White House moves to make taxpayer-funded research available immediately

The Biden administration's new policy says the findings of publicly-supported studies must be released right away. Advocates say it will save lives and improve medical research, but publishers have concerns.

President Biden’s administration is making publicly-funded research available to the public more quickly.

The White House Office of Scientific and Technology Policy has issued a new policy “to make the results of taxpayer-supported research immediately available to the American public at no cost.”

Often, scientific and medical journals embargo studies for up to a year. Scientific journal articles are regularly behind paywalls, which advocates for patients say keeps them from getting the latest information.

The directive could save lives and, at a minimum, offer more timely research data to the public, said Alondra Nelson, director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

“When research is widely available to other researchers and the public, it can save lives, provide policymakers with the tools to make critical decisions, and drive more equitable outcomes across every sector of society,” Nelson said in a statement.

“The American people fund tens of billions of dollars of cutting-edge research annually," Nelson said. "There should be no delay or barrier between the American public and the returns on their investments in research.”

The policy won’t occur overnight. The Office of Science and Technology Policy is asking federal agencies to update their open access and data sharing plans by the middle of 2023. The White House said it expects the policy to be fully in place by 2026.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science, which publishes Science and other journals, said it has long supported equitable access. The association said it has long offered free and instant access to “all research of immediate relevance to public health.”

AAAS says it looks forward to working with the White House to ensure access to scientific publishing, and the association said it’s exploring ways to allow immediate access to manuscripts.

“While many early reports are signaling that OSTP’s guidance to federal agencies will substantially impact scientific publishers, we believe it is too soon to tell if this guidance will impact our journals,” AAAS said in a statement.

Shelly Husband, senior vice president of government affairs for The Association of American Publishers, issued a statement critical of the new policy. She said the policy “comes without formal, meaningful consultation or public input during this Administration on a decision that will have sweeping ramifications, including serious economic impact.”

“In a no-embargo environment, in which private publications will be made immediately available by the government for free, our primary concerns are about business sustainability and quality,” Husband said. The publishing group said it would work with the White House and Congress on the issue.

The White House said the new policy was developed with the input of several federal agencies over the course of the past year.

Advocates for more open access to medical and scientific research applauded the new White House policy.

The Open Research Funders Group, an advocacy group for freely sharing scientific research, said it embraces the Biden administration’s new policy, calling it a “big win” for equity and open science.

Johan Rooryck, executive director of cOAlition S, a group of research organizations which has pushed for more open access, called the policy “a game changer for scholarly publishing.”

Advocates also say it’s a barrier for researchers who must access scores of journal articles to advance their own studies.

In its announcement, the White House cited Biden’s remarks when he was vice president, during a 2016 speech to the American Association for Cancer Research. Biden noted the billions of federal research funds aimed at curing diseases and said, “Once it’s published, nearly all of that taxpayer-funded research sits behind walls. Tell me how this is moving the process along more rapidly.”