Supporters of open access – the movement to make scientific, technical and medical (STM) research freely available – have received a major victory in the US with the decision by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) to direct all federal departments and agencies to make the results of taxpayer-supported research available to the American public at no cost. 

Dr Alondra Nelson, the head of 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, without an embargo or cost.

The OSTP believes the policy will likely yield ‘significant benefits on a number of key priorities for the American people, from environmental justice to cancer breakthroughs, and from game-changing clean energy technologies to protecting civil liberties in an automated world’.

However, the Association of American Publishers immediately issued a statement attacking the decision, though its words were more measured than in previous years.  Shelley Husband, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, AAP, said: “The twin goals of the publishing industry—human inspiration and scientific progress—are deeply felt by the scholarly   publishing   sector, which   funds   and disseminates thousands of journals covering nearly every academic and professional field in science, technology, medicine, social sciences, and the humanities.    In a   no-embargo environment, in which private publications will be made immediately available by the government for free,   our   primary   concerns are about business sustainability and quality.      

“Many publishers have increased the speed and efficiency of the publication process, regularly launched new journals to increase the dissemination of research   and embraced diverse publication and access models to sustain and support researchers and research institutions, including those that reduce time to access.  This important work is part of a competitive marketplace geared towards excellence; it is very different than the government mandating business models.    How will publishers, especially small publishers, sustain the accuracy, quality, and output   that   the public   interest   requires?”

The clash between advocates of open access and the publishing industry has been running for many years.  In essence, both sides agree on the goal: the wide, democratic dissemination of knowledge for the good of society; where they disagree is on the how.  Publishers argue that without the revenue from journal sales to libraries and universities for example, they will not be able to fund academic publishing and the whole economic structure of STM publishing will be put under threat.

But for now, open access is claiming a victory and academic publishers are seeking the best way forward.  The AAP concludes: ‘As we work with the Administration and Congress in the days ahead, our focus will be to   preserve our nation’s leadership in research and innovation, and to ensure that we continue to have a vibrant independent industry for scholarly publications.’