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White House finally bans paywalls on tax-payer-funded research

The amount of data collected, but unavailable to the typical citizen, is astounding. Now, paying for tax-payer-funded research is banned.

Person with books and computer representing research

All tax-payer-funded research must be made immediately available to the American public at no cost, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) announced in a memo.

“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.”

President Biden has long championed the move to open access for tax-payer funded 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.

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“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 memo states the 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.

The Association of Research Librarians applauded the decision saying it was inline with the research community’s embrace of open-science practices and “with the need to address such global challenges as health, climate, and economic inequality.”

The policies need to be in place by the end of 2025, according to the OSTP memo.

Until now, a small number of publishers held control over much published research. The cost of accessing the journals was prohibitively high for individuals and even universities. Researchers or their institutions had to subscribe to expensive journals. If they didn’t, they had no access to the information, even though it was federally funded. This led to a slow down in accessing information that could help researchers, and that slow down often resulted in deadly consequences. Some even blame the 2015 Ebola outbreak in West Africa on the fact that doctors had no access to the information.

The OSTP memo states that 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.

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OSTP said their consultations 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.

Mary Beth Lee retired from teaching in Texas this year after 28 years as a student media adviser. She spends her time these days reading, writing, fighting for public education and enjoying the empty nester life in Downtown Fort Worth.

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