Cheer Cheer, Open Access is Here!

Trisha Dhawan
September 20, 2022

The scientific community has been rejoicing at the recent announcement from the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). New guidelines mandate that data from federally funded research become accessible to all without an embargo starting in 2026. The long overdue policies will not only help researchers gain insights into the latest findings but also facilitate collaboration to combat urgent issues. The results from the immediate public access policy for COVID-19 data during the pandemic are evidence of the extraordinary power of data sharing and collaboration.

“Financial means and privileged access must never be the pre-requisites to realizing the benefits of federally funded research that the American public deserves,” said Alondra Nelson, interim OSTP director.

Each year, tens of billions of dollars are spent on federally funded research projects in the US, yet the tax-paying public has to pay again to access the research findings. Additionally, the authors have to pay large article processing charges (APC) to make their publications open access (OA).  To gain access to the latest research, institutions have to purchase costly subscriptions to multiple journals spanning different fields. In all of this, the publishers are pocketing billions of dollars each year. They charge both the authors and the public, and do not compensate the reviewers for their valuable time which is considered “voluntary service”. This system is more than unfair.

Researchers use published data to solve urgent issues and troubleshoot immediate technique-related problems. The gap created by privileged access to publications (subscription-based and pay-per-view)  caused delays in scientific advancement for far too long. It makes sense that digital publication of the articles, that come at a fraction of the cost of print publications, should be accessible immediately. Restricting valuable information behind paywalls is a hindrance in insight derivation and downstream research.

Along with the announcement of open access to publications, the OSTP has also chartered the Subcommittee for Open Science. The goal of this subcommittee will be to “develop strategies to make federally funded publications, data, and other such research outputs and their metadata are findable, accessible, interoperable, and re-useable, to the American public and the scientific community in an equitable and secure manner.”

The recognition of data as an asset and the plan to enforce guidelines for sharing data is great news! Abundant data is generated in life sciences from pre-clinical and clinical studies each year. Interdisciplinary collaboration and technology adoption can only be possible when the data is high-quality, is accurately annotated and well structured, and is available for consumption in a consistent, machine-readable format. Moreover, in a study conducted to test the compliance of authors with the mandatory data availability statement (DAS) in open-access journals, a significant portion of authors did not respond or did not share their data. The lack of participation suggests that these data from federally funded projects are likely unreliable and non-reproducible. This is only scratching the surface of the problem.

Some Food for Thought

  • With these open access policies, publishers should expect a cut in their revenue stream. Journals may loose their incentive to publish quality research and follow stringent guidelines, or they might start charging the authors more.
  • Publication fees are already a luxury commodity afforded by a select few. If the US agencies do not account for them, authors may have to choose lower-impact journals with smaller audiences, reducing the impact of their research.
  • Strict policies for publication and data submission from Federally Funded Research projects will have to be enforced to ensure the quality of publications and data submitted. The burden for adhering to these guidelines, however, still falls on the authors to propagate ethical, reliable, and reproducible research.

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