We, as the Knowledge Futures Group, are writing in response to the request for information by the Office of Science and Technology Policy regarding public access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications, data, and code resulting from federally funded research.1 As a non-profit consortium of academic, industry, and advocacy organizations founded as a partnership between the MIT Press and the MIT Media Lab, the KFG builds open tools and spaces for scholarly research, communication, and preservation. We are in favor of mandates and policy positions that move the scholarly ecosystem toward greater openness. However, we also understand that openness is necessary but not sufficient. Any mandates for openness must consider the long-term impacts of how the policy is implemented across disciplines to ensure we are moving towards the ultimate goal of a healthy ecosystem for the creation, distribution, and preservation of universal, public knowledge. We must think about constructing a system with and for researchers that incentivizes institutions and their constituencies alike to engage in distributed open collaborative scholarship.2
There is much for the public to gain from open access publishing policies for research. Going beyond this, we believe greater and more nutritive steps should be taken on a structural level to establish an ecosystem of collaboration in which the act of conducting research and the act of publishing it for the sake and benefit of others is the norm. It is for these reasons that we write in support of open access publishing for federally-funded scientific research and are working to build tools that make it easier to do so.
As we write this response, COVID-19 has become a pandemic, and teams are rising to the challenge of developing and manufacturing effective therapeutics and a safe vaccine in a very short period of time. The outbreak exposes systemic deficiencies in scholarly communications that hinder collaborative efforts to make research on this rapidly-evolving situation more widely available. It also underscores the relevance of KFG’s central mission to create open infrastructure that supports the publication and discovery of open research. The reality of this virus presents a vital opportunity to describe how research and scholarly communication systems must be reimagined and constructed to serve the public good.
We seek to bring about a future in which the means of communication around new and evolving knowledge is built, managed, and sustained by those who use it. This community-driven approach puts researchers in control of their own tools. In addition, it underlines the potential risks posed by increasing access to publications resulting from federally-funded research, such as the loss of independence of smaller publishers and scholarly associations due to market pressures, and the increasing power of for-profit publishers to control the information ecosystem and resources across the researcher workflow. The market should not drive access to knowledge.
To this end, any open-access mandate must consider:
Establishing new open scholarly infrastructure.3
Recommendations for changes to tenure and promotion practices at U.S. institutions that prioritize openness and collaboration, and, relatedly, incentivizing researchers and authors whose careers depend on publication records;
A redefinition of “high impact” and a revision of scholarly publication metrics;
Expanding the role of academic societies, libraries, and university presses in stewarding an open and healthy scholarly ecosystem;
Identifying the risks associated with the consolidation, monopolization, and marketization of knowledge infrastructure.
Thank you for the opportunity to provide our perspective on this important topic. We hope to have further conversations with policy-makers and other respondents on the best way to support public access to publications from federally-funded research while ensuring a healthy, open, and collaborative scholarly ecosystem.
—The Knowledge Futures Group