A milestone for public access to research

11 August 2014

An important milestone was reached last week when the US Department of Energy (DOE) released its plan for public access to publications and data resulting from DOE-funded research. DOE is the first agency to announce a public access plan in response to the February 2013 directive from OSTP, the Office of Science and Technology Policy, requiring all major US research agencies to develop and implement plans consistent with legislation signed in 2011. That directive encouraged agencies to work with all stakeholders to develop their policies, to consider the formation of public-private partnerships, and to leverage existing resources to optimize programs and minimize costs.

I will briefly recount how AIP and other members of the scholarly publishing community have been working with DOE and other agencies in order to reach last week’s milestone, and how it builds on more than three years of related work to support scholarly communication.

DOE’s announcement last Monday (August 4) is a result of congressional legislation—The America COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, which was signed into law in January of 2011 by President Obama. This bill required the large R&D funding agencies to consult and collaborate with stakeholders (universities, libraries, nonprofit, and for-profit publishers are mentioned by name) as they developed public access policies. This same language was mirrored in the February 2013 OSTP directive to the agencies.

Shortly after the COMPETES bill was enacted, the DOE Office of Science distributed a request to all the DOE scientific advisory committees asking for community input on the development of public access plans. My colleagues at APS and I reached out to DOE, and worked with a number of additional contacts in the publishing community to send to all the committees requesting input a description of the publishing industry’s infrastructure that could be used to enhance public access.

During the same time period, Pat Kelly of John Wiley & Sons took the lead in opening discussions with DOE’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) to consider a project that would link the large number of web-based research reports in DOE’s collection and peer-reviewed articles written by the same authors that are hosted on publisher platforms. These discussions led to a workshop in April of 2012 that involved the DOE-OSTI, National Science Foundation, American Institute of Physics, American Physical Society, American Chemical Society, American Mathematical Society, American Physiological Society, American Society of Plant Biologists, Association of American Publishers/PSP, Wiley, and Elsevier to flesh out the proposal. This project involved the identification of the results of federally funded research and linking of these results on the respective publisher platforms. It was also a progenitor of the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS) project, launched last year to help agencies, authors and their research institutions meet all the requirements of the 2013 OSTP directive.

Another precursor to CHORUS was also taking shape around the time of COMPETES. In conversations with DOE and other funders, it became clear that identifying the articles that report on funded research was a significant problem and that funders were devoting significant resources to addressing it. Some publishers thought that there might be a simpler solution. In June 2011, I was given the opportunity to propose to the CrossRef organization the development of a process to collect from publishers the funding information associated with a scholarly publication. This became the FundRef project, a standard dictionary of funder identifiers that can be applied at the submission step of an article, greatly simplifying the identification of research funding sources. A project development group was quickly organized by CrossRef and included funding agency representatives from DOE, NSF, NASA and the Wellcome Trust, along with seven publishers who ran the FundRef pilot project. This group began their work in March 2012 and completed their tasks a year later, resulting in the formal launch of FundRef last summer.

When the OSTP memo was released in February 2013, a small group of non-profit and commercial publishers (AIP, APS, ACS, Wiley, and Elsevier) recognized the opportunity to build on these existing projects to support federal funding agencies. We requested permission from OSTP to present the outlines of the CHORUS project to the interagency group organized by OSTP in March of 2013 for providing agencies guidance on the development of their public access plans. After our presentation in April 2013, our CHORUS working group contacted many of the research agencies to schedule further discussions on the potential for CHORUS to meet many of their public access objectives.

Collaboration with DOE continued throughout the year, as we worked to provide journal content for a pilot for their public access portal system, PAGES, which they unveiled last Monday concurrent with their public access plan announcement. 

The CHORUS presentation to the OSTP interagency group in April 2013 led our group of publishers to launch in October the CHORUS pilot project and to form a non-profit organization (CHOR, Inc.) to manage CHORUS. I am a member of CHOR’s interim board. The pilot just concluded on July 31, and CHORUS launched into production. All of us involved with this initiative were very pleased to see DOE’s announcement of their public access plan on August 4, which explicitly states that it will use CHORUS to help carry out its plan. The OSTP memo encouraged this kind of public-private collaboration and “partnerships with scientific journals relevant to the agency’s research.” The CHORUS organization issued its own press announcement that recognized DOE’s use of CHORUS to link to content publishers’ sites where articles can be read and preserved in their scholarly context.

CHORUS is a service that provides a technical solution for public access to journal articles. CHORUS is not an interest group, and even though CHORUS uses publishing infrastructure to provide its services, CHORUS does not advocate for publishers’ interests. Much of that work is done through the publisher organizations such as the Association of American Publishers (AAP). I am also a member of the AAP Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division’s Executive Council. Many publishers, including AIP Publishing, have concerns about the uniform 12-month embargo and other aspects of DOE's plan, and we will continue to look for opportunities for discussion and comment, and will petition for potential changes to the specifics of DOE's plan as the plan allows. Nevertheless, I believe the broad outlines in DOE’s plan are an important step in the right direction.

Many influential and committed members of our community—my colleagues in the scholarly publishing industry, advisors from the library and research communities, and committed agency representatives—shared the journey to plan and implement CHORUS as a pragmatic solution to public access. We value our partnership with DOE and look forward to building CHORUS and improving its functionality, making it an even more valuable tool for the end users, DOE, and other agencies who may choose to work with CHORUS. We all recognize that there is plenty of work that remains to be done.