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March 1st, 2013

White House calls for increased access to federally funded research results

Published on March 1st, 2013 | By: Eileen De Guire

The White House hopes to increase innovation in industry and manufacturing, in part, by making federally funded scientific research results easier to access. Here, President Barack Obama listens to Jeffrey Brower and Dwayne Moore explain the machining of the axle components made for Caterpillar’s large mining trucks during a tour of the Linamar Corp. auto-parts plant in Arden, N.C, Feb. 13, 2013. Credit: Official White House Photo; Pete Souza.

Last Friday, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued a memo (pdf) to the heads of executive departments and federal agencies with instructions to develop a plan to increase the public’s access to the fruits of federally funded research, in particular, publications and digital data.

The request applies to all federal agencies that support over $100 million in annual research and development.

Besides making taxpayer-funded research results available to the taxpayer, the OSTP hopes that government-funded scientific research will spur innovation, claiming that research results are “grist for new insights and are assets for progress in areas such as health, energy, the environment, agriculture, and national security.”

OSTP has two objectives: To provide public access to unclassified research published in peer-reviewed journals and to digital-format scientific data.

The agencies have six months to draft a plan, and they are encouraged to work together to develop compatible plans, as well as to solicit input from stakeholders, including universities, libraries, principle investigators, publishers, and societies (such as ACerS).

OSTP clearly and explicitly says that there will be no additional funding to implement the plans.

The memo stipulates following requirements.

1. A strategy for leveraging existing archives, where appropriate, and fostering public–private partnerships with scientific journals relevant to the agency’s research;
2. A strategy for improving the public’s ability to locate and access digital data resulting from federally funded scientific research;
3. An approach for optimizing search, archival, and dissemination features that encourages innovation in accessibility and interoperability, while ensuring long-term stewardship of the results of federally funded research;
4. A plan for notifying awardees and other federally funded scientific researchers of their obligations (e.g., through guidance, conditions of awards, and/or regulatory changes);
5. An agency strategy for measuring and, as necessary, enforcing compliance with its plan;
6. Identification of resources within the existing agency budget to implement the plan;
7. A timeline for implementation; and
8. Identification of any special circumstances that prevent the agency from meeting any of the objectives set out in this memorandum, in whole or in part.

The government recognizes the value added by of the scientific publishing industry—”including the coordination of peer review… for ensuring the high quality and integrity of many scholarly publications”—and appears to be trying not to make overly burdensome demands. Indeed, there are some in the scholarly publishing industry who describe the new policy as a “fair and sustainable policy that offers much to the public good” and “a reasonable step forward.”

As usual, the devil is in the details of open access (OA). Scholarly Kitchen blogger, David Wojick, provides an interesting evaluation in his Monday post, “Confusions in the OSTP OA Policy Memo—Three Monsters and a Gorilla.” The “three monsters” are all variations on quagmires related to flexibility: the possibility of multiple OA systems, the reality of many federal research organizations, and the existence of many disciplines. The “gorilla” is—no surprise—the federal budget.

It seems to me that the more generic the plans are across agencies, the better. Materials science is practically a poster child for interdisciplinary science. Funding comes from all over: NSF, DOE, DOD, Commerce, Transportation, NIH, and probably from some other pockets. Publishers will have a much easier time complying if the OA plans end up being a “one size fits all.”


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