Near the end of last year, it seemed like pretty much everyone in U.S. academic publishing had strong opinions about a mythical beast that all had heard about but none had actually seen: a rumored Executive Order (EO) from the White House Office of Science and Technology that would mandate immediate public availability of research results by federally-funded authors. Opinions were divided. Some (for example members of the Open Access Working Group (OAWG)) publicly supported the rumored EO on the grounds that it would accelerate scientific discovery; others put their name to an Association of American Publishers letter which highlighted concerns that it would jeopardize intellectual property and possibly even delay the publication of new research.
Springer Nature didn’t sign either letter, even though we also had our concerns about the rumored mandate. We’re very proud of the role that Springer Nature, the world’s most comprehensive Open Access publisher, has played – and continues to play – in making research more open, so we wholeheartedly agree with the end goal of immediate open access. But the means to this end has to be carefully thought out, and ultimately structured in a sustainable way. Our concerns about a potential zero-embargo mandate for subscription content from the OSTP were that it might prove counterproductive and unsustainable, by resulting in slower progress towards Gold OA and ultimately hampering the wider ‘open’ agenda – Gold OA being much more than a different business model but the doorway to open science.
After a series of meetings, including very positive and constructive ones with OSTP Director Kelvin Droegemeier and his Assistant Director for Academic Engagement, Lisa Nichols, the mythical beast has stayed just that; no one knows whether an EO will be issued, or what it would say. For now, the OSTP has issued a broad yet detailed Request for Information (RFI) to better understand the research publishing landscape and the impact of any potential changes.
While Springer Nature will be responding in detail, what our overarching message will be is already clear: the best way to ensure that full research results are shared freely and quickly is by publishing them via a Gold OA publication model. This is the only sustainable model that guarantees immediate and perpetual access to the final version of record (VoR), providing:
In most cases, green OA, on the other hand – whether with a zero embargo or not – is not citable or connected to the scientific record, so researchers can’t easily build on it. Often it doesn’t provide access to the original data and so is neither replicable nor reusable, therefore limiting its usefulness for furthering academic discovery and public or commercial R&D initiatives. Moreover, it doesn’t give the general public access to many of the improvements publishers make to enhance the layout and understanding of the research, thereby making it more accessible to the lay person. And it still requires libraries and institutions to subscribe to access the version of record.
It may look easier to achieve to funders and governments – with immediate availability of accepted manuscripts viewed as ‘good enough’ – but it won’t help them meet their objectives and could easily disincentivize others to support the full transition to Open Science.
We look forward to building on these and other recommendations to help the OSTP – and the academic publishing industry as a whole – make real progress towards an Open Science future.
*This blog was updated on 6th March 2020*