In The Politics of Autism, I describe the difficulties of finding reliable information:
One problem is that a good deal of the solid research about autism lies in academic journals behind an Internet paywall, open only to people who have a university library card or can afford the journals’ exorbitant prices ($35 or more per article). Says neuroscientist Sophia Colamarino: “In today’s information age, where essentially anything said by anyone can be made accessible within a matter of moments, it is unfortunate that families have easy access to all BUT the most scientifically valid information, that which can be found in scientifically reviewed research literature.” NIH and Autism Speaks have tried to remedy this situation by requiring its research grant recipients to put any resulting peer-reviewed research papers on the PubMed Central online archive, but this policy affects only a fraction of the literature on autism.
An August 25 release from the White House:
Today, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) updated U.S. policy guidance to make the results of taxpayer-supported research immediately available to the American public at no cost. In a memorandum to federal departments and agencies, Dr. Alondra Nelson, the head of OSTP, delivered guidance for agencies to update their public access policies as soon as possible to make publications and research funded by taxpayers publicly accessible, without an embargo or cost. All agencies will fully implement updated policies, including ending the optional 12-month embargo, no later than December 31, 2025.
This policy will likely yield significant benefits on a number of key priorities for the American people, from environmental justice to cancer breakthroughs, and from game-changing clean energy technologies to protecting civil liberties in an automated world.
For years, President Biden has been committed to delivering policy based on the best available science, and to working to ensure the American people have access to the findings of that research. “Right now, you work for years to come up with a significant breakthrough, and if you do, you get to publish a paper in one of the top journals,” said then-Vice President Biden in remarks to the American Association for Cancer Research in 2016. “For anyone to get access to that publication, they have to pay hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars to subscribe to a single journal. And here’s the kicker — the journal owns the data for a year. The taxpayers fund $5 billion a year in cancer research every year, but 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.” The new public access guidance was developed with the input of multiple federal agencies over the course of this year, to enable progress on a number of Biden-Harris Administration priorities.
“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,” said Dr. Alondra Nelson, head of OSTP. “The American people fund tens of billions of dollars of cutting-edge research annually. There should be no delay or barrier between the American public and the returns on their investments in research.”
This policy update builds on the Biden-Harris Administration’s broader efforts to broaden the potential of the American innovation ecosystem by leveling the playing field for all American innovators, which can help ensure that the U.S. remains a world leader in science and technology. This policy guidance will end the current optional embargo that allows scientific publishers to put taxpayer-funded research behind a subscription-based paywall – which may block access for innovators for whom the paywall is a barrier, even barring scientists and their academic institutions from access to their own research findings. In addition, agencies will develop plans to improve transparency, including clearly disclosing authorship, funding, affiliations, and the development status of federally funded research – and will coordinate with OSTP to help ensure equitable delivery of federally funded research results and data.
Advocates, researchers, academic libraries, Congressional leaders, and others have long called for greater public access to federally funded research results. This policy update reflects extensive public engagement with stakeholders across the research publication ecosystem on ways to strengthen equitable access to federally funded research results. OSTP’s consultations have included large and small science and academic publishers, for-profit and not-for-profit organizations, libraries and universities, scholarly societies, and members of the general public.
In the short-term, agencies will work with OSTP to update their public access and data sharing plans by mid-2023. OSTP expects all agencies to have updated public access policies fully implemented by the end of 2025. This timeline gives agencies, researchers, publishers, and scholarly societies some flexibility on when to adapt to the new policies. Over the long term, OSTP will continue to coordinate with federal agencies to ensure that government public access policies adapt to new technologies and emerging needs.