Fred Dylla is the Executive Director and CEO of the American Institute of Physics (AIP), which publishes a number of journals out of its offices in Melville, NY. Previously, Dylla served as Chief Technology Officer and as Associate Director at DOE’s Jefferson Lab, where he spearheaded the Free Electron Laser program. He has held various positions at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, where he helped develop technology for nuclear fusion reactors, particle accelerators, and materials processing. He received his PhD in physics from MIT, is a Past President and Fellow of the AVS and a Fellow of the American Physical Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Dylla assumed the helm at AIP in 2007, and has carved out an impressive set of achievements and new directions for AIP since then. In addition, he has become known as one of the most thoughtful voices in discussions about publication policies, public access, and the sustainability of publishers and science funding.
Q: AIP is not a typical scientific publisher. Can you briefly describe the organization?
A: The American Institute of Physics (AIP) is a non-profit umbrella organization of 10 member societies, whose combined membership comprises 135,000 physical scientists and educators working in a variety of fields, including physics, medical physics, astronomy, geology, optics, acoustics, crystallography, rheology, and materials science.
At its Publishing Center in Melville, NY, AIP publishes a portfolio of 15 highly cited scholarly journals in physics; it also publishes prestigious journals for five of its Member Societies. Through its Physics Resources Center in College Park, MD, AIP also serves its member societies, the physics community, and the general public with valuable resources in science communication, government relations, statistical research, history preservation, education and career services, and outreach to students and physicists in industry.
Q: You have long been active in discussions with US government officials over OA policy. In March, you testified at a Congressional committee hearing. My impression from the statements by the Chairman and Ranking Member is that OA legislation is unlikely any time soon. They seem to be backing away from it. How do you see it?
A: I was very pleased that the Investigations and Oversight Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee held a hearing on public access to scholarly publications. Before I offer my thoughts on the hearing, I first want to set the context for this event.
When I became head of AIP in 2007, I was very concerned about the tone and content of the public debate over public access to scholarly publications, and the unintended consequences to the scholarly enterprise and to the conduct of science if legislation were enacted without a careful analysis of the need and likely impact. A year later, the NIH public access mandate was enacted. Since then, several bills on both sides of the issue of public access have been introduced in Congress.
I felt that a different approach was needed. In 2009, I was invited to participate in the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable that was empaneled by the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee to examine public access issues. This group included balanced participation by the key stakeholders: publishers, librarians, and university provosts. The Roundtable developed consensus recommendations for the development of public access policies for scholarly data and publications.
Many of the Roundtable’s recommendations were incorporated into the 2010 Reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act. Section 103 set in motion a process for federal agencies that fund significant R&D to develop agency specific strategies to strengthen access for publicly funded research, including publications, research reports and associated data. In addition, the law notes the importance of encouraging interoperability between public and private repositories and the development and implementation of appropriate international standards.
Against this background, and with agencies working to develop public access strategies, I felt that there was no need for additional legislation at this point. This simple observation was getting lost with the flurry of competing bills introduced early this year on public access. I was pleased that the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee exercised their jurisdiction over this issue by holding the March 29th hearing.
As you noted, the opening statements of Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA) and Ranking Member Paul Tonko (D-NY) cautioned against precipitous changes in public access policies. Chairman Broun stated, “I have a lot of questions about how we should meet the challenges of expanding access to research without compromising the quality of the product, or the rights of those involved in the process.” Ranking Member Tonka offered similar remarks, saying, “At this point, I believe the language this Committee included in the reauthorization of the American COMPETES Act remains the best path forward”. Tonko later added, “If we proceed to a legislative approach, we may end by creating more problems than we solve. An abrupt end to the current system could drive some publishers out of existence. It could result in the loss of established journals and weaken professional scientific societies. These outcomes would be counterproductive to the goal of having high quality research widely published and disseminated.” I agree with both of them.
Broun and Tonko recognized that this is a complicated and emotionally charged issue. I understand that the committee membership and their staff will keep open the possibility of additional hearings on the subject, but as they stated in their opening remarks, the first hearing was to gather information and was not targeted for any particular new legislation.
At the same time, other committees also have jurisdiction over portions of this issue, and we should remember that the NIH policy came about as part of appropriations legislation, so you never know what Congress may do. It is important to remain vigilant and engaged, and to make sure that members of Congress understand the background and what is at stake.
Q: By the same token, the US Office of Science and Technology Policy in March released the report regarding the Task Force on Public Access to Scholarly Publications. OSTP seems to have punted the report, as it is basically just the Task Force mission statement, with nothing from the Task Force itself. Has the Obama Administration lost interest in OA policy?
A: No, I do not believe the Obama Administration has lost interest in OA policy. In fact, I understand that they are continuing to carefully consider the implications and impacts that Administration actions would have on all stakeholders. This is a complicated issue and it deserves thoughtful analysis. But we know that the OSTP process is still very much alive.
