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US Policy on open access to federally funded research hailed as game-changer for scientific publishing

The results of federally funded research will be made immediately available to the American public for free, according to updated US policy guidance released on 25 August 2022.

From the beginning of 2026, all publications and research funded by US taxpayers must be made immediately open access, in line with new guidance from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which states that “the U.S. is committed to the ideas that openness in science is fundamental, security is essential, and freedom and integrity are crucial.”

The announcement follows decades of advocacy for open access to research findings, including from across the global scientific community, and is being widely hailed as evidence of the momentum building around open science, and even as a ‘tipping point’ in the campaign for open access.

The new policy updates and strengthens previous 2013 guidance on open access for the largest federal funding agencies, with four crucial changes. First of all, the new guidance will apply to all federal funding agencies, not just those with the largest budgets, and concerns both publications and research data. It also does away with the optional 12-month embargo period, meaning that all federally funded research must be available immediately on publication, and the changes must be implemented by 31 December 2025 at the latest. Peer-reviewed publications and supporting data must be deposited in Open Access repositories designated by the funding agencies, in ‘formats that allow for machine-readability and enabling broad accessibility through assistive devices’.

The aim of the policy is to enable access to the record of science for all: citizens, researchers and policy-makers alike.

The memorandum issued by the OSTP argues that the immediate public access to federally funded research and data exceptionally mandated during the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the immense benefits of open access to scientific findings. Making research widely and immediately available to all ‘can save lives,’ said Alondra Nelson, acting Head of OSTP and former President of the Social Science Research Council, which is an Affiliate Member of the ISC.

The updated policy guidance emphasises the importance of open, secure and free communication of research in order to strengthen public trust in federally funded research, and to advance equity.

“This is a milestone in the history of open access,” said Geoffrey Boulton, ISC Governing Board member and Chair of the ISC’s work on scholarly publishing and open science.

“Making federally funded scientific publications and data immediately and freely available will accelerate progress on addressing some of the most urgent challenges facing societies today. We also welcome the emphasis on open access as a means to increase transparency and research integrity, which is good for science and good for public trust in science. This policy is an important step towards a more equitable system of scientific publishing, for authors and readers. All governments and research funders should take similar steps”.

The ISC is currently leading a project on the future of scientific publishing that explores how to maximise the benefit of scholarly publishing for global science and for wider audiences for scientific research. In October 2021 ISC Members voted to endorse eight principles for reform of scientific publishing and committed to work together to achieve reform. The first of those eight principles was that “There should be universal open access to the record of science, both for authors and readers, with no barriers to participation, in particular those based on ability to pay, institutional privilege, language or geography.”

The ISC is now working to build a powerful and broadly based coalition for change to ensure that scholarly publishing becomes a central part of a revitalized open science system. This includes working with ISC Members to examine the impact of changes such as the OSTP’s announcement for scientists, for science funding and for scientific societies, to prepare to strategies to adapt to ongoing change, and to work towards greater equity in the scholarly publishing system.

Find out more about the project and how to get involved:

Follow the latest reactions to the announcement on twitter #OAintheUSA.

Image by ebayink via Flickr.

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