White House Bans Paywalls on Any Publication Containing Taxpayer-Funded Research

The White House ruled this week that scientific research which is taxpayer-supported must be available to the American public at no cost—addressing the expensive paywalls that block online viewing of studies in many journals.

The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) delivered guidance for agencies to update their public access policies as soon as possible to make publications and research funded by taxpayers publicly accessible immediately upon publishing, without an embargo or cost. All agencies will fully implement updated policies, including ending the optional 12-month embargo.

The current optional embargo 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, unless they pay.

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The new rule also expands the definition of a “scholarly publication” to include “not only peer-reviewed articles but also book chapters and conference proceedings.”

“When research is widely available to other researchers and the public, it can save lives,” said OSTP head Dr. Alondra Nelson. “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.”

When Joe Biden was Vice President in 2016, he told the American Association for Cancer Research that U.S taxpayers fund $5 billion a year in cancer 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. 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.”

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Advocates, researchers, academic libraries, Congressional leaders, and others have long called for greater public access to federally funded research results—and now they will have it.

In the short-term, agencies will work with the OSTP to update their public access and data sharing plans by mid-2023.

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