AOASG response to Productivity Commission Intellectual Property Arrangements, Draft report

aoasgAOASG response to Productivity Commission Intellectual Property Arrangements, Draft report

Prepared by Dr Virginia Barbour, Executive Director, on behalf of the Australasian Open Access Strategy Group, (AOASG), June 2, 2016

General comments

The AOASG (https://aoasg.org.au/) welcomes the Productivity Commission report. We limit our response to Chapter 15: IP and Public Institutions, though we note the comment on p4 that “Open access repositories can further assist in the dissemination of ideas generated through publicly‑funded initiatives.”, which we agree with for all outputs of research.

We particularly welcome:

DRAFT Recommendation 15.1

“All Australian, and State and Territory Governments should implement an open access policy for publiclyfunded research

We also believe there is an opportunity with this report to bring some clarity to the issues surrounding copyright and license as applied to research outputs.

Specific comments

Page 401

Paragraph entitled “Key points”

Response

The dissemination of research findings does not have to be limited by IP applied on the work that it reports.

We agree that journals remain an important mechanism of dissemination, but they are now just one part of a rapidly evolving ecosystem of publishing and the same issues apply to all outlets for dissemination of research, and which include not just research articles but also data, code, software, etc.

Copyright per se does not limit dissemination – it is the retention of copyright, coupled with restrictive licenses as applied by subscription publishers that limit dissemination. We feel it is essential to separate out these two issues.

Page 404

Paragraph beginning “The key relevant questions for this inquiry relate to:

  • where the IP system frustrates the achievement of the underlying goal for public funding
  • changes to the IP system that would accentuate the benefits of such public funding.

Response

For scholarly publishing we already have the tools to hand to ensure that authors retain rights to and get credit for their work while allowing for maximum dissemination. The two tools required are proper application of copyright in conjunction with Creative Commons Licenses.

However, the current inconsistent and largely publisher-driven application of these tools does “frustrate the achievement of the underlying goal for public funding”.

This is to be expected when publishers are operating under a subscription model. In this situation the long term practice has been to require the transfer of copyright to journals, and also require that restrictive licenses agreements are signed.

However, restriction of author rights is not now limited to subscription publications.  For articles that are apparently open access, Elsevier, for example, requires that authors grant Elsevier an exclusive license (https://www.elsevier.com/about/company-information/policies/copyright) to publish for article published under a CC BY license (intended to be the most liberal of the licenses). This is direct contradiction of both the spirit and the letter of the Creative Commons license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

Furthermore, a number of publishers are seeking to assert rights over earlier versions of articles, an area where they have no jurisdiction. Rights being asserted include requirements for citation of articles to which a preprint may relate http://media.wiley.com/assets/7320/85/eOAA-CC-BY_sample_2015.pdf). This is an example of a meaningless and probably unenforceable requirement, but which may nonetheless have a stifling effect on authors seeking to share research before formal publication.

Page 405

Paragraph beginning “A major mechanism for diffusion of ideas is through academic journals”

Response

The models of dissemination of scholarly outputs are changing very substantially and though journals remain at the core, as above we note that there are other important mechanisms now such as preprint servers, repositories (for data as well as for research manuscripts) etc. Despite the diverse array of outputs and their routes of dissemination the issue in relation to IP are largely the same.

  • Copyright needs to remain with the generators of the work (if work is not owned by the Government or is otherwise in the public domain);
  • Generators of work must be credited for that work;
  • Licenses applied to the work should maximize its discoverability, dissemination and reuse.

Copyright does not per se limit reuse, but it will do if coupled with restrictive licenses. For example, an author may retain copyright but grant an exclusive license to a journal which could then restrict reuse (see above); conversely an author may assign copyright to another body (e.g. their institution) but if that is coupled with a non-exclusive license that allows reuse, dissemination is not impeded.

We therefore suggest that the Commission separates out the issues of copyright and licenses and makes the following recommendations

  1. Authors (or their institutions) should retain copyright to research outputs.
  2. Outputs should be licensed under the most appropriate, usually the least restrictive, internationally accepted license from Creative Commons, preferably CC BY.
  3. Publisher-specific licenses, even supposedly “open access” ones such as those from Elsevier (https://www.elsevier.com/about/company-information/policies/open-access-licenses/elsevier-user-license), should not be supported as they lead to further confusion.
  4. These terms should apply to all research outputs wherever they are stored and wherever they are in the lifecycle of the research including but not limited to; preprint, author’s accepted manuscript, published article, data etc.

