On February 22, 2013, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a memorandum on, “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research.” Today marks the first release of a funding agency’s plans to fulfill the requirements of that memo, as the Department of Energy has now announced their Public Access Plan.
There is much to digest here, and I suspect we’ll see a lot of detailed analysis over the next few weeks, but some initial thoughts below. I do serve on the Interim Board of Directors for CHORUS (the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States), so consider this a conflict of interest statement. To be absolutely clear though, as the question has come up in recent attributions of quotes from The Scholarly Kitchen, all opinions voiced in this blog post are solely my personal thoughts and not the official position of CHORUS, the SSP, other Scholarly Kitchen authors or my employer.
In general, I think this is a strong plan, and an excellent approach to exploring the new frontier of public access for research articles. Its strength lies in its flexibility, as the DOE has crafted a plan that allows for multiple routes for compliance, including directly depositing articles in their centralized repository (PAGES, the Public Access Gateway for Energy and Science) as well as having PAGES serve as a centralized source of metadata to point outwards toward articles made available through a variety of repositories and in the journals themselves via CHORUS.
What this does is allow several different methods to prove their value and efficiency to the community. I suspect that over time we will see practices consolidate for DOE funded researchers as they settle on the preferred method for compliance that best meets their needs.
All that said, the plan, as articulated remains somewhat ambiguous, and many statements in the plan will need further details or clarification. Some specific excerpts and a quick reaction to each:
All researchers receiving DOE funding will be required to submit metadata and a link to the full-text accepted manuscript (or the full text itself) to OSTI [Office of Scientific and Technical Information]. Publishers who participate in DOE’s public access activity will submit article metadata and links to OSTI.
It’s one thing to ask authors to submit a copy of a paper (or a link), it’s quite another to ask them to write standards compliant article metadata. Will the DOE be providing a tool to do this for authors or will they be left to figure it out on their own?
Saving researchers time and effort is one area where CHORUS will likely shine. I spent a week recently at a biology society’s annual meeting, talking to attendees about public access policies and potential solutions. Everyone that I spoke with had a vague sense that these policies were either in place or coming, but very few knew any details. They were unanimous in all having a story about being confused when depositing articles, having difficulties doing so, and in several cases, being knowingly delinquent. The real strength of CHORUS is in building compliance into the already existing publication process, essentially automating things for the researcher. For a policy like the DOE’s, an author who publishes in a CHORUS member journal is compliant with little to no effort required. This is a valuable service that publishers can provide for authors and making authors lives easier should be seen as a competitive advantage for a journal.
Publishers retain their rights under copyright to their VoR.
This statement appears twice in the DOE plan and suggests that there remain some confusion regarding how copyright works. This statement implies that there are different copyright holders for different versions of the same article, rather than the author retaining copyright to all slightly varied versions of their own writing. If you copyedit and typeset this blog post, maybe change a few words, you can’t claim a new and separate copyright over it. It’s still mine.
DOE’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) will maintain a repository of accepted manuscripts and can make individual, unclassified and otherwise unrestricted manuscripts publicly accessible if there is no other publicly available version.
This suggests a commitment to a distributed approach, and that the DOE will only offer public access to articles themselves as a last resort, if no other version is available in a repository or the journal.
PAGES will provide metadata and abstracts for such publications in a way that is open, readable, and available for bulk download.
Something that’s missing from the DOE’s plan appears to be any sort of mechanism for text- and data-mining (TDM) of articles. Bulk download of metadata and abstracts is a good thing, to be certain, but there is increasing demand for full text TDM functionality across scholarly publishing.
Publishers, both individually and as a group through efforts like CrossRef’s TDM service, have been putting in an enormous amount of work to clarify usage terms and create technological interfaces to better enable TDM. This was assumed to be a part of the OSTP memo requirements, and I’d like to see the DOE take better advantage of the opportunities offered here.
In all cases, OSTI will maintain a dark archive of manuscripts to be used in the event links become broken or full-text access is otherwise interrupted or discontinued.
It’s unclear exactly how this archive will work, whether articles need to be deposited or will be harvested by the DOE, and what the terms are for bringing an article to light, and whether the process is reversible.
To integrate data management planning into the overall research plan, the Department will ensure that all research proposals selected for funding include a Data Management Plan (DMP).
Separate from the plan for public access to research articles, the DOE has also released their requirements for the data availability portion of the OSTP memo. I’m a little surprised by the path chosen–this seems very similar to the NSF’s existing policy, basically requiring grant applicants to submit a DMP which will be reviewed and approved by the agency. This approach strikes me as something of a punt, leaving responsibility in the hands of researchers rather than setting up standards and methodologies for researchers to follow. Data availability is a complex issue, and having some rules to follow might make things easier for researchers.
Starting October 1, 2014, the Department will begin to include requirements for the submission of accepted manuscripts and publication metadata in award agreements.
From this it appears that any grants issued after October 1, 2014 will be subject to this policy, and it does not appear to be retroactively applied to existing grants. That may cause some compliance problems, as researchers, publishers and repositories will need to know the date that funding was rewarded in order to know whether deposit and public access is required. It also means that at the earliest, the first required public access articles will appear no earlier than late 2015, more likely early 2016 (with the exclusion of Gold OA articles freed up immediately or any publishers or authors who choose to get a jump on the policy early).
Given that timescale though, it seems like the actual implementation of this policy will have some space to evolve and for the details to be worked out. As noted in the policy, the DOE has set up several channels for feedback and will be running a user focus group to continuously revise and improve its public access model.
All in all, a great start for an important policy, a significant achievement for the White House, and a major shift in the scholarly publishing landscape. We’ve all been planning for this moment for nearly a year and a half, so it’s exciting to finally be able to dig in and get to work.