Academic publishers are worried about an executive order the Trump administration is said to be considering that would impose new open access requirements on federally funded science research.
Over the weekend, several draft letters addressed to President Trump circulated among and collected signatures from leaders of scientific societies and academic membership associations. One, provided to EdSurge by a representative of the nonprofit Research!America, expressed concerns about proposed changes that may require publishers to “immediately make federally funded scientific discoveries published in their journals freely available to the global market.”
That would be a big change from how journals operate now. Currently, publishers can claim exclusive rights to the research findings they publish for 12 months, during which time they’re usually available only to subscribing institutions. After that period, some may be required to make federally funded research publicly available for free, thanks to a 2013 memorandum from the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy.
This delay, the letter claims, allows publishers to recoup the expenses required to support peer review and publication of new findings.
The draft letter provided to EdSurge goes on to express support for open access publishing practices, but it requests that the administration collaborate with publishers on any new policies.
On Monday, a post on a blog run by the Society for Scholarly Publishing suggested that the possible new executive order may stem from the same federal office responsible for the 2013 policy change. The U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy is currently run by Kelvin Droegemeier, a former vice president and professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma.
Kristina Baum, communications director for the federal office, told EdSurge in an email that “there are still many moving pieces” and that "we do not comment on internal deliberative processes that may or may not be happening."
“President Trump’s Administration continues to be focused on scientific discovery and economic expansion,” she wrote. “The National Science and Technology Council Subcommittee on Open Science continues to learn about opportunities to maximize access to publicly funded research.”
In the post on the Society for Scholarly Publishing blog, Robert Harington, associate executive director for publishing at the American Mathematical Society, explores the possible implications such a policy change would have on research and publishing. It could affect some fields more than others, he notes, since different academic disciplines receive varying degrees of federal research dollars.
Harington hypothesizes that institutions that subscribe to academic journals may decline to pay subscription fees, which could jeopardize the journals—or at least force publishers to develop a very different business model.
“One can argue that in enacting an ideal of openness, the medium of expression will wither,” he writes.
The Society for Scholarly Publishing declined to comment, noting that opinions expressed via its blog are those of authors, not necessarily of the organization.
International academic publishers are already facing open-access pressure from across the Atlantic, where a coalition of European grant-makers have endorsed Plan S, which would require that publicly-supported scientific research be published in “complaint Open Access journals or platforms” starting in 2021.