Page 406

Page beginning Copyright for publically funded research

Response

We believe copyright over research articles should not be mixed up with IP rights over the subject of the research itself. In particular, copyright itself, whether held by authors or publishers, does not limit the visibility or accessibility or reusability of articles or associated data. What does limit accessibility and reusability is the license associated with those works (see above) and which was previously most commonly denoted as “All rights reserved”

With the technology now available to us, the role of copyright has changed. As Jan Velterop said in 2005, (http://www.budapestopenaccessinitiative.org/pdf/open_access_publishing_and_scholarly_societies.pdf) “copyright can [now] be used for what it is meant to in science, not to make the articles artificially scarce and in the process restrict their distribution, but instead, to ensure that their potential for maximum possible dissemination can be realised”

Page 407

Paragraph beginning “universities and some publishers”

Response

The fact that universities are able to provide access to journals may be seamless, but it is at great cost. In fact the vast majority of research journals require a subscription. In 2014, Australian universities paid AUD 221 million (data from the Council of Australian University Librarians, CAUL) for access to electronic journals. While it is true that open access journals are increasing, currently they remain in the minority and the proportion of work that is fully open access is around 12-15%, though many more articles are free to access at some point.

Page 407

Paragraph beginning “Recognising that further incentives”

Response

This is indeed a hugely active area of policy development globally. It is clear that there is a number of different approaches to open access, with some countries favouring it via journals primarily (e.g. the UK and most recently the Netherlands) and others such as the US and Australia approaching it via the route of repositories – usually institutional. What is currently unclear, however, is the copyright and license status of much of the material within institutional repositories and this has led to difficulties in promoting seamless dissemination via these venues.

Page 408

Paragraph beginning “A similar trend”

Response

We agree that there is no one policy now covering all publicly funded research and we therefore support Recommendation 15.1 on page 409. We particularly welcome the insightful comment on page 409 that precedes it: “It is important when crafting policy in relation to open access to delineate exactly what is meant by the term” As noted above, the interchangeable use of phrases open access and free access, without clear indication of what these terms mean with regard to copyright and licenses has led to much confusion among authors in particular. We would urge caution therefore in the use of these terms, including in this recommendation. We do not recommend the development of different policies at national, state and territory levels. Rather, we believe the opportunity should be taken to craft one overarching policy that is applicable nationally.

Page 408

Paragraph beginning “encouragement of different ways”

Response

We welcome the recognition that new models of publishing will need to be supported and that funds must be allocated for this purpose as the transition occurs. However, a fundamental aim of a transition to new publishing models must be that costs are lowered. Schimmer and colleagues (https://www.mpg.de/9202262/area-wide-transition-open-access) have modelled this (via the “flipping” of journals from subscription to open access for three countries, including Germany. Whether this can be replicated elsewhere remains to be seen. It is not yet clear the flipping projects will reduce costs over a sustained period if pricing decisions remain in the hands of the established vendors. What will be crucially important is the encouragement of a diversity of publishing models from a variety of players, not just the five large publishers (http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0127502) who currently dominate scholarly publishing.

Furthermore, such innovation and openness should be specifically rewarded – not just “treated neutrally” as on the bottom of page 408.

Australian Chief Scientist comes out in support of Open Access.

Ian Chubb recommends in his newly released STEM strategy that the government “enhance dissemination of Australian STEM research by expanding open access policies and improving the supporting infrastructure.” and “Support the translation and commercialisation of STEM discoveries through: … a modern and flexible IP framework that embraces a range of capabilities from open access regimes to …” Check out pages 18 and 28 of the full report [pdf]

Open Access Publishing – feature article

Earlier in 2013, the then Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education invited the AOASG to contribute a feature article to the Australian Innovation System Report 2013 which was published in early November. Entitled ‘Open Access Publishing’, the feature article by Dr Danny Kingsley appears in Chapter 4: Public Research Capacity and Innovation: University research quality assessment. The text of the article is reproduced here with the kind permission of the Department of Industry.

