by Teresa L. Curto, ASLO Executive Director; Mike Pace, ASLO President; Adrienne Sponberg, ASLO Director of Communications and Science
This week, ASLO joined over 125 scientific societies and journal publishers to respond to a rumored forthcoming Trump Administration executive order that would make all papers produced by federally funded research freely available upon publication. If implemented, this would completely eliminate the current 12-month embargo period whereby papers are behind a paywall.
ASLO does not typically respond to rumored changes but made an exception in this case. Those familiar with executive orders in the U.S. know that these are in fact edicts from the President, and they are not subject to public discussion. Nor are the details often revealed until the executive order is issued. ASLO’s position is that we would be derelict in NOT speaking up about this rumored executive order, as it has vast implications for authors, researchers, institutions, societies, and publishers alike. To view this as black and white “for or against open access” misses important implications and ramifications of such an executive order. The bottom line is that we believe neither scientists nor publishers should embrace nor advocate for any executive order that has not allowed input from scientists, scholarly publishers, or those providing research funding under the simplistic framework of “supporting open access.” We do not speak for the other signatories on the letter, but here are the key elements that led ASLO to join in signing this letter:
- The key aforementioned stakeholders have not been given any opportunity to read much less participate in and comment on such a sweeping policy mandate by this rumored executive order.
- If indeed the current 12-month embargo period was ended, this has vast implications for shifting the cost burden of immediate, free access to research articles from the subscription-based journal model to one that is largely funded by authors. Journals must have a sustainable financial model to exist and continue publishing research. Librarians have little reason to subscribe to freely available journal content, so journals will either fold, will need to significantly raise publication fees to authors , or find substantially cheaper ways to publish. While the latter might be possible, sudden change without time to develop new approaches could be disastrous.
- The impact on authors’ intellectual property (IP) rights cannot be underestimated. Again, no input from scientists and researchers has been sought by the Trump administration. In fact, Republican Senator Thom Tillis (North Carolina) has urged the Trump administration to give a briefing to the Senate Judiciary Committee so that the IP implications can be carefully defined and considered before moving forward with any policy changes.
- No details have been shared about how this rumored executive order would impact competitiveness in the global research market, where certain countries have vast sums of monies allocated to research (and therefore to authors and publishing) vs other countries where such funding is much less available or not available at all. If the costs of publishing shift entirely to authors and researchers, the playing field for authors, at least now, varies widely in terms of government funding. One of the reasons that open access has been embraced so quickly in Europe is that EU governments have stepped in to ensure the funding is behind the open access mandates. The US and other countries are far behind our European counterparts in this regard.
We urge our authors and members to carefully examine the ramifications of such executive orders before reflexively concluding this is “simply” about open access. It is not. Scholarly societies and all publishers should oppose any executive order where proper definition and consideration of these critical elements by all stakeholders has not been discussed or carefully developed so as to avoid serious disruption and potential collapse of scholarly journals and their sponsoring learned societies.
Journal publishing requires a sustainable financial model. In the current climate, ASLO advocates for author choice. All ASLO journals offer the open access option whereby authors wishing to make their work immediately available can do so. In addition, authors can make a read-only version of their articles available to others, as detailed in instructions they receive upon publication of their articles. Finally, for non-open access articles, the accepted version of the manuscript can be self-archived one year from publication.
We are also leading the move to open science at large by embracing data sharing policies, among other initiatives. It is worth noting that while open access itself may be viewed positively, there is strong debate among scientists about mandated data sharing ─ itself a key pillar of open science movement. Still, we see a future where open access publishing will likely be the norm, and we are actively discussing how to navigate toward this reality without placing undue burden on authors. We have a duty to ensure that ASLO’s leading journals in the field can continue to publish and can do so without overburdening authors who are the lifeblood of ASLO journals. We are working closely with other societies and publishers ─ through the letter we signed and other measures ─ to ensure that all stakeholders, including authors, are represented in any federal policy changes. As scientists, we are all unfortunately painfully aware of the negative consequences broad, ill-conceived executive orders can bring.
Further reading: https://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2019/12/16/politics-and-open-access/