Shall we sing in CHORUS or just SHARE? Responses to the US OA policy

Well things certainly have been moving in the land of the free since the Obama administration announced its Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research policy  in February.

In short, the policy requires that within 12 months US 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”. (For a more detailed analysis of that policy see this previous blog.)

In the last couple of weeks two opposing ‘solutions’ have been proposed for the implementation of the policy.

In the publishing corner…

A coalition of subscription based journal publishers has suggested a system called CHORUS – which stands for Clearing House for the Open Research of the United States. The proposal is for a “framework for a possible public-private partnership to increase public access to peer-reviewed publications that report on federally-funded research”.

The plan is to create a domain called where publishers can deposit the metadata about papers that have relevant funding. When a user wants to find research they can look via CHORUS or through the funding agency site, and then view the paper through a link back to the publishers site.

While this sounds reasonable the immediate questions that leap out is why would this not be searchable through search engines, and what embargo periods are being held on the full text of publications? The limited amount of information available on the proposal does not seem to address these questions.

The Association of American Publishers released their explanation of the proposal ‘Understanding CHORUS’ on 5 June. There is not a great deal of other information available, although The Chronicle published a news story about it.

The Scholarly Kitchen blog – run by the Society for Scholarly Publishing – put up a post on 4 June 2013 with some further details. According to the post the CHORUS group represents a broad-based group of scholarly publishers, both commercial and not-for-profit There are 11 members on the steering group and many signatory organisations. The blog states the group collectively publishes the vast majority of the articles reporting on federally-funded research.

The time frame is fast, with plans including:

  • High-level System Architecture — Friday, June 14
  • Technical Specifications — Friday, July 26
  • Initial Proof-of-Concept — Friday, August 30

On this blog there is the comment that CHORUS is:

a much more modern and sensible response to the demand for access to published papers after a reasonable embargo period, as it doesn’t require an expensive and duplicative secondary repository like PubMed Central. Instead, it uses networked technologies in the way they were intended to be used, leveraging the Internet and the infrastructure of scientific publishing without diverting taxpayer dollars from research budgets.

Not surprisingly the comment coming from commercial publishers about diverting taxpayer dollars from research budgets has attracted some criticism, not least from Stevan Harnad in his commentary “Yet another Trojan Horse from the publishing industry” :

And, without any sense of the irony, the publisher lobby (which already consumes so much of the scarce funds available for research) is attempting to do this under the pretext of saving “precious research funds” for research!

Harnad’s main argument against this proposal is that it represents an attempt to take the power to provide open access out of the hands of researchers so that publishers gain control over both the timetable and the infrastructure for providing open access.

Mike Eisen in his blog on the topic points out that taxpayers will end up paying for the service anyway:

publishers will without a doubt try to fold the costs of creating and maintaining the system into their subscription/site license charges – the routinely ask libraries to pay for all of their “value added” services. Thus not only would potential savings never materialize, the government would end up paying the costs of CHORUS indirectly.

Harnad notes that this is a continuation from previous activities by publishers to counter the open access movement, not least the 2007 creation of PRISM (the Partnership for Research Integrity in Science and Medicine)  which grew from the American Association of Publishers employing a public relations expert to “counter messages from groups such as the Public Library of Science (PLoS)”

In the university corner….

Three days after the Scholarly Kitchen blog, the development paper for a proposal called SHARE was released from a group of university and library organisations.

The paper for SHARE (the SHared Access Research Ecosystem) states the White House directive ‘provides a compelling reason to integrate higher education’s investments to date into a system of cross-institutional digital repositories’. The plan is to federate existing university-based digital repositories, obviating the need for central repositories.

The Chronicle published a story on the proposal on the same day.

The SHARE system would draw on the metadata and repository knowledge already in place in the institutional community, such as using ORCID numbers to identify researchers. There would be a requirement that all items added to the system include the correct metadata like: the award identifier, PI number and the repository in which it sits.

This type of normalisation of metadata is something repository managers have already addressed in Australia, in response to the development of Trove at the National Library of Australia which pulls information in from all Australian institutional repositories. Also more recently here, there has been agreement about the metadata field to be used to identify research from a grant to comply with the NHMRC and the ARC policies.

In the SHARE proposal, existing repositories, including subject based repositories, would work together to ensure metadata matching to become a ‘linked node’ in the system. The US has a different university system to Australia with a mixture of private and state-funded institutions. But every state has one or more state-funded universities and most of these already have repositories in place. Other universities without repositories would use the repository of their relevant state university.

A significant challenge in the proposal, as it reads, is the affirmation that for the White House policy to succeed, federal agencies will need universities to require of their Principal Investigators; “sufficient copyright licensing licensed to enable permanent archiving, access, and reuse of publication”. While sounding simple, in practicality, this means altering university open access and intellectual property policies, and running a substantial educational campaign amongst researchers. This is no small feat.

The timeframe the SHARE proposal puts forward is in phases, with requirement and capabilities developed within 12-18 months, and the supporting software completed within another six months. So there is a two-year minimum period after initiation of implementation before the system would be operational. It is also possible that given the policy issues, it could take longer to eventuate in reality.

There has been less discussion about the SHARE proposal on open access lists, but this is hardly surprising as more energy on these lists will be directed towards criticism of the publishers’ proposal.

So which one will win?

Despite the two proposals emerging within days of one another, the sophistication of both proposals indicates that they have been in development from some time.

Indeed, the CHROUS proposal would have required lead-time to negotiate ‘buy-in’ from the different publishers. On the other hand, the SHARE proposal includes a complex flow chart on page 4 which appears to be the equivalent to the ‘High-level System Architecture’ the CHROUS proposal states would be ready on Friday 14 June. According to a post on the LibLicense discussion list, SHARE was developed without awareness of CHORUS, so it is not an intentional ‘counterattack’.

There are glaring differences between the two proposals. SHARE envisions text and data mining as part of the system, two capabilities missing from the CHORUS proposal. SHARE also provides searching through Google rather than requiring the user to go to the system to find materials as CHORUS seems to be proposing. But as Peter Suber points out: “CHORUS sweetens the deal by proposing OA to the published versions of articles, rather than to the final versions of the author’s peer-reviewed manuscripts”.

So which will be adopted? As one commentator said CHORUS will work because publishers have experience setting up this kind of system, whereas SHARE does not have a good track record in this area. They suggest that.

A cynical publisher might say: Let’s fight for CHORUS, but let’s make sure SHARE wins. Then we (the publishers) have the best of all worlds: the costs of the service will not be ours to bear, the system will work haphazardly and pose little threat to library subscriptions, and the blame will lie with others.

This is an area to watch.

Dr Danny Kingsley
Executive Officer
Australian Open Access Support Group

2 thoughts on “Shall we sing in CHORUS or just SHARE? Responses to the US OA policy

  1. Interesting post, thanks.

    You say “This type of normalisation of metadata is something repository managers have already addressed in Australia, in response to the development of Trove at the National Library of Australia” – this is not quite as it seems.

    The NLA does the normalisation – if you look at raw feeds from Australian repositories it’s not pretty, and it will be very hard to fix now given the resourcing in repository services groups. We have done a bit better on the Australian National Data Service (ANDS) projects where there was a lot more attention paid to metadata quality. How was this accomplished? With cash. ANDS funded projects and made standardised metadata one of the deliverables.

    If we tried something like SHARE in Australia we’ll need another round of ASHER-like funding to get everybody’s infrastructure up to speed.

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