AISR2013-BoxImage

The full report is downloadable as a pdf here 

Open Access Publishing

Opening up access to publicly funded research outputs has been on an increasing number of political agendas across the world. The issue of unsustainable rising publisher subscription costs to research publications has been flagged since the 1980s. In the intervening period developments in technology such as the advent of the Internet have made the sharing of research outputs both possible and affordable.

Making publicly funded research openly available benefits all of society. The biggest issues the world faces require long term cooperative international research, and research is only effective when other researchers are able to see the outcomes of others’ research. As the total volume and pace of research increases, practitioners in any field need to be able to see the latest (quality assured) findings in order to provide the best service, and unless they have an institutional affiliation, they are unable to do so. Start-up innovation companies need access to research to inform their endeavours. Researchers also benefit from their findings having more exposure. And the taxpayer should be able to look up the latest findings if they wish to, for example to access information about health issues.

The Internet has forever altered the way information is disseminated and accessed. The open access movement has developed databases that specifically allow information to be indexed by search engines, and therefore findable. Called repositories, these can be organised by discipline, for example ArXiv.org which caters for the physics community, or can be hosted by an institution as a collection of that institution’s research outputs. Most publishers will allow the author’s final manuscript version of an article to be placed into a repository although sometimes they require it not be made available for a period of time, called an embargo. The benefit of making work available in this way is the researcher is not compelled to alter their publishing choices, although they may tend towards more permissive publishers.

Another development has been the rise of open access journals. These make research freely available to all readers without a subscription. The majority of these journals are run through smaller society publishers using open source software. There are some commercial open access publishers, including Springer and Hindawi. The Public Library of Science is a trailblazer in this field. The multidisciplinary PLOS ONE open access journal launched in December 2006. Within two years it was largest open access journal in the world. In 2010, it was the largest journal in the world (by volume). The OA megajournal business model has been embraced by academic authors, and several other commercial publishers have since launched their own versions. Commercial open access publishers charge an article processing fee at the beginning of the publication process rather than charging a subscription for access. Many regular commercial academic publishers now offer open access options.

Over the past seven years many research funding bodies have made open access to research publications a requirement of funding. In 2006 the Wellcome Trust introduced their open access policy in the UK, followed by the US National Institutes of Health announcing their Public Access Policy in 2008. This trend is increasing exponentially with 2012 seeing the “Report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings” from the Finch Group which recommended all UK research be made available in open access journals. In July the European Commission announced that research funded between 2014 and 2020 under the Horizon2020 programme will have to be open access to “give Europe a better return on its €87 billion annual investment in R&D”. In the early months of 2013 the Obama administration in the US has released a policy requiring all US federal agencies to prepare plans to make research available.

Domestically, in 2012 the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) announced its revised policy on the dissemination of research findings, effective 1 July 2012. The Australian Research Council (ARC) released its Open Access Policy on 1 January 2013. Both policies require that any publications arising from a funded research project must be deposited into an open access institutional repository within a 12 month period from the date of publication. There are two minor differences between the two policies. The NHMRC relates only to journal articles where the ARC encompasses all publication outputs. In addition, the NHMRC mandate affects all publications as of 1 July 2012, but the ARC will only affect the outputs produced from the research funded in 2013. Researchers are also encouraged to make accompanying datasets available open access.

Both policies require the deposit of work in the originating institution’s open access repository. All universities in Australia host a repository, many of them developed with funds the government provided through the Australian Scheme for Higher Education Repositories (ASHER). This scheme which ran from 2007–2009 was originally intended to assist the reporting requirement for the Research Quality Framework (RQF) research assessment exercise, which became Excellence in Research for Australia (ERA). The ASHER program had the aim of “enhancing access to research through the use of digital repositories”.

Repositories in Australia are generally managed by libraries and have been supported by an ongoing organised community. In 2009–2010, the Council of Australian University Librarians (CAUL) established the CAUL Australian Institutional Repository Support Service (CAIRSS) and when central government funding for the service ended, the university libraries agreed to continue the service by supporting it with member contributions. CAIRSS ended in December 2012; however, the email list continues a strong community of practice.