The OSTP report on public access that was released at the end of March was required by the America COMPETES Reauthorization Act. I read the report as supportive of the work started during the interagency deliberations, particularly at DOE and NSF, to create partnerships with publishers that improve reporting on grant-supported research. This is especially significant given the important roles of these agencies in funding science (beyond the health and biomedical mission of NIH).
The report notes that OSTP will continue to monitor progress at the agency levels and leaves open the possibility for additional reports downstream. I would hope that the prominent place in the report for DOE and NSF initiatives indicates that these two agencies can be models for how other agencies respond to the related issues of access, interoperability, standards, and archiving.
Q: Can you tell me a little more about these pilots with DOE and NSF?
A: Starting early in 2011, I was privileged to join a small group of both non-profit and for-profit publishers, to begin an engagement with DOE and NSF to explore partnerships and pilot projects on access and related issues. The publisher group was kept small to keep our engagement and activities nimble.
Once a practical pilot project is demonstrated to both our government and publishing partners to be mutually valuable, it could be easily expanded to other publishers and other agencies. This group worked with CrossRef to launch a pilot project last May, called “FundRef,” that will enable funding agency information to be collected and tagged in a consistent manner for scholarly publications. When FundRef protocols are fully implemented, a fundamental service will be provided for public access and the transparency of research funding—the clear identification of the funding source for every scholarly publication.
We will be launching a multi-publisher pilot project to link agency reports on agency platforms with related publications on publishers’ platforms. This pilot project builds on the extensive database of government research reports and data sets that DOE’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) maintains on OSTI’s science.gov site. As with the FundRef project, this research report-to-publication linking arrangement provides an expanded means of identifying and finding the results of publicly funded research. A search on a topic or author on the OSTI site would lead to publications by the chosen author or selected topic on the linked publisher’s site. In order to provide immediate public access to the full text of the version of record of the publication on the publisher’s site, a modest cost, article rental service has been in place for the last two years (similar to the iTunes model) that now involves more than 40 scholarly publishers.
Additionally, protocols are being developed for identifying and linking data sets that underlie figures, tables, and photos in scholarly publications. These are all examples of win-win projects: they improve the identification and access to publications from both agency and publisher platforms and at the same time minimize expended resources by allowing each partner to bring its expertise to the table.
Q: My view is that publishing final research reports, which the US Government already owns and some science agencies already publish, is the best way to give taxpayers access to research results. Do you think this approach is sensible?
A: You wrote a very useful article on this subject for the Scholarly Kitchen. This article showed that even though every grantee for a federally-funded research project is required by the granting agency to write a research report, the agencies, with a few notable exceptions, do not do well in making these reports publicly available.
As you have observed, these reports should be an essential component of public access for several very good reasons: (1) as a condition of the grant there is one-to-one correspondence between every grant and every report, since not all reports result in a subsequent formal publication; (2) the report may be the only account of the completed research, especially if there were negative results or for some reason the researchers could not complete a publication — one should never judge whether negative results in one era of experimentation could lead to an interesting line of enquiry in another era; and (3) the report may contain additional information that would not fit in the confines of scholarly journals, which often enforce page limitations.
While I strongly support the posting of grantee reports on agencies’ public websites, the public is right to want to view the full range of products derived from the underlying research, including publications and associated data. The public access debate has focused on access to scholarly publications for the obvious reason that a journal article is tangible and highly valuable research-based product. But that is the beauty of the partnerships we are developing: we can easily provide links to these additional products, and provide the public the ability to read or utilize them at low or no cost.
But there are costs, and that needs to be part of the discussion if we want to go beyond the research reports that the government has in fact paid for. This is where the simple refrain from some public access advocates falls apart. We’ve heard many times, the government paid for the research (with tax dollars); the public shouldn’t have to pay again to read a publication describing the research. While the government did pay for the research, they did not pay for a publisher-financed peer-reviewed publication. I estimate the cost of bringing a typical article in an AIP published journal before a reader to be approximately $2,500. Other journals may have expenses that make this more or less. This expense must be recovered through subscriptions, pay-per-view fees, or in the case of some journals, page charges or other author fees.
Publishers as a whole have not been very good in describing or promoting what they do. In these times, when we are all very used to content being free on the web, people get frustrated when something is behind a pay wall. But somebody, from the author to an intermediary like a library, or the reader, has to pay for the product, or the enterprise is in trouble. Clearly, the newspaper industry is not weathering the Web transition very well because they could not find a replacement for their primary source of pre-Web income: print advertising and print subscriptions. The music recording industry is half the size of what it was in the pre-Web era, and some would say it was saved primarily by the iTunes model. Scholarly publishing went online early in the web era with an established business model (the subscription), and it is still intact because the industry provides an essential product for scholarship and stays abreast of the technology needed to evolve both the product and dissemination tools.
