Open Access and “Zero Embargo” Rumors

January 15, 2020

In early December, the science community started hearing rumors about an Executive Order (EO) that would require all federally-funded research to be available to the public at the time of publishing in place of the 12-month post-publication embargo period outlined by the 2013 “Holdren memo”. These rumors suggested that the EO would be effective immediately and was coming from somewhere other than the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). It has since been confirmed that discussions about open access are happening at OSTP, however, no language has been shared with the scientific community.

FABBS supports the goals of transparency and accountability underlying open access.  We are, however, concerned about the lack of transparency regarding the rumored EO and recognize that many scientific societies depend on revenue from their journals and should be given the opportunity to comment on any proposed change to the Holdren memo, as well as time to prepare for a change in policy that will impact their revenue. FABBS signed a scientific society letter encouraging OSTP to give the scientific community an opportunity to respond to draft language.

The chair of a Senate Judiciary Committee subcommittee that deals with intellectual property, Senator Thom Tillis (R–NC), has also expressed concern. “If the current policy is changed—particularly without benefit of public hearings and stakeholder input—it could amount to significant government interference in an otherwise well-functioning private marketplace that gives doctors, scientific researchers, and others options about how they want to publish these important contributions to science.”

FABBS will continue to monitor open access discussions and keep our members informed of any forthcoming information. We will work with the science community to encourage a deliberative and inclusive process.

By way of background, in 2004, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), in response to pressure from Congress and patient advocates, adopted a voluntary policy to enhance public access to federally funded research via the agency’s PubMed Central repository.  In 2008, Congress codified the policy (PL 110-161), requiring NIH grantees to make their final, peer reviewed articles publicly available no later than 12 months after publication.  Ultimately, this precedent-setting policy influenced the previously mentioned 2013 “Holdren memo”. The OSTP directed major scientific research agencies to develop similar policies and procedures to increase public access to federally funded scientific research findings.  The memo, which encouraged agencies to use a twelve-month post-publication embargo period as a guideline for making research papers available, briefly quieted the debate surrounding open access.  It provided agencies with enough flexibility to adopt their own policies, while granting stakeholders a route for petitioning changes to prescribed embargo periods. 

Fast forward to 2018, a new initiative, referred to as Plan S, has emerged reigniting interest in open access. Proposed by cOAlition S, an international consortium of research funders, Plan S would require all publicly supported research findings be made available in compliant open access journals or platforms, without an embargo, beginning in 2021.  Apart from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, foundations currently supporting Plan S are based outside the United States.