In October 2012 the Australian Open Access Support Group launched, beginning staffed operations in January 2013. The group aims to provide advice and information to all practitioners in the area of open access.

Historically Australia has a strong track record in the area of supporting open access. The Australasian Digital Theses (ADT) program began in 2000 as a system of sharing PhD theses over the Internet. The ADT was a central registry and open access display of theses, which were held in self-contained repositories at each university using a shared software platform that had been developed for the purpose. The first theses were made available in July 2000. In 2011, as all these were then being held in universities’’ institutional repositories, the ADT was decommissioned. It was estimated that the number of full text Australian theses available in repositories at the time was over 30,000.

The Australian government is investing tens of millions of dollars in developing the frameworks to allow Australian researchers to share their data. The Australian National Data Service (ANDS) has responsibility for supporting public access to as much publicly funded research data as can be provided within the constraints of privacy, copyright, and technology. In an attempt to provide a platform for sharing information about data, ANDS has developed a discovery service for data resulting from Australian research, called Research Data Australia, which is a national data registry service meshing searchable web pages that describe Australian research data collections supplementing published research. Records in Research Data Australia link to the host institution, which may (or not) have a direct link to the data.

The work of ANDS reflects the broader government position in Australia of making public data publicly available. The Declaration of Open Government was announced on July 16, 2010. This policy position is in the process of practical implementation across the country, providing access to information about locations of government services, for example. The level of engagement between government areas and different levels of government varies. Another government initiative has been the Australian Governments Open Access and Licensing Framework (AusGOAL) which has an emphasis on open formats and open access to publicly funded information and provides a framework to facilitate open data from government agencies. In addition to providing information and fora for discussion, it has developed a licence suite that includes the Australian Creative Commons Version 3.0 licences.

BIS Report part one – Findings & implications

A report released last week by the UK government has given open access advocates the world over something to cheer about. The recommendations of the report are particularly welcome to those who advocate for open access by deposit of work in an open access repository (which is the AOASG’s position).

The UK House of Commons Business Innovations & Skills (BIS) Committee has been looking into open access and the report, Open Access: Fifth Report of Session 2013–14  from this investigation suggests that the position that the country has taken on open access should be readdressed.

The current UK position is that research should be made available. While this is welcomed by the open access community, the method by which this is achieved is disputed. The UK supports the expensive and unsustainable method of paying for articles to be published open access.

This position, reflected in the Research Councils of the UK (RCUK) open access policy , resulted from a report released last June by the Finch committee on open access to UK-funded research. There was considerable disquiet in the open access community at the time of the Finch Report.

The AOASG wrote a story about some of the effects the Finch Report and the subsequent RCUK open access policy has had on research accessibility in Australia “UK’s open access policies have global consequences”  – this was published 17 September in The Conversation UK.

This blog will highlight some of the more interesting sections of the BIS Report with some commentary around it. There is also reference to some of the ensuing commentary that has emerged in the UK. The blog has the headings Report purpose, The system is broken, Problems with hybrid, Different embargo periods and Other notable blog commentary.

Note this doesn’t mean the remainder of the BIS Report is of no interest. As an excellent summary of many aspects of the open access debate currently, it is worth a read in full if you have the time.

This blog is the first of two looking at the BIS Report. The other – “BIS Report part two: Information & observations” – is available here.

Report purpose

The BIS Report begins with the observation that it is necessary to transition to open access, but there needs to be a discussion about the best way to achieve it (par 2). However it notes that current policy raises the risk that “the Government’s current open access policy will inadvertently encourage and prolong the dysfunctional elements of the scholarly publishing market, which are a major barrier to access” (par 3).

The BIS Report does not hold back in criticism of the Finch Report and the RCUK policy in terms of the focus on gold open access through article processing charges. It notes that “Neither the Government nor RCUK undertook public consultation before announcing their policies” (par 6). Of course this could be interpreted as saying that the current report is fulfilling that remit…

The BIS Report recommends that the Government and RCUK should reconsider the importance of repositories and green open access in the move to full open access (par 70).

The system is broken

The BIS Report notes: “A recurring theme in this inquiry has been that elements of the scholarly publishing market are dysfunctional” (par 73). The primary issue is that of price.

