NSF Unveils New Public Access Plan


The National Science Foundation has released a new public access plan for scientific journal articles that arise from research wholly or partly funded by the agency. This plan, called “Today’s Data, Tomorrow’s Discoveries,” is an outgrowth of an Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) memo, released in February of 2013, which directed, “each Federal agency with over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development expenditures to develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government.” Let’s look at the details.

The NSF plan is very much in line with the requirements set out in OSTP’s memo. It sets a January 2016 effective date; all grant proposals submitted on or after this date will be subject to the plan. As well, NSF has identified the Department of Energy’s (DOE) PAGES (or Public Access Gateway for Energy and Science) system as the agency’s, “designated repository.” (Note: Most probably the use of DOE’s PAGES is in order to control cost, rather than create a wholly new system just for NSF; part of the instructions in the OSTP memo was that any new system must be implemented and operated within existing budgets). The plan requires that, “either the version of record or the final accepted peer-reviewed manuscript in peer-reviewed scholarly journals and papers in juried conference proceedings or transactions,” must be submitted to the PAGES system within 12 months of publication. All of this is in line with OSTP’s requirements.

There is a section on data management as well, which seems to be the first indications of an Open Data plan. The agency’s plan defines research data as, “the recorded factual material commonly accepted in the scientific community as necessary to validate research findings.” However, NSF writes in their plan that, “in the future, NSF will explore whether all data underlying published findings can be made available at the time of publication.” Anything further is still in the early stages of conception and not covered in this specific plan.

How does NSF’s plan fit into the larger Open Access debate? Seeing as it’s in line with OSTP’s memo, and by extension Administration policy priorities, and Congress has given OSTP room, at least temporarily, to direct science agencies in this matter, it seems the likelihood of push back is minimal. However, that could change with a new bill in Congress, as the legislature does have final oversight. For example, the original draft of the 2014 COMPETES Act in the House Science Committee tried to speed up the adoption of Open Access provisions at the science agencies; that could easily be repeated, as there are still many Open Access supporters in Congress. On the flipside, it is possible that the publisher community could get a repeal bill introduced by a sympathetic member of Congress, removing any such provisions from the agencies. This issue will have to play out more before any final outcome is assured.

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NSF Unveils New Public Access Plan