March 30, 2022

Senators send letter to OSTP about federally funded research

Senators send letter to OSTP about federally funded research 

By: Sydney Sheffield 

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) sent a letter to the Deputy Director of Science and Society, Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) suggesting the creation of a national government-wide public-access policy for federally funded research with a focus on equity, sustainability, and strategic technological development, guaranteeing rapid access for all federally funded research articles with broad re-use rights. The Senators believe the program would allow enhancing national scientific priorities. 

“The vast majority of academic research, including federally funded research using Americans’ tax dollars, is published through subscription-based journals. Under this system, the U.S. government funds the research, researchers submit articles reporting the results for free to scientific journals, and other researchers validate those results by providing peer-review services without compensation,” the letter states. “However, rather than being freely available for all to use, the resulting journal articles are accessible only through expensive subscriptions, with prices that often reach into the thousands of dollars for a single journal.” 

The senators cite the creation of the March 2020 COVID-19 research database, which many countries and publishers agreed to publish all COVID-19-related research immediately, in an open public forum. The resulting database was accessed more than 160 million times by scientists, physicians, health care workers, and the public. Researchers were able to extract timely data from over 2,000 papers to create an open-source data repository of potential treatments to help with clinical trials and patient care. 

The letter “encourages that OSTP’s 2013 memorandum direct federal science agencies to develop plans to make the results of federally funded research freely available to the public no later than one year after publication.” Also, Wyden and Markey suggest inequality as a reason for the program, indicating that some libraries and other members of the scientific community cannot afford to access results published on paid journal subscriptions while some researchers lack the funds to join their publishers’ open-access programs.

An editorial article in Nature discusses the topic of open science and how there could be unintended consequences. While transparency, accountability, and equality are the motivations for increasing access, “failing to address structural inequalities directly means that the advantages of those who are already privileged will grow, especially given that they have the most influence over how open science is implemented.”