Recent US developments in open access

Welcome to the Australian Open Access Support Group blog. We hope this will be a place to explore some ideas and happening in open access in Australia. Of course we live in a global world, so it is important to understand what is happening elsewhere and how this might affect us here.

And things certainly are happening.

US Policy – Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research

On February 22, the Obama Administration released a new policy “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research“ that talks about the benefit to society for having open access to government data and research. It requires that within 12 months Federal agencies that spend over $100 million in research and development have to have a plan to “support increased public access to the results of research funded by the Federal Government”.

The policy is clear that it incorporates both scientific publications and digital scientific data, and limits embargo periods to twelve months post-publication.

The policy has had an instant effect, at least in registering policies. Steven Harnad yesterday posted an increase of 24 policies to ROARMAP (which lists open access policies) within four days of the policy being announced.

Similarities with Australian mandates

The interesting thing from the Australian perspective is this policy appears to mirror the NHMRC  and ARC policies in that it requires research metadata to be put in a repository.

The policy requires “Ensure full public access to publications’ metadata without charge upon first publication in a data format that ensures interoperability with current and future search technology. Where possible, the metadata should provide a link to the location where the full text and associated supplemental materials will be made available after the embargo period”.

Given the policy provides a series of suggestions about where repositories ‘could’ be housed, it seems the repository infrastructure in the US is less developed than in Australia. Presumably the repositories could be a way of monitoring progress, although the policy indicates that monitoring will be through twice yearly reports the agencies will have to provide for two years after their plan becomes effective.

Differences with the Australian mandates

While the intent of the policies are similar, the US policy relates only to larger Federal agencies (which may include some universities – note their higher education and research funding model is very different to Australia).

It is also a policy that asks the agencies to develop a *plan* to open up access within 12 months, so we might not see action for some time. Experience has shown setting up open access technology and work processes can be time consuming.

Something that strikes me as interesting is the US policy states that the material to be made open access – needs to be in a form that allows users to “read, download, and analyze in digital form”. This relates to the concept of text or data mining, a subject of many discussions recently. Indeed some people argue that if an item cannot be text or data mined then it is not actually open access. One of the big proponents of text and data mining is Cambridge University chemist Peter Murray Rust.

You cannot textmine a pdf. And the vast majority of work in Australian repositories, at least, are pdfs. This issue is something to watch into the future.

Odd components of the policy

The embargo period of 12 months doesn’t appear to be set in stone. I am unsure what this paragraph means in practice: “provide a mechanism for stakeholders to petition for changing the embargo period for a specific field by presenting evidence demonstrating that the plan would be inconsistent with the objectives articulated in this memorandum”.

Given that ‘stakeholders’ include publishers, then I’m sure they could produce ‘evidence’ that somehow will support the argument that making work available does not benefit society.

Another puzzling statement is: “Agency plans must also describe, to the extent feasible, procedures the agency will take to help prevent the unauthorized mass redistribution of scholarly publications.”

I’m not sure what that means. Isn’t making something openly accessible ‘mass distribution’? And surely having proper license restrictions on making work open access – like Creative Commons  licenses – will resolve how material should be redistributed? The scholarly communication norms require attribution within other scholarly articles, regardless of the distribution method. So this statement strikes me as completely at odds with the reminder of the document.

People power

The Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research policy is partially a result of a ‘We the People’ petition in May 2012 which received 65,704 signatures, more than double the required 25,000 signatures in 30 days that means the petition will be considered by the White House. As an interesting aside, in mid January the rules were changed so the petitions need 100,000 signatures before receiving an official response from the White House.

This policy is NOT the same thing as the FASTR

It is easy to get this mixed up. The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR)  was introduced in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in mid February. It follows from the three previously unsuccessful attempts to get the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) passed.

FASTR is similar to the new Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research policy in that it is also restricted to agencies with research budgets of more than $100 million and it requires placement of work in a repository in a form that allows for text or data mining. It differs in that it has an embargo of only 6 months.

The Bill has not been passed through the legislative system in the US, and there are some activities online  that encourage people to support the Bill. The Association of American Publishers have described the FASTR as “different name, same boondoggle” and as “unnecessary and a waste of federal resources”.

Not everyone is cheering

Mike Eisen, an editor and founding member of PLoS argues that the Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research policy represents a missed opportunity  – the thrust of his argument is that the 12 month embargo on the 2008 NIH mandate was seen by some open access activists as a starting point which would reduce over time. But this new policy has cemented the 12 month embargo across the whole of government.

He is specifically angry that the government was so successfully lobbied by the publishers, saying the authors of the policy fell for publishers’ arguments “that the only way for researchers and the public to get the services they provide is to give them monopoly control over the articles for a year – the year when they are of greatest potential use.”

If the publishers have been successful in their lobbying, it might explain why the Association of American Publisher’s response to the policy was almost the polar opposite to their response to (the very similar) FASTR. The AAP have said the policy is very positive, saying it was a “reasonable, balanced resolution of issues around public access to research funded by federal agencies”. Interesting.

Dr Danny Kingsley
Executive Officer
Australian Open Access Support Group

One thought on “Recent US developments in open access

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