Federally funded research will be paywall-free by 2026

'There should be no delay or barrier between the American public and the returns on their investments.'
Discoveries found using federal dollars could be available free and without embargo by 2026. Deposit Photos

Yesterday the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued new federal policy guidance saying that the results generated from all taxpayer-funded research be immediately made publicly available and at no added cost by 2026. This major policy move will have major repercussions in the journal publishing industry, academia, and more.

OSTP head Alondra Nelson issued the memorandum to federal departments on August 25, offering guidance for government agencies to update their public access and embargo policies as soon as possible. This would be a change to the current publication embargo system, in which publishers can place a set date and time for studies to be made public by the media.

“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 White House release. “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.”

The White House expects that this policy change to “yield significant benefits” for the American people, on priorities ranging from environmental justice, to cancer breakthroughs, to protecting civil liberties as the world continues to become more automated. OSTP submitted a report to Congress, outlining the economic landscape of the new policy.

[Related: Open data is a blessing for science—but it comes with its own curses]

This update has been a long time coming for proponents and advocates of open access who have pushed for the free and immediate release of any discoveries or findings that have received federal funding. These advocates include universities, libraries, some scientists, and President Biden himself. While serving as President Barack Obama’s Vice President, Biden addressed the American Association of Cancer research in 2016 and alluded to the embargo system and cost in his speech. “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,” he said. “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.”

[Related: The White House Sizes Up The Future Of Artificial Intelligence.]

The opponents of this policy have primarily been publishers and professional societies who argue that complete open access will harm the peer-review process and bankrupt journal publishers.  Some argue that open science and research will also compound existing inequities if handled incorrectly. In a statement to The New York Times, A spokeswoman for journal publishing giant Springer Nature Group, said that it was still reviewing the White House memo, but that it counted more than 580 fully open-access journals among its offerings and 2,000 journals, including Nature, that are committed to transforming to open access. Elsevier, another major publisher also said that it is looking forward “to working with the research community and OSTP to understand its guidance in more detail.”

To give agencies, researchers, and publishers time to adjust to the new policy, the OSTP says that they will work in tandem to update their public access and data sharing plans by the middle of next year. The office expects all agencies to have these new public access policies fully implemented by the end of 2025.