23 February 2022
U.S. Senators Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., sent a letter to Dr. Alondra Nelson, Deputy Director of Science and Society, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), urging for the establishment of a national government-wide public-access policy for federally funded research with a focus on equity, sustainability, and strategic technological development, guaranteeing rapid access for all federally funded research articles with broad re-use rights. This effort would enable rapid access to research publications in human- and machine-readable formats and supercharge national priorities, such as COVID-19 response, climate change, and President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot.
“To truly meet the magnitude of the research and innovation needs of today’s fast-paced, globalized world, including meeting the goals of the Cancer Moonshot, our nation needs a bold, comprehensive, and government-wide public-access policy guaranteeing rapid access for all federally funded research articles with broad re-use rights,” Wyden and Markey wrote. “We ask that you work quickly and aggressively to make this goal a reality, ensuring that the hard-earned tax dollars of everyday Americans are being invested in American communities and to update and strengthen current federal public access policies and to prioritize equity, sustainability, and strategic technological development.”
The vast majority of academic research, including federally funded research using Americans’ tax dollars, is published through subscription-based journals. Under this system, the U.S. government funds the research, researchers submit articles reporting the results for free to scientific journals, and other researchers validate those results by providing peer-review services without compensation. However, rather than being freely available for all to use, the resulting journal articles are accessible only through expensive subscriptions, with prices that often reach into the thousands of dollars for a single journal. These fees create a significant barrier to equitable participation in research, as they limit which authors and which sectors of research can afford to participate. Studies have shown that scholars who are financially able to participate in the publishers’ open-access systems are more likely to be tenured, federally funded, and male.
Openly accessible articles are read and cited more frequently than those behind publisher paywalls. Publications with broad re-use rights can be made available in machine-readable formats, allowing for new and unexpected insights to be gathered through computational analysis of the underlying data. While some publishers have begun to establish open-access programs to facilitate public access, they often demand authors who do not get compensation from publishers to pay additional costs to publish their work in an open-access format.
In March 2020, the United States joined a dozen countries in asking publishers to make all coronavirus-related research, articles, and data immediately available to the public in an open and machine-readable format— many academic publishers agreed. The resulting database was accessed more than 160 million times by scientists, physicians, health care workers, and the public. Researchers were able to extract timely data from over 2,000 papers to create an open-source data repository of potential treatments to help with clinical trials and patient care. Without a change in national policy, however, these remain locked behind publisher paywalls for as long as a year after publication, Wyden and Markey said.
The full text of the letter is here