APS News

National Science Foundation Issues Open Access Policy

Starting in January 2016, journal articles supported by grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) will be free to read one year after their publication.

March 20, 2015  |  Michael Lucibella

According to the NSF policy announced on March 18, 2015, publishers can keep the full text of the articles on their websites, but will have to allow the public to read the full text of research papers after the end of the 12 month embargo period.

The policy is based on the requirement put forward two years ago by the Office of Science and Technology Policy. In its February 2013 memo, the office called for all of the federal science agencies to “develop a plan to support increased public access to the results of research funded by the federal government," stipulating that journal articles based on federal grants be made freely available after one year. The NSF’s announcement means that nearly all major federal research agencies have outlined their access plans.

Last August, the Department of Energy announced its public access policies, on which the NSF largely based its plan. Both agencies will maintain a database of abstracts that redirects users to publisher’s servers that host the full text articles.

The DOE established the Public Access Gateway for Energy & Science, or PAGES website to host abstracts and metadata of all the journal articles. The NSF in its public access plan said it will also have authors upload abstracts and metadata to the PAGES website, but the system might be augmented to better suit the NSF in the future.

Where the final text article files would reside has been a contentious issue between publishers and open access advocates. Journal publishers generally wanted to avoid a system like Pub Med Central, maintained by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), where the government has maintained the master archive of freely available published articles.

Though not open to the public, the agencies will maintain a “dark archive” of the full-text articles for preservation or in case a publisher does not comply with the open access requirements.

Also in its announcement, the NSF indicated also that it would likely broaden the scope of its policy sometime in the future to include other publications including white papers, technical reports, and instructional materials.

The requirements only apply to research based on work funded by federal agencies. The NSF policy is not retroactive, so it will only start applying to new grants starting in January of next year.

Nearly all other agencies have announced their own open access policies, many of which are akin to the NIH’s model of having a centralized, government run repository. NASA and the Department of Agriculture are both creating their own full text databases based on PubMed Central. The Defense Department (DOD) is updating their existing Defense Technical Information Center to host unclassified manuscripts that received DOD funding. The National Institute of Standards and Technology in the Commerce Department has not yet released its open access plan.

Related Information

Gray arrow OSTP Memo Sets Goal of Public Access - APS News, April 2013