The Impact of New Public Access Requirements for US Federally Funded Research


The Impact of New Public Access Requirements for US Federally Funded Research

This spring HighWire’s Senior Vice President and head of Product Management, Tony Alves, is attending several industry events, including the National Academy of Sciences’ Journal Summit, STM’s Research Integrity Masterclass, and the annual meetings of both the Council of Science Editors and the Society for Scholarly Publishers. For the next several weeks Tony will provide useful summaries of some of the most important sessions, highlighting insights and hot-takes from those meetings.  

In March I attended the National Academy of Sciences’ Journal Summit. The theme was “Change in Context: Identifying the best routes to an open science world.” There were over one hundred and thirty attendees representing publishers, libraries, institutions, funders, government agencies, suppliers and non-profits. The attendee list was a real who’s who of scholarly communications. As we were under Chatham House Rule, I will not identify individuals as I share some of what I learned that day.

The first session of the day featured a very large panel, each member representing a segment of the scholarly communications infrastructure, from government agency to researcher to publisher to library. Each took a turn discussing the impact of new public access requirements for US federally funded research recently mandated in the now-infamous Nelson Memo put out by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) in August of 2022. As of the date of the journal summit, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) was still putting together a plan to address the open access and open data policies mandated by the memo. To signal a possible direction the NIH might go, a United Kingdom perspective was provided. This perspective heavily advocates for open access, open data, open protocols, open code, and open science, with a strong emphasis on ensuring that public access to publicly financed research is sustainable, reliable and efficient.

Publishers of various types, from commercial to non-profit, had equally varied opinions on the effects of the OSTP’s mandate for free unlimited use of an article’s version of record (VOR). One opinion was that for this to be sustainable research funders will have to pay more for the publishing process. The policy could lead to the end of subscriptions, which is a big risk for publishers. The question is, can the industry commit to a shared open environment? A publisher declared that their organization will be majority open access (OA), and that they are now looking to demonstrate to funders the value that publishers bring to the research communications process. Another publisher brought up the topic of peer review and how it is seen by many in the OA movement as slow and elitist. They asked, how is peer review best performed in an OA environment, and suggested that post publication review may a better way forward. One of the society publishers pointed out that the ability to pay for Gold OA is a problem for many professional societies because their publishing programs already run at a loss. A radical proposal was put forward by one publisher who suggested that the concept of the VOR and publishing business models need to change, stating that article processing charges (APCs) should be eliminated, and publishers should accept lower profit margins because OA has turned into a volume business. There needs to be a variety of scholarly output and we should move away from the article as the only worthwhile output.

The panel then shifted to talk about the institutional and library perspective. It was pointed out that many institutions don’t engage in research, and thus don’t want to engage in open access. An APC-driven economy favors large commercial publishers. It is a system advanced by a minority, not the majority, and because of this, there needs to be a diversity of publishing and financial models. With author APCs, revenue is flowing away from universities and researchers toward the publishers, and that the effect of this is a reduction in grant funds that can be used for science. It was reported by one institution that their researchers most often choose the established publishing process and the traditional publisher, which means higher APC costs, which prompted a call for protections from ballooning APCs. By the time all of the institution and library representatives spoke, there was general agreement that research grants need to support research, not just the publishing process and that APC payments should not go to publisher shareholders. It was also general consensus that the OSTP mandates actually benefits publishers, and that commercial publishers should not dictate the terms of open access and APCs.

In a final summarization of this diverse panels’ opinions and hot-takes one participant noted that scholarly communications is changing. There are many OA experiments in publishing and in scholarly communications, for example eLife and F1000 do not follow the usual process, defining scholarly output differently. These experiments may cause confusion for researchers looking for reliable information, and they might result in incomplete impact and usage data in the future because those experiments don’t fit neatly into current formulas. In defense of OA it was also mentioned that preprints were shown to increase trust because the process was more transparent. This could be an important lesson for publishers; by opening up research and science more, they can increase the public’s trust in what those publishers are producing, which could mean more funding in the future.

In my next blog post, I will take a deeper dive into the topic of Open Data, summarizing the discussion from the “Journals and Public Access to Research Data” panel.

By Tony Alves


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