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Policy

National Science Foundation Plans For Open Access

Grant recipients will have to make their research results public within 12 months of publication

by Andrea Widener
April 13, 2015 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 93, ISSUE 15

After more than two years in development, the National Science Foundation unveiled a plan last month to make its grant recipients’ research findings publicly available within a year of publication.

The agency’s new open access plan will apply to all publications of NSF-funded research appearing in peer-reviewed journals or conference proceedings. The requirement will go into effect for all grant proposals submitted starting January 2016.

NSF’s plan is the most recent proposal unveiled since the White House in February 2013 directed all federal research agencies to make results of work they fund freely available. At the time of the White House announcement, the National Institutes of Health was the only federal agency with an open access policy.

Journal publishers, universities, and academic librarians have argued for years about when the public should have free access to the results of publically funded research. Publishers say placing articles behind an online paywall allows them to support the cost of peer review. Open access advocates say publically funded research should be immediately available to all.

Most federal plans so far have been a compromise between those two positions. In August 2014, the Department of Energy became the first agency besides NIH to release its plan. Like NSF, DOE also set a 12-month window before publications had to be available for free.

DOE created a searchable portal called PAGES (Public Access Gateway for Energy & Science) that will make results of research it funds available to the public. Authors can directly submit their papers to PAGES. Or PAGES will link to the most current public version of an article available through a publisher-created system called CHORUS (Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the U.S.).

Brian A. Hitson, director of DOE’s Office of Scientific & Technical Information, says the agency is still introducing the new requirements to grantees and to scientists at its national laboratories. But PAGES seems to be working well, he says.

NSF has also chosen to work through DOE’s PAGES system, which will be modified to link into NSF’s existing grants management infrastructure. That choice wasn’t a surprise to R. Michael Tanner, chief academic officer at the Association of Public & Land-grant Universities. “There is a lot of advantage to proliferation of a solution,” he says. In a related move, universities have banded together to create their own system, called SHARE (Shared Access Research Ecosystem), rather than working individually, he says.

NSF did leave open the possibility of eventually providing access to research publications directly through other portals, such as SHARE or CHORUS. The publishers’ consortium “welcomes the opportunity to work even more closely with NSF to leverage existing infrastructure and standards to minimize researchers’ burdens and duplication of versions,” says CHORUS Chair Susan King, senior vice president of the Journals Publishing Group at the American Chemical Society, which also publishes C&EN.

NSF suggested that the solution to open access eventually might be a “federated system” that would bring the work of federal agencies, publishers, academic libraries, and other interested parties together.

“NSF is interested in exploring ways to enable end users to access information across multiple repositories and to potentially streamline deposit for investigators,” says agency spokeswoman Maria C. Zacharias.

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