In a move that open-access supporters have long pushed for, the White House on Thursday ordered academic journals to make publicly funded work immediately accessible to the public after publication.
The directive from the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) – anticipated to be fully in place by the start of 2026 – ushers in a paradigm shift in the publishing sector, which currently locks federally sponsored research papers behind a paywall for a year.
To encourage use and repurposing, the directive also mandates that publications be made available in machine-readable formats, a requirement that open-access proponents welcome as a game-changer for accessibility.
Although President Biden and former President Trump had long pledged to make federally funded research more widely accessible, the publishing industry has claimed that doing so could lead to the extinction of scholarly publications that depend on substantial subscription fees to access embargoed material.
However, OSTP acting head Alondra Nelson said during a White House press release, “When research is widely available to other researchers and the public, it can save lives, provide policymakers with the tools to make critical decisions, and drive more equitable outcomes across every sector of society.”
Concerns About the Change
According to scientific organizations, the policy change will primarily affect nonprofit journals and smaller research labs because they won’t have the money to pay article processing fees, which can exceed $10,000 for the most prestigious publications.
According to Michael Stebbins, a geneticist at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science and a former Obama OSTP official who oversaw an Obama initiative to increase public access, those processing costs could increase if journals change their business models to compensate for sluggish subscriptions.
“What you’re going to see is a massive drop in revenue for these scientific societies. That is going to crush some of them,” Stebbins told STAT. “You could wind up creating some inequality within the scientific community in exchange for making the papers much more broadly available.”