Halfway to happiness — what the OSTP update means in the grand scheme


By Mark Hahnel, Figshare Founder and CEO

It is very hard for any academic to argue with the concept of equitable access and equitable ability to publish research. The Office of Science and Technology Policy recently released their new memorandum outlining Guidance to Make Federally Funded Research Freely Available Without Delay. It is already being ‘Hailed as a Win for Innovation and Equity’, which is exactly what we work for at Digital Science and more specifically, Figshare, in academic publishing. What has made this task so difficult is 350 years of old habits, dying hard. The incentive structure in academia has long been broken and attempts to change this, while seeming slow moving, are up to a pace not previously seen before. That said, we are still a long way away from what academic publishing would look like if it were invented today.

Figshare is 10 years old this year, and looking back at the 10 years in the industry we can see the monumental change that Open Access (OA) publishing has brought about. There has been a move from 70% of all publishing being closed access to 54% being OA in a decade.

This is unstoppable momentum. What the new OSTP memo will do is accelerate the march to 100% OA (or as close as is possible).

Another side of the story is Green vs Gold OA over the same time. In 2011, 55% of OA papers were available via Green OA, compared with 70% of OA papers being Gold OA in 2021. This means that the speed at which we are moving to OA over closed access is the same speed at which the market is deciding to publish Gold OA papers over Green OA. This move to Gold OA and a need for funding may not be in line with the goal of equitable access and equitable ability to publish research. 

One of the most important changes is the requirement for immediate Open Access without any embargoes. This could be beneficial for all flavours of Open Access, including preprints, which can be classified as Green OA if properly managed. This improves both access and equity across research, as pointed out by Alison Mudditt, CEO of PLOS on Twitter.


The memo also, importantly, requires open data. When Figshare started there were no free generalist repositories to post datasets or other non-traditional research outputs (NTROs). When I think of academic data, it doesn't mean only spreadsheets: it is the files generated that are needed to back up the conclusions in the peer reviewed papers. Figshare now houses over 6 million of these outputs. The OSTP memo has the following requirements when it kicks in in 2026:

Immediate public access to the underlying data is required. The policy requires that scientific data underlying peer-reviewed scholarly publications be made publicly available at the time of publication. Federal agencies should develop approaches and timelines for sharing other federally funded scientific data that are not associated with peer-reviewed scholarly publications.

As Clarke and Eposito point out in their overview of the memo: “This is (presently) an unfunded mandate. No additional funding to cover the cost of publication or data availability is referenced in the memo, though section 3d of the memo directs federal agencies to “allow researchers to include reasonable publication costs and costs associated with submission, curation, management of data, and special handling instructions as allowable expenses in all research budgets.”

As part of the internal Figshare celebrations, I presented to the team my thoughts on how the space had moved on when it comes to academic research publishing, from the view of traditional peer reviewed papers and data with regard to equitable access and equitable ability to publish research 10 years ago, now, and 10 years into the future. Here were my thoughts:

The above table reflects my thoughts prior to the new memo being published. It has bolstered my hope that a future with equitable access and equitable ability to publish research is clearly in reach. The roadblocks and open questions of how to get there are still prominent in a few areas. But there are a lot fewer questions now than there were 10 years ago, or back in the 80s when the first dream of Open Access publishing was born. The new memo shows the power of constantly pressuring in the right direction. We have a great opportunity in the data space with a constant pressure on funders to require FAIR data publishing.

As is the tradition in academic publishing, we can continue to stand on the shoulders of giants, specifically the decades of work done by early open access advocates and SPARC. The speed at which dissemination of research is improving itself is accelerating. At Figshare, we welcome this new memo with open arms and head into the future more inspired about achieving the goal of open research.

For more information on how Figshare can help comply with the OSTP’s guidance on publicly accessible data, get in touch.

Aug 31, 2022 11:00

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