There are two problems – one is the separation of the value of services provided by publishers compared to what they charge. “The costs of publishing services are increasingly disassociated from the value of the actual services provided. We heard evidence that costs of peer review, formatting, editing and other publisher services are exaggerated by publishers, keeping prices artificially high” (par 74).

The second issue has long been recognised. The library role in negotiating the price for subscriptions means that “authors are desensitised to the prices of journals in which they publish” (par 75) and this hampers the development of a functional market.

Problems with hybrid

The BIS Report discussed the issue of hybrid journals in some depth. Many submissions had said that the current policy had the unintended consequences of pushing up the cost of article processing charges and: “allowing ‘double dipping’ by hybrid publishers” (par 36). The report noted that Reed Elsevier had provided evidence that publishers were responding to the RCUK policy by increasing the amount of hybrid open-access publishing (par 37).

The problem is that gold open access is very expensive compared to green. Work undertaken by Australian Professor John Houghton (with Dr Alma Swan) was cited, stating “adopting Gold would cost UK universities 12 times the cost of adopting Green, and for the more research intensive universities, Gold could cost 25 times as much as going Green” (par 61). A second concern was that the universities and research organisations are expected to find the funds for this (par 64).

A recommendation arising from this was that “the Finch working group commissions an independent report on APC pricing, which should include average APC prices of pure Gold journals and hybrid journals, domestically and internationally” (par 58). This would be very welcome.

Different embargo periods

The BIS Report noted “the absence of evidence that short embargo periods harm subscription publishers” (par 49). This relates to the observation that immediate green open access affects subscription rates, which is discussed in the sister blog to this one.

What is interesting, however, was the observation that the Committee did not receive any evidence that Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) disciplines needed longer embargoes than Science, Technical, Engineering and Medical (STEM) disciplines. In general this idea comes form the longer ‘shelf life’ of HASS articles.

The result of this distinction is that the Finch Report recommended “embargoes for HASS subjects of 24 months and for STEM subjects of 12 months” (par 45). In light of any evidence to support the position, the BIS Report recommended a revision of the Government and RCUK policies to “place an upper limit of 6 month embargoes on STEM subject research and up to 12 month embargoes for HASS subject research” (par 50).

The Russell Group of universities released a statement  that argued pulling back the length of acceptable embargo periods means that researchers will have to pay for open access because publishers have longer embargoes (so the only way to comply is to pay for gold). They then go on to say that the amount of funding available for publication would only cover 10% of their output.

COMMENT: This is a back to front argument. The concerns should be directed at publishers, demanding they reduce their embargoes, not at the BIS Report. It is the current status quo that supports this unsustainable situation. The BIS Report offers ways to turn that back.

Other notable blog commentary

Not surprisingly the release of the BIS Report has resulted in considerable commentary in the UK. Below is a list of more prominent online discussions.

Richard Poynder, Open and Shut, 10 September 2013, “UK House of Commons Select Committee publishes report criticising RCUK’s Open Access Policy

Heather Morrison, The Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics, 12 September 2013, “Kudos to the UK Business, Innovation & Skills Committee: important steps in the right direction

Ann McKechin MP, Impact of Social Sciences, 12 September 2013, “The Government’s policy on open access and scholarly publishing is severely lacking

Dr Danny Kingsley
Executive Officer
Australian Open Access Support Group

Accessibility is more than making the paper OA

Journals

Proponents of open access generally agree that there are many benefits to open access, but discussions about the processes involved in achieving open access often stop at making the published research available. But what happens when the issues of accessibility are considered?

A remarkable project is underway in Australia, spearheaded by the Australian chapter of a not-for-profit international development organisation, Engineers Without Borders (EWB). The Open Journal Project aims to explore and promote techniques to make academic information genuinely open and accessible – with a focus on groups that are often excluded from access to this type of information.

EWB is a volunteer organisation, sending volunteers overseas to a local non government organisation to work on the ground on a project. The Open Journal Project considers the needs of individuals and practitioners in other countries.

“The Project doesn’t finish the day you press publish – that’s when it starts,” explained Julian O’Shea, who is the Director of the EWB Institute, the education, research and training section of EWB, and is heading up the Project.

