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Progress for Racial and Economic Equity in Research in the US

know your facts Sep 07, 2022
Two people looking over research papers. Photo focuses on their hands and the papers. Photo by US Indonesia

On August 25th as the media was flooded with news about the historic student debt relief plan from the Biden Administration, other news from the White House was overlooked. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released new policy guidance to ensure more equitable access to federally funded research.

The biggest takeaway is that they eliminated the optional 12-month publication restriction on federally funded peer-reviewed research articles. This provision limited immediate access to federally funded research results to those able to pay for it or who had access through libraries or other institutions who paid for subscriptions. Their reasoning is that taxpayers funded the research, so we should all have immediate access to the results without additional payments. The government doesn’t need to gatekeep publicly funded information by limiting access based on finances or other privilege (paid for by institutions).

The government also will make data published in peer-reviewed research articles available immediately upon publication and other research data available within a reasonable timeframe. “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 requires responsible sharing of data, ensuring the maintenance of privacy and security protections.

The rollout will require time and collaboration across federal agencies:

  • The OSTP will coordinate the process through the National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Open Science (SOS) to ensure that policies include support for more vulnerable researchers and institutions unable to pay the rising costs of publishing open access articles.
  • The new guidance allows researchers to include publication and data sharing costs in their research budget proposals. Some agencies have created grant programs to support early-stage researcher careers and to increase racial and gender diversity of award applicants and the scientific workforce. The SOS is also exploring incentives to recognize institutions and researchers for supporting public access to their publications and data.
  • OSTP released a publication on the 25th to help understand the potential economic impacts of the policy changes. OSPT and SOS are committed to working with scholars, researchers and other stakeholders as they implement the changes. Agencies have three years to fully implement the updated public access plans in order to ensure a responsible and equitable transition.

Senators, Congressional representatives, the World Health Organization, federal departments, national organizations, research friends across the ocean, coalitions, and higher education applauded this major step towards equity.

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General, World Health Organization, tweeted: “Important step by @POTUS and towards more rapid access to research data. @WHO has been … an advocate for open access to research data, so that everyone, everywhere can benefit from science.”

 UK Research and Innovation tweeted: We welcome this new policy guidance from @WHOSTP to make federally-funded research outputs immediately accessible which will improve opportunities for collaboration & innovation. #OpenAccess

Lawrence Tabak, who is performing the Duties of the NIH Director released a statement that said:  “Over the coming months, NIH will work expeditiously to develop and share its plans for implementing the OSTP policy guidance … We are enthusiastic to move forward on these important efforts to make research results more accessible and look forward to working together to strengthen our shared responsibility in making federally funded research results accessible to the public.”

Patti Brennan, Director of the National Library of Medicine also released a statement: “NLM stands ready to support NIH’s implementation of updated policy guidance issued by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) through NLM’s PubMed Central (PMC) and other relevant data repositories … NLM supports public accountability and open science, and will work with NIH and other federal agency partners to support their revised public access plans.”

Understandably, it will take a while to work out the details because it involves money, not just access. (Those fees were paying for things.) But it sounds like they are on the right path, and I'm excited that so many institutions are publicly supporting the move.

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