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Federally funded studies must be freely accessible to the public, White House says

Because hey, you’re paying for it.

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The White House has updated its policy on federally funded research. Going forward, the results of studies funded by the government must be made public right away. Until now, researchers who receive federal funding have been allowed to publish their findings in academic journals exclusively for one year, effectively adding a paywall to their work. Agencies will need to update their policies accordingly by December 31st, 2025.

The Biden administration hopes that the move will afford more equitable access to research. "All members of the American public should be able to take part in every part of the scientific enterprise—leading, participating in, accessing and benefitting from taxpayer-funded scientific research. That is, all communities should be able to take part in America’s scientific possibilities," senior policy advisor Dr. Ryan Donohue and assistant director for open science and data policy Dr. Christopher Steven Marcum wrote in the White House's announcement.

They note that several discriminatory factors have prevented many Americans from accessing research, not least because of the paywall. The lack of adequate funding at "minority-serving colleges and institutions" and people's socio-economic statuses "have historically and systemically excluded some Americans from accessing the full benefits of scientific research," the announcement reads.

Under the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy's (OSTP) latest guidance, the administration is eliminating the option to put federally funded peer-reviewed research articles exclusively behind a paywall for 12 months. The refreshed policy builds on a 2013 memo on bolstering access to federally funded research results with a requirement to make "data published in peer-reviewed research articles immediately available upon publication." Other research data will be made available "within a reasonable timeframe."

Publicly publishing such data as soon as possible could accelerate the pace of scientific research. It may be easier for others to replicate and build on the results of studies. Still, the policy clarifies that it's important for researchers and agencies to share data responsibly to ensure privacy and security standards are upheld.

Among other things, the guidance affords researchers the ability to include the costs of publishing and sharing data in their research budget proposals. OSTP is also working with several agencies to combat funding inequities. Several agencies have programs through which they provide grants to researchers in the early stages of their careers, and bolster the "racial and gender diversity of award applicants and the scientific workforce."

More than 20 agencies were subject to the 2013 memo, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Transportation and NASA. All of the agencies have established policies to release scientific data swiftly, which they may now need to update.