“We are thinking about what we can do to make the work more accessible.”

The EWB Institute is based in Melbourne, and is publishing a peer-reviewed journal as a pilot and case study in their work. The Journal of Humanitarian Engineering (JHE) is piloting innovations in open access, including multi-language access, developing country access, low-bandwidth websites, and disability-accessible content.

“We want to pilot innovations and share our experiences with doing this,” explained Julian. “We want to work out what is world’s best practice, do it and live it and show it is not too hard.”

The problem

The EWB has noticed that practitioners overseas are under-served by the current publishing process. As an example, Julian stated that the leading university in Cambodia does not have access to the largest database in the field of engineering.

The idea for the focus of the journal began because the group saw there were very few that focused on experience, drawing on outcomes from developments and disseminating that information.

“The aim of the journal is not to be published or cited, but to provide outcomes in communities,” explained Julian. “This is different to other research organisations as a metric of success. It gives us a different angle or lens.”

The group wanted to encourage this as a field of research in academia. They were not sure what level of interest there would be in the journal because from a purely technical point of view they are not publishing innovative technologies. Rather, the focus is on new ways of applying this technology.

“We have been surprised and pleased that the journal has been really positively responded to,” said Julian.

Open access

The journal is published open access, with no cost to the author or to the reader. It uses an open source program called Open Journal Systems to run the administration of the peer review and publication. All papers in the journal are available under a CC-BY 3.0 license.

“We have had no negative feedback at all from people wanting to publish in the journal,” said Julian. “People doing this kind of research don’t have any issue with making their work freely available.”

Accessibility – language issues

Academic papers can be difficult to read even for people within a field. They can become impenetrable to researchers in parallel fields. This problem is further exacerbated in an international environment, working with practitioners on the ground who may not have any tertiary education.

There are several issues with language. The first is the problem of making the technical reports understandable to the lay person. Often the papers in this area are very technical, including many equations, and can reach 300 pages.

To solve this problem authors in the JHE are required to submit a two page plain summary about the paper with the formal paper. This means a project manager on the ground can make a decision about applying the technology or approach and then pass the full paper on to the technical manager.

But many of these projects are in countries where English is not the primary language. The Project addresses this by making the reports available in the language of the country it is targeted towards. The Project translates the plain language guides into both the local language of most importance and into other general languages.

The Project called on goodwill to obtain the translations. They sent articles out to the world, asking for volunteers to translate the papers. This had a good response from universities, companies or simply people to help out on the website.

The Project now has an approved translator list. The first time an article is translated it is sent to a native speaker to approve it and once this is done the translator can go onto the list. The quality of translations has been very high, said Julian, with only one that had to be sent back.

To date the plain language summaries have been translated into Indonesian, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Hindi, Chinese, Spanish, Danish, Khmer and French. The number of languages is growing.

Accessibility – distribution

Another consideration is bandwidth. In many countries the internet connection is through a mobile telephone which prevents the download of large documents. The Project decided to produce the journal on a low bandwidth, and this opened up new issues.

“Generally the journal system distributes through pdfs,” explained Julian. “The problem is it is all or nothing – if the download cuts out at 90% you get nothing.” So the Project looked at releasing html versions of the papers. This has reduced the size of the website to 4.3KB and the journal articles are about 18KB. “We can put about 80 journals onto a floppy disk,” he said.

The Project also has plans to further improve the distribution to remote areas. “We haven’t done it yet but we will have a system that says ‘here’s a postcard, send it to us and we will send the paper to you by donkey’”, said Julian.

Accessibility – inclusion

With a philosophy of sharing research, it was important to the project to provide versions of the papers in an accessible format for people with disabilities.

The choice of publishing html versions of papers assists people with vision impairment, as they translate better using text-to-talk programs than pdfs.  In addition, the project is being proactive about embedding helpful metadata within the document such as describing images.

The Project has used the guidelines for Vision Australia to release a large print edition of the papers. “The first one took about couple of minutes – after that it was very simple,” said Julian. “That is what we are trying to show in this project, to meet a need for some people can be solved in literally two minutes.” The team has also produced Braille editions of the plain language guides.

Future plans

The project hopes to share their experience