Breakthroughs for All: Delivering Equitable Access to America’s Research
By: Dr. Christopher Steven Marcum, Assistant Director for Open Science and Data Policy
Dr. Ryan Donohue, AAAS Science and Technology Policy Fellow and Senior Policy Advisor
President Biden has said that America can be defined in one word: Possibilities. There are few areas with greater prospects for realizing these possibilities than the investments that American taxpayers make by supporting groundbreaking federally funded research. In the last year alone, the American public has borne witness to extraordinary scientific achievements —transformative breakthroughs in medicine and vaccines, inspiring insights from the deepest depths of the ocean, and unprecedented glimpses into the farthest reaches of our universe.
This research, which changes our lives and transforms our world, is made possible by American tax dollars. And yet, these advancements are behind a paywall and out of reach for too many Americans. In too many cases, discrimination and structural inequalities – such as funding disadvantages experienced by minority-serving colleges and institutions – prevent some communities from reaping the rewards of the scientific and technological advancements they have helped to fund. Factors including race, age, disability status, geography, economic background, and gender have historically and systemically excluded some Americans from the accessing the full benefits of scientific research.
To tackle this injustice, and building on the Biden-Harris Administration’s efforts to advance policy that benefits all of America, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released new policy guidance today to ensure more equitable access to federally funded research. All members of the American public should be able to take part in every part of the scientific enterprise—leading, participating in, accessing, and benefitting from taxpayer-funded scientific research. That is, all communities should be able to take part in America’s scientific possibilities.
Previous public access policy guidance was articulated to federal agencies in the 2013 OSTP Memorandum on Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research (2013 Memorandum). The 2013 Memorandum provided unprecedented and transformative policy guidance that catalyzed a strong and ever-growing movement across the Nation and world to strengthen public access to research results. Of the over 20 agencies subject to the 2013 Memorandum, all have developed plans and implemented policies according to the provisions. We commend agencies for accomplishing these monumental steps toward a more open and trustworthy government.
Looking forward, there are two important ways in which we will build on the 2013 Memorandum and usher in the next chapter of federal public access:
- Eliminating the optional 12-month publication embargo for federally funded peer-reviewed research articles. This provision has limited immediate equitable access of federally funded research results to only those able to pay for it or have privileged access through libraries or other institutions. Financial means and privileged access must never be the pre-requisite to realizing the benefits of federally funded research that all Americans deserve.
- Strengthening the data sharing plans of the 2013 Memorandum by making data published in peer-reviewed research articles immediately available upon publication and other research data available within a reasonable timeframe. As President Biden has said when he was Vice President, data from federally funded research belong to the American public. Providing the data that support findings in scientific papers improves transparency and the ability of others to replicate, and build on, the primary research findings. Public access to federally funded research data also helps to level the playing field across a highly uneven funding landscape between academic disciplines – providing possibilities to scholars, students, and the public for secondary use of data that would otherwise be unavailable. The new guidance makes clear that responsible sharing of data requires agencies to ensure that privacy and security protections are maintained.
Ensuring that all Americans benefit equitably from this important policy change will require time, effort, and collaboration from agencies across the federal government. OSTP is announcing several resources to support this work:
- Through the re-chartered National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Open Science (SOS), OSTP is leading a coordination process to ensure that public access policies are accompanied by support for more vulnerable members of the research ecosystem unable to pay rising costs associated with publishing open access articles, such as early stage investigators and researchers from minority serving institutions.
- As a critical step in this process, today’s guidance allows researchers to include publication and data sharing costs in their research budget proposals. We are also working with agencies to expand efforts to combat existing inequities in funding: many federal agencies, including the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Science Foundation, have launched programs aimed at awarding grants to support early-stage researcher careers as well as increasing the racial and gender diversity of award applicants and the scientific workforce. Additionally, the SOS is exploring incentive structures to recognize institutions and researchers for supporting public access to their publications and data.
- As a resource to help better understand potential economic impacts of these policy changes, OSTP also published the report Economic Landscape of Federal Public Access Policy, which was transmitted to Congress today. In order to help publishers and scholarly societies of all sizes with the change, OSTP and the SOS have committed to working alongside them, together with other key stakeholders including researchers, academic institutions, libraries, and other members of the public. Agencies have more than three years to fully implement updated public access plans to ensure this is a responsible and equitable transition.
This policy change lowers the barriers to accessing scientific results that are produced by researchers funded by the federal government and is a major advance to support equity in science. The public access policy of the United States Government should benefit all sectors of society and these updates help to achieve that goal and deliver equitable access to America’s research to foster endless scientific possibilities.