Colleges Should Reward Efforts to Make Research Open

A letter from Chris Bourg and Rebecca Saxe


The following was published in the Chronicle of Higher Education on September 12, 2022.

To the Editor:

We applaud the August 25 memorandum from the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) on Ensuring Free, Immediate, and Equitable Access to Federally Funded Research that calls on federal agencies to develop policies that will provide immediate open access to the outputs of federally funded research (“‘A Historic Moment’: New Guidance Requires Federally Funded Research to Be Open Access,” The Chronicle, August 25).

The potential benefits of immediate open access to research articles and to the data underlying the research include improving rigor and reliability, increased opportunity for reuse of data to ask new questions, faster and wider dissemination of new knowledge, broader participation in the research process, and the potential to reduce global inequities in publishing of and access to federally funded research.

Along with a diverse community of long-time advocates of open scholarship, we welcome the new OSTP guidance and its potential for accelerating a transition to a more open and equitable scholarly ecosystem. Funder requirements, however, are only one element of a complex system of norms and incentives. A major barrier to the widespread embrace of — and therefore the ultimate success of — mandates like the OSTP guidance is the degree to which scholars experience current incentive systems as at odds with practicing open scholarship. When individual career success incentives and reward systems — as codified in hiring, promotion, and tenure standards — are experienced as misaligned with open scholarship values and mandates, individual scholars are left in an impossible bind. Left unresolved, this misalignment will undermine the potential positive impacts of open scholarship generally and the OSTP guidance specifically, as many scholars are likely to navigate the seemingly inherent tensions via pro-forma compliance at best, and active resistance at worst. Something has to give.

The good news is that universities can make simple changes to hiring, promotion, and tenure practices to ensure that the work scholars do to make their research openly available is recognized and rewarded. Including language in hiring, promotion, and tenure guidelines that signal that open sharing of research outputs, and the impact of that sharing, is valued, will go a long way to aligning the incentives for career success with the practice of open scholarship — making what is now increasingly required, also what is rewarded.

Chris Bourg
Director of Libraries
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, Mass.

Rebecca Saxe
Associate Dean, School of Science
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Cambridge, Mass.