The National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the prominent National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding agency, has now joined the movement towards open access publishing.
The open access model for publishing research is a simple idea: anyone should be able to access free peer-reviewed scientific publications, as opposed to research articles being hidden behind a paywall. Many advocates for open access argue that the taxpayers who contribute the tax money that supports the federal grants funding research should have access to the information. Opponents say that the business model of open access journals isn’t sustainable and can hinder publishing by putting too much financial burden on the researchers doing the science, who have to pay to get their manuscripts published. While the open access movement has gained many supporters, some of the most prestigious “brand name” journals still place their publications behind an extremely profitable paywall.
But institutions and funding agencies are making changes to their policies that may have the power to tip the scales towards supporting open access publishing. Back in November of 2018, Science Europe launched their Plan S initiative, backed by a coalition of 18 funding bodies, which will require every scientific publication originating from research they’ve funded to be publicly available. Earlier this year, the University of California system, one of the largest public research institutions in the world, broke their agreements for access to paywalled publications with the powerhouse publisher Elsevier.
Now NCI, a $1.8-billion research initiative, has also decided that they will require any research funded by them to be immediately accessible upon publication. Beyond NCI, the NIH (a $5.7 billion institute with substantial funding power) doesn’t require this of any other program, but maybe it’s finally not too crazy or hopeful to expect this in the future. While it’s hard to predict what lasting cultural changes these events might trigger, I believe these bold decisions reflect the fundamental belief that knowledge should be shared openly and transparently for scientific discoveries to achieve their greatest impact.