As the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy is in the midst of an inquiry into whether and how to update federal open access policy, many are wondering whether increasing free access to research will undermine the ecosystem of scholarly journals. For a sense of what to expect, it’s worth looking at how the National Institutes of Health policy, the longest-running federal open access policy, effected the biomedical journals where funded researchers were likely to publish.

The title of this week’s Big Deal Longread says it all: “The NIH public access policy did not harm biomedical journals.” Publishers raised all the same alarms in opposition to the NIH policy—it would make it impossible for them to cover their cost (much less their 40% profit margins…) and peer review as we know it would come to a screeching halt. Science would fall apart. Dogs and cats would live together. You get the idea. Well, according to this week’s study, they were wrong. From the abstract:

We show here that implementation of the NIH policy was associ- ated with slightly elevated mortality rates and mildly depressed natality rates of biomedical journals, but that birth rates so exceeded death rates that numbers of biomedical journals con- tinued to rise, even in the face of the implementation of such a sweeping public access policy.

Make no mistake: open access policies absolutely can and hopefully will erode the market power of big publishers. But “libraries might be able to cut a little into insane publisher profit margins” is a very long way from “the journal ecosystem as we know it will collapse.” As Peterson et al. show, the journal ecosystem is quite robust.

Here’s the full cite: Peterson AT, Johnson PE, Barve N, Emmett A, Greenberg ML, Bolick J, et al. (2019) The NIH public access policy did not harm biomedical journals. PLoS Biol 17(10): e3000352.