White House officials are working on an executive order that would boost public access to federally funded research, prompting publishers to panic about the future of their business models, according to people familiar with the plan.
Ostensibly, the order would follow longtime bipartisan interest in improving public access to research that is paid for by taxpayers.
It is expected to require that publicly funded science be obtainable for free immediately, building on an Obama initiative, multiple sources said.
A memo adopted in 2013 mandated that the results of such research be made available within one year of publication.
Though there is generally broad support for public access, publishing groups like the Association of American Publishers worry that a tougher order would upend their subscription-based business model.
Once it caught wind of the effort, AAP began drafting a sharply worded letter of concern to the White House, multiple sources said. The letter could be sent as early as tomorrow.
About a dozen sources told E&E News that they were aware the White House has been considering an executive order but the details remain murky. A senior administration official declined to comment on “internal deliberative processes that may or may not be happening.”
“President Trump’s Administration continues to be focused on scientific discovery and economic expansion,” the official added via email.
Michael Stebbins, who helped draft the Obama-era memo, generally expressed support for public access and noted that it could spur innovation. “But the devil is definitely in the details,” he said.
Many academic journals are funded by subscription fees collected in the first year of publication. The Trump mandate could force publishers to shift their model so authors pay hefty article processing charges, or APCs.
“Here’s the challenge: A world in which there is immediate open access will result in serious pain to a scientific society or small publisher who relies on subscription revenue,” Stebbins added. “That revenue will have to be made up somehow for them to survive.”
Some scientific experts, who are generally skeptical of the Trump team, are worried that the initiative parallels what they call the administration’s incessant attack on science and, by extension, provides favors to industry.
“What problem are we trying to solve?” asked Andrew Rosenberg, an advocate with the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Others noted that the order would give international competitors like China access to American research, which has been a concern of the Trump administration.
It’s also unusual, sources noted, that a Republican administration would adopt policies that could seriously affect business models.