OSTP guidance and publishers’ role in data management

The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memo published by Dr Alondra Nelson on August 25, 2022 sets out new and updated policies for the publication of US federally funded research. Building on the previous memo from Dr Holdren in 2013, this new statement covers a much wider set of outputs.

By now, most in the publishing industry are familiar with the key principles of the memo, which include making publications and their supporting data resulting from federally funded research publicly accessible without an embargo on their free and public release no later than December 31, 2025.  

While much has been written about the impact that this imprecise direction might have on the publication of journal articles, what is envisaged for data is even less clear. For all the details, it’s best to refer to page 4, section b.) Scientific Data of the OSTP memo, but suffice it to say that the OSTP’s goals will have huge implications for everyone involved in the collection, usage, and storage of data.

Supporting the directive

What exactly does it mean for publishers who will need to support this new mandate? It is likely that researchers will look to publishers to help guide them through any new process so publishers will need to understand what is expected of their authors. There will need to be clear guidelines for what constitutes research data. Is this all the data that was collected during the research? Or just the data used in the analysis? Will it be images, graphs, tables, numbers or words or both, audio, video and/or text? Some scientific research today can generate terabytes of data — is all of that to be deposited? Does the data need to be normalized or will the data host or repository do that?

Are there enough data repositories in all disciplines to host all the data that will be covered?  Who will be responsible for ensuring the integrity of the data deposited? Who will ensure any clinical data is de-identified to protect patients? Who owns the data? How can we ensure that the researcher who created the data maintains that role?

Will editor and reviewers need to review the data set? And if so, will we need new tools to support that review process? Once the paper has been accepted, there will need to be metadata attached to the data set that will allow it to be identified and linked to the journal article. This is likely a role that publishers can play as part of their production and digital hosting processes.

What is clear is that there is a huge quantity of data and a very wide variety of entities that can be considered data which might be covered by the Nelson memo. And the questions here are just a few of many questions that will undoubtedly come up.

There seems to be no clear strategy yet for engaging with or setting up suitable repositories for the wide variety of data. And the potential cost is unquantifiable at this point. Although the responsibility will not and should not fall on publishers’ shoulders, it would be good for them to be part of the discussion.

The recent Community Forum webinar hosted by OSTP’s Assistant Director of Open Science, Christopher Marcum, helped to reassure publishers that “open science is not free”, but offered little additional information about how the new guidelines will be implemented. This has been left to the various agencies to develop detailed plans.

We have definitely seen some concern among smaller publishers and societies and associations about what they might be expected to do to support this new policy. We are all working to make publishing more sustainable, and it will be important that any changes here support the move to more openness in science and also support all researchers — not just those in the wealthier research institutes.

The many unanswered questions around this new directive are all the more reason to start preparing as much as possible for the major changes ahead. As your OSTP partner, Maverick can provide you with information on the latest developments and expert guidance across the many areas that will be impacted. In the end, we will need to work with all stakeholders to find solutions that work for everyone.

Download Maverick’s OSTP Service Program information sheet.

By Jayne Marks, Maverick Senior Associate

Jayne Marks brings over 40 years of scholarly publishing experience to Maverick. She has worked at senior levels in a variety of companies helping to devise and deliver on business strategies tailored for different markets. Throughout her career Jayne has responded to ever changing market environments by developing new product, sales, or content strategies to maximize new opportunities. Jayne’s primary focus has been on understanding the needs of the customers and markets that her products serve and ensuring they evolve to meet changing needs.