The Nelson Memo: Public Access to Research and what this means for researchers 

TL;DR 

  • The Nelson Memo asks all federal grant agencies, including those providing funding in the Humanities & Social Sciences, to require immediate public access to the peer-reviewed scholarly publications funded by those grants as well as to the underlying research data. 
  • Researchers applying for grants will need a persistent identifier like ORCID 
  • Scholarly Societies relying on subscription models may be adversely affected when the Nelson Memo is implemented.
  • On Friday, October 28, IU Libraries will host a one-day symposium for conversations on open access in Wells Library Hazelbaker Hall.

What is the Nelson Memo? 

 The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued a Memorandum on August 25 titled Ensuring Free Immediate & Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research, widely referred to as the “Nelson Memo.” When its provisions are implemented federal grant agencies are required to ensure that researchers who receive federal funds deposit their peer-reviewed scholarly publications in agency-designated public access repositories without any embargo or delay after publication. Prior to this the 2013 Memorandum titled Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Research, widely referred to as the “Holdren Memo” allowed for up to 12 months’ delay in providing public access to research funded by certain federal grant agencies. 

Humanities & Social Science researchers 

Unlike the Holdren Memo which covered only federal grant agencies with over $100 million in annual research and development expenditures (grant budgets), the Nelson Memo covers all federal grant agencies. Humanities and Social Science HSS) researchers should pay attention to this as it means that many HSS grants that were not covered by the 2013 Memo are covered by the Nelson Memo. The Nelson memo explicitly cites peer-reviewed book chapters, editorials, and conference proceedings as being subject to its provisions. 

Researcher IDs 

The Nelson Memo also specifically addresses persistent identifiers and access to scientific data underlying peer-reviewed scholarly publications (research data) resulting from federally funded research. For persistent identifiers the Nelson Memo points back to the 2021 NSPM-33 Guidance for Implementing NSPM-33 on National Security Strategy for United States Government-Supported Research and Development which recommends persistent digital identifiers for federally funded individual researchers. It directs federal grant agencies to require that applicants have such a persistent identifier. An ORCID ID meets these qualifications and Indiana University Libraries is an ORCID member. Review our ORCID Guide to learn how to set up your ORCID ID and contact research impact and open scholarship librarian, Willa Liburd Tavernier, if you need further assistance.  

Research Data Sharing 

The research data sharing requirements carve out protections for human subjects data, trade secrets and confidential commercial information, personally identifiable information, and other information which is protected other law and policy. The Nelson Memo requires that federally funded research data should be made publicly and freely available at the time of publication in a digital repository that aligns with the National Science and Technology Council document entitled “Desirable Characteristics of Data Repositories for Federally Funded Research”. Indiana University Libraries’ DataCORE repository, is largely compliant. For questions, contact research data librarian Ethan Fridmanski

Research output and research data are not only expected to be publicly accessible online immediately upon publication but should be in formats that allow for machine readability and enable broad accessibility through assistive devices. 

For all researchers 

The Nelson Memo applies to all researchers on a paper, not just corresponding authors. It is applicable not only to research articles but to all peer-reviewed scholarly publications including book chapters and conference proceedings. Federal grant agencies with budgets of $100 million or higher, should have compliant public access policies in place by February 21, 2023, and other agencies have until August 20, 2023. Researchers should be prepared to comply with these policies by these deadlines. Researchers making grant applications now should include open-access publication costs in their grant budget. The Nelson Memo stipulates that federal granting agencies should allow for the inclusion of reasonable publication costs and costs associated with submission, curation, management of data, and special handling instructions. 

For Scholarly Societies 

We are aware that many of our researchers are heavily involved in scholarly societies. Many scholarly societies use a hybrid or delayed open access publication model, with embargos of varying length, and differing policies on what version of a published research article may be openly shared. Free access is often a perquisite of membership, while revenue from journal subscriptions contributes valuable funding for the society’s activities. Immediate public access to the peer-reviewed manuscript will significantly affect these ways of doing business. Other options for scholarly societies are – 

  1. Diamond Open Access publishers like library publishers which are institutionally financed and do not charge societies or authors for their publication activities e.g. Hindsight: Journal of Optometry History (iu.edu) 
  1. The community-supported model where institutions pay supporter, membership, or shareholder fees to finance open access publication Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development 
  1. Subscribe to Open, where existing subscribers commit to maintaining subscriptions at a sufficient level to allow the journal to make its content open access e.g. Berghahn Open Anthro (berghahnjournals.com) 
  1. Gold Open Access, where the society requires that authors pay article processing charges for all publications. Most publishers use a model where researchers in low-income countries can access discounts or complete waivers of these charges. 

What’s Next 

Supporters of the new initiative praise the removal of the embargo period, the requirement for identifiers, access to research data, and robust metadata requirements as enhancing the transparency and integrity of the research ecosystem. However, there are some concerns. The language of the Nelson Memo is not directive and states that federal agencies “should”, rather than are required to, bring their policies in line with the memo, which could create some lack of clarity and compliance. It is also possible that the Nelson Memo will lead to further dominance of the “author pays” open access model in the publishing world, where the publisher requires an article processing charge to publish the research work open access. A move in that direction will shift even more taxpayer resources to dominant commercial publishers, five of whom control over 50% of global research output. In addition, the Nelson Memo requires public access, not open access, which means that re-use rights beyond access might be severely curtailed by publishers’ licensing terms.  

IU Libraries has negotiated several open access publishing agreements with major publishers such as Cambridge University Press, and PLOS which employ other models and do not require IU corresponding authors to pay an article publishing charge.  

Learn More 

On October 28, 2022, IU Libraries will host a one-day symposium for conversations on Open Access in the Wells Library Hazelbaker Hall starting at 9:30 am. We will highlight IU authors’ experiences with publishing open access, showcase various models of funding open access publication, and frankly discuss challenges and limitations.  

If you have questions or need additional information about the Nelson Memo please contact IU Libraries Scholarly Communication Department at any time at iusw@iu.edu. 

The full text of the Nelson Memo can be viewed at https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2022/08/08-2022-OSTP-Public-Access-Memo.pdf.  

The full text of NSPM-33 can be viewed at Presidential Memorandum on United States Government-Supported Research and Development National Security Policy – The White House (archives.gov).   

To learn more about open scholarship services provided by IU Libraries Scholarly Communication Department, please visit https://openscholarship.indiana.edu