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Our response to the OSTP’s Request for Information on Open Access

Posted: 28 May 2020

Arcadia is committed to promoting open access. We do this through our open access programme and by requiring that all material resulting from our funding is made available for free online. Read below our response to the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s Request for Information: Public access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications, data and code resulting from federally-funded research.

Arcadia is a charitable fund of Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin. We support charities and scholarly institutions to preserve cultural heritage, protect the environment, and promote open access to research. We have invested more than $67m in grants designed to support and promote open access. Since 2009, we have also required the research outputs of all our grants to be available on an OA basis. Given our significant investment in helping to make research substrates and outputs openly available online for all, we are well placed to respond to the Office of Science & Technology Policy’s request for information. In our experience, the costs of ensuring public access deliver ample economic and social returns on investment. It is in this context that we submit our responses to your questions.

What current limitations exist to the effective communication of research outputs (publications, data and code) and how might communications evolve to accelerate public access while advancing the quality of scientific research? What are the barriers to and opportunities for change?

A significant part of Arcadia’s mission is to protect endangered nature. In order to best protect threatened landscapes and biodiversity, it is vital that the latest research is easily and freely available to everyone engaged in conservation and restoration sciences. Yet recent analysis of a large survey conducted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) indicates that half of the 2,285 respondents find it ‘not easy’ or ‘not at all easy’ to access relevant scientific research [1]. This is no surprise, as 85% of all conservation biology papers are not open for public readership [2]. These include many studies funded by US federal agencies. The situation is similar across most disciplines. For instance, in ophthalmology: across medical institutions there is widespread inequality of access to field-relevant research [3]. As these examples show, the traditional subscription journals business model does not provide equitable access to research paid for by public or philanthropic funds. It fails to provide sufficient easy access to discipline-relevant literature even to practitioners of the discipline, be it conservation sciences, ophthalmology or other scientific endeavours.

With easier and cheaper access, both researchers and practitioners would be more effective and productive.

Federal agencies have the power to mandate that federally-funded research should be immediately publicly available online, without a paywall, on publication. The United States has digital research infrastructures that could and would support such a policy. Government scientific research funders in Austria, Finland, France, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovenia, Sweden, Jordan, the United Kingdom, and Zambia have all committed to mandating the immediate public availability of government-funded research online, without a paywall. The world is now facing a pandemic that scientific research can help to solve. The United States would show leadership by making immediate public access to government-funded research the new normal. This would maximize the return on investment of US funded research – paywalled research outputs are a misuse and misappropriation of tax dollars.

We also note that academic paywalls harm national security: military consultancies and defense contractors have inadequate access to the latest research, which can deter them from turning concepts into reality [4]. The Department of Defense publishes unclassified research whilst protecting classified material. Open Access as practiced by Federal agencies is not a threat to national, military, or commercial interests.

What can Federal agencies do to make taxpayer funded research results, freely and publicly accessible?

As well as changing policy to disallow embargoes on the public availability of government-funded publications, Federal agencies should:

  • support the development, maintenance, and staffing of relevant digital research infrastructures that enable the sharing and discovery of publicly accessible research outputs, such as for preprints and for data
  • cut out the middleman in the journal publication system by operating their own open research platform for publications, as the Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust, the African Academy of Sciences, and the Association of Medical Research Charities (UK) do.
  • encourage transparent publication of peer review reports alongside published research outputs. Many unscrupulous editors and commercial journals wave manuscripts through with poor quality review, yet charge libraries high subscription prices for these ‘services’, which add little value. Federal agencies must shine a light on the peer review process to keep it honest, and to keep the cost of facilitating peer review as a service proportional to the quality of that service.

We thank you for your consideration of this important topic.


Lisbet Rausing and Peter Baldwin, Arcadia Fund

Supporting References:

[1] Daisy Larios, Thomas M. Brooks, Nicholas B.W. Macfarlane, Sugoto Roy (2020) Access to Scientific Literature by the Conservation Community. BioRxiv

[2] Richard Fuller, Jasmine Lee, James Watson (2014) Achieving Open Access to Conservation Science. Conservation Biology

[3] Boudry et al. (2019) Worldwide inequality in access to full text scientific articles: the example of ophthalmology. PeerJ

[4] Zak Kallenborn (2018) Academic Paywalls Harm National Security. Defense One