Home Science & Technology New US policy makes federal science accessible to all

New US policy makes federal science accessible to all


Last week, the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) of the White House provided new management by a federal agency to ensure that federal research funding accessible to all. OSTP has been working on this policy for at least two years, and in response to OSTP’s request for information on this issue, UCS provided information on it in 2020. Management is compliant with our recommendations break down barriers and make federally funded research fast and widely available – which we hope can make the work of US federal agencies more transparent and encourage international scientific collaboration. The importance of this undertaking highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic who emphasized the need for scientists to quickly make research findings transparent to advance research and provide decision-makers with the evidence they need to make important decisions. Requiring that federal research be available to all also promotes equity by breaking down barriers created through financial privilege.

Simply put, it’s the right thing to do.

How does it work?

In accordance with OSTP Guide, federal agencies have until December 2024 to develop policies and implementation plans to make their research available. According to the guidance, federal agencies will need to “develop new or update existing public access plans and submit them to OSTP and the Office of Budget and Management (OMB) as soon as possible.”

The new policy guidance not only requires federal agencies to explain how they will make peer-reviewed research publicly available, but also how they will make that research publicly available. The agency’s policy is to promote equal access to the greatest extent possible. In addition to written publications, agencies are also tasked with making the underlying research data publicly available. This should apply to data underlying peer-reviewed publications as well as data relied upon by federal agencies more generally. The guidance notes that not all data may be publicly available, such as data that may contain confidential information. Researchers will be provided with the means to publish in open access journals and ensure proper data management and archiving.

The new guidance directs federal agencies to ensure that their public access policies support both research and scientific integrity. It therefore urges agencies to ensure that their policies “maintain scientific and research integrity by transparently communicating important information to the public, including that related to the authorship, funding, affiliations, and development status of federally funded research.” This data should be stored as metadata that will be publicly available, allowing the public to identify all funding used to conduct the research. This requirement represents a big step for research transparency because the public will now be able to easily identify who participated in the research, including authors and funders.

Why is this such a big deal?

Making research accessible to all is certainly important in times of crisis, such as the onset of a global pandemic. But even outside of pandemics and other crises, this move toward transparency and accessibility of research represents a big step toward more global collaboration and cooperation in science. While many universities and colleges in the United States can afford access to peer-reviewed academic journals, this is not the case for many scientists and experts around the world. In our current system, a scientist doing cancer research in another country may have a promising idea for further research but find themselves stuck because they cannot access the latest research in the United States. These kinds of barriers represent a huge, missed opportunity for society.

Even in the United States, I cannot access some of my scientific publications without paying for them. For example, a post from my own PhD thesis access costs me $40. This is just for one research paper – which I did all the hard work I might add! Likewise, it doesn’t make sense that taxpayers in the United States, who ultimately funded federal research, can’t have free access to it.

This guide will expand access to federally funded research fair and its results and data are more transparent. This will help ensure that the work upholds research and standards of scientific integrity. While this hasn’t gotten much press attention, it’s an important change and good policy. Perhaps best of all, by vastly expanding access to much American research, these recommendations and subsequent policy changes have a good chance of accelerating some new and impactful scientific discoveries, perhaps even life-saving ones.

Originally published Union of Concerned Scientists, The Equation.

Pa Jacob Carterdirector of research, senior researcher at the Center for Science and Democracy of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Featured image courtesy NASA/Bill Ingalls.


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