Reading the blogospheric discussions of CHORUS, I see some recurring confusions that need to be addressed. The first is the complaint that CHORUS is overly complex, even too complex to work. The confusion here is that the scientific publishing system itself has an intrinsic complexity, which any OA system must reflect, but CHORUS itself is basically pretty simple. It is a tagging and linking system.
Here is how CHORUS works, in its simplest form. During the manuscript acceptance process the author is asked if the article is based on US Federal funding. This might be a simple check box. If so then the author is asked to identify the funding agency, using a standard menu. That is all the author does that is new. This agency identification becomes the FundRef tagging metadata for the journal article.
The publisher combines this agency tag metadata with the rest of the metadata they already send to CrossRef. The latter includes the DOI that takes users to a freely-available, full text version of the article on the journal website. CHORUS collects this metadata and makes it available to the agencies. The agencies can then present it however they wish, thereby making their funding-based articles accessible.
There is nothing complex about this process. In fact it is much simpler and less burdensome than mandated repository systems where authors must identify the relevant repositories and submit their accepted manuscripts in a prescribed format. Moreover the CHORUS process reduces the confusion that arises from having multiple versions of articles in different places, by directly linking readers to the publisher’s site.
The second confusion is that publishers are somehow retaining control with CHORUS. What is missed is that the publishers will comply with embargo periods that meet the requirements set by the agencies and during this agency-specific policy development period have advocated for flexibility in setting embargoes for certain fields. Thus the government controls the OA aspect of the process. This is a major concession that the publishers are willing to make in order to retain users on their platforms rather than diverting to a mandated repository.
In its basic form CHORUS is much simpler and more efficient than a system based on mandated repositories. Of course additional features may be added, either to meet agency needs or to increase functional value. For example, preservation seems to be an issue with the agencies, although this has little to do with the basic concept of OA. The government likes to keep things forever. Publishers have, for more than a decade, addressed the matter of archiving as part of the process of delivering digital content to libraries that are known to be exacting in their requirements for permanence. Added features might make CHORUS more complex but they do not change the fact that the basic system is quite simple.
But the overarching confusion is simply that of the new idea, or in this case a new regulatory system. The OSTP memo has triggered a massive multi-agency rulemaking, to which CHORUS is simply a proposed response at this point. This sort of confusion is perfectly natural and unavoidable in major rulemakings. In my taxonomy of confusions, which was originally developed for rulemakings, the confusion of “vague or poorly defined concepts” holds a prominent place. New rules typically require new concepts, which is why major regulations typically have large sections presenting new definitions.
The design of CHORUS cannot really be specified in detail until the agencies decide in detail what they want to do, which they are far from doing at this point. The government is still in the pre-planning stages and so therefore is CHORUS. In fact the first proof of concept for CHORUS is not scheduled until August when agency OA plans are due into OSTP. As I have said before, this is a long term project, as major rulemakings must be. There is still a great deal of work to be done by everyone.
For example, it is clear that the actual mechanisms for compliance and verification are not yet included or worked out, and they are something that will require input from multiple parties. In principle, this would be something for researchers to significantly weigh in on, with agencies needing to articulate precisely what is needed. Thus a big problem is that there is so little that is clearly known at this time that it allows everyone to jump to whatever conclusion best suits their perspective. This in turn creates a classic case of people talking past one another because they are assuming different concepts. It is the confusion of speculation. What is needed at this point is patience and consideration.