Open Access: Combatting the COVID-19 Outbreak

by Agnes Gambill 

March 19, 2020

Why Publicly Available Research & Data are Critical to Combatting the COVID-19 Outbreak

Debate over the pros and cons of open access is coming to a halt amidst the dire need for open research and data to combat the present public health crisis.  Now, ears are pricked.  

On March 13, 2020,  the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), Trump's Coronavirus Task Force, government science leaders, science ministers, and chief science advisors across the world asked scholarly publishers to make all COVID-19-related research and data immediately available to the public.  Officials note, "basic science research and innovation will be vital to addressing this global crisis ... it is particularly important that scientists and the public can access research outcomes as soon as possible."[1]

In the United States, research that is federally funded must be made freely available to the public within 12-months of its publication in a journal.  The White House is now considering a change to this policy, which would make federally funded research available immediately upon publication without the interference of paywalls.  If implemented, this policy would closely mirror efforts by a consortium of European research funders, known as cOAlition S, whose "Plan S" also calls for immediate access to government funded research. 

Publishers, traditional opponents of the proposed policy, state that making research immediately available would "hinder the peer-review process, stifle innovation, and tip the publishing business into chaos."[2]

The COVID-19 outbreak has persuaded publishers to change their stance.  At least 100 academic journals, societies, institutes, and companies have already signed a commitment to make research and data on COVID-19 freely available, and that number continues to grow.  Similar statements have been made during other outbreaks, including the 2009 flu pandemic, the 2014-16 Ebola epidemic, and the spread of the Zika virus in 2016.[3]    

Orchestrated collaboration for the public good, such as making COVID-19 related research publicly available, serves as a reminder to universities and researchers to advocate locally for open access principles within the academic community in order to support the research enterprise.

More information on Open Access at Appalachian State University can be found here.

More information on Open Access Week 2019 can be found here.

[1] The White House, Office of Science and Technology Policy, President Trump's Science Advisor and Government Science Leaders from Around the World call on Publishers to make all COVID-19 Related Research Publically Available (March 13, 2020).  

[2] Subbaraman, N., Rumours fly about changes to US government open-access policy, Nature.com (Dec. 20, 2019).  

[3] Yasinski, E., Journals Open Access to Coronavirus Resources, The Scientist (Feb. 13, 2020).