The public access debate has been a huge distraction for all sides. I sincerely hope that the entire community identifies and implements satisfactory solutions for the public’s right to access the results of publicly-funded research in some form. And then we can move onto the important tasks which have always aligned the publishing and library communities, including how we collectively disseminate, catalog, and archive the scholarly literature.
In our engagement with DOE and NSF, I believe that we have helped identify a number of mechanisms where the public can access publications on a publisher’s site or stewarded sites at little or no cost. The interested parties involved in research, including the funding agencies, research institutions, libraries, repositories and publishers, can all work together on the tasks that are related to access. These issues include interoperability, persistent identifiers, discovery tools, and the challenges of digital archiving.
A: Following the release of the Finch Report, the British Government announced that it will provide mechanisms for journal articles resulting from taxpayer-funded research to be open access within six months of publication. Articles would be either made immediately accessible online, with the funding agencies paying up-front publication costs or made available by researchers through an open access repository no later than six months after publication. The European Commission then announced that it is aiming for 60% of all European publicly-funded research articles to be open access by 2016 with details still to be worked out shortly. What is your opinion of these new developments?
A: The Finch report recognizes the significant costs in publishing that I spoke about earlier, and the UK proposes to pay directly for those costs as the preferred method of publication. That is all to the good, but it would be much more difficult to implement in the US. The UK government-academic environment is much smaller and operates under a simpler structure than the US environment. Implementation of this approach in the US would be a more complicated and controversial action with wide-reaching implications for the sustainability of some journals.
I also want to note two important points about the open access developments in the UK that recognize the value of the scholarly publisher. First, the Finch report recommended that, during the transition to more widespread open access publishing, a mixed economy is needed. An incremental transition will be less disruptive to all parties: research institutions, funding agencies and publishers. Second, and perhaps most important, the Finch report concluded that articles should not be made freely available without a compensation mechanism to publishers. The UK government accepted this recommendation, and policy will include payment for publishing those journal articles that result from government-funded research. The Finch recommendations and the UK government response state a clear preference for the up-front payment mechanism for providing access over the deposit of articles in public repositories with embargo periods.
AIP will continue to advocate a mixture of solutions as the most sensible approach to increasing public access, including article rental models, linking between agency and publisher sites, free access through public libraries, open access journals, and embargoed access where the publisher has control of the embargo period according to the market of the journal. As I’ve pointed out earlier in this interview, and in my Congressional testimony, efforts to improve public access, search, and discovery of relevant articles and data will benefit more from close collaboration between funding agencies and publishers than by government mandated solutions.
In my experience, publishers are pleased to meet the increasing demands for open access, as long as there are viable and sustainable business models that provide the necessary resources to review, select, produce, publish, and archive this essential product of scholarship.
I offer further comments on the Finch report in a report I wrote just after the publication of the report. I congratulate the group who worked on the Finch report because it involved nearly a year’s deliberations among interests that do not often agree. The 2009 Roundtable demonstrated that if you put people with opposing views in an environment where they can have honest, frank and unhurried discussions, it is usually possible to identify common ground. It is more difficult to comment on the European Commission’s action right now because so many of the details have yet to be worked out.
Q: Aside from OA, what do you see as the biggest issues in scientific publishing today?
A: I sincerely hope that by incorporating the progress that I have outlined on public access and open access issues, the community can move away from these issues and concentrate on more pressing problems that involve all in the scientific community, not just scientific publishers — namely, the continuing global economic crisis is putting extreme pressure on the funding of science and research institutions in the US and the Eurozone. If the worldwide economy doesn’t begin to stabilize soon, science funding and thus scientific publications will suffer.
The funding of basic science is generally the realm of governments. With governments under pressure to adjust expenditures to better match revenues, science budgets are under stress. All segments of the scientific community need to recognize that we are significantly impacted by new economic constraints. We also have to work together to show the value of basic research as a long-term investment — an investment that needs to be nurtured and preserved for the long-term for the common good. The simple fact that the almost anyone in the developed world can access one of our journals on a hand-held device is the direct result of government investments over the last half century in solid-state physics, optics and materials science. Our network of interlinked communications has enabled the worldwide economy. It wouldn’t have happened without investments in basic science that led to the transistor, the optical fiber, and the laser.
I see our biggest challenge as energizing all participants in science — researchers, funding agencies supporting the research community, and the publishing community that makes the communication of the best peer-reviewed results possible — to work together to demonstrate the value of this enterprise to the creation of new jobs, a higher standard of living, a better environment, stronger national security, and improvements in human health. This challenge far outweighs the issue of how John Q. Public finds an article.