP argues time is ripe for immediate access
Announcing the new policy, interim OSTP Director Alondra Nelson argued that eliminating embargos will help to make access to research more equitable and accelerate new discoveries.
“Financial means and privileged access must never be the prerequisites to realizing the benefits of federally funded research that the American public deserves,” she wrote. Pointing to the lifting of paywalls during the pandemic as exemplary of the benefits of immediate access, she continued,
The insights of new and cutting-edge research stemming from the support of federal agencies should be immediately available — not just in moments of crisis, but in every moment. Not only to fight a pandemic, but to advance all areas of study, including urgent issues such as cancer, clean energy, economic disparities, and climate change.
Under the new policy, publications must be made available in “agency-designated repositories,” and the requirement will apply if any co-author received federal support. The memo states such publications must include “peer-reviewed research articles or final manuscripts published in scholarly journals,” and that agencies may include peer-reviewed book chapters, conference proceedings, and editorials published in other scholarly outlets.
Agencies with annual R&D expenditures greater than $100 million are directed to update their public access policies and submit them to the White House for review within six months. Agencies with smaller R&D budgets, which were not subject to the 2013 policy, will have an extra six months to comply. All agencies are then expected to issue implementation plans by the end of 2024, with an effective date no later than one year …….