About Bloody Time

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) will start requiring all that all publications receiving federal funding make their research immediately available to the public free of charge, which means that the good folks at Elsevier will no longer be able to extract the enormous rents that they currently do for their “Services.”

Basically, the author of the study (generally) pays for publication, unpaid volunteers do peer review, and then the academic publishing giant charges thousands of dollars a year for subscriptions to their magazines.

Given that the US government is the largest source of funding for research in the world, this is a big f%$#ing deal.

Publicly funding research should be available to the public:

Many federal policy changes are well known before they are announced. Hints in speeches, leaks, and early access to reporters at major publications all pave the way for the eventual confirmation. But on Thursday, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) dropped a big one that seemed to take everyone by surprise. Starting in 2026, any scientific publication that receives federal funding will need to be openly accessible on the day it’s published.

The move has the potential to further shake up the scientific publishing industry, which has already adopted preprint archives, similar mandates from other funding organizations, and greatly expanded access to publications during the pandemic.

The change was announced by Alondra Nelson, acting head of the OSTP (a permanent director is in the process of Senate confirmation). The formal policy is laid out in an accompanying memorandum.

The US government is likely to be the world’s largest funder of scientific research. For medical research, the US National Institutes of Health spends more than the rest of the top 20 organizations combined. Yet, for decades, the scientific publishing system was set up so that the government (much less the people it represented) didn’t necessarily have access to the research it was funding. Instead, access was predicated on paid subscriptions to the journals the work was published in.

Two trends have undercut that limitation. One is the rise of open-access journals, which charge an up-front fee to the researchers and then provide anyone with Internet service access to the final research publication. The second is the trend toward “preprints.” Preprint servers, pioneered by researchers in physics and astronomy, provide access to manuscripts submitted to publishers for peer review. Their use in the biological sciences expanded considerably during the COVID-19 pandemic.

No mention here of Sci-Hub, the Russia based library website that has been making millions of papers available free of charge for more than a decade.

That organization, under legal siege across the world, has shown what is possible in the world or academic research without parasites erecting paywalls.

This is arguably the greatest step forward in science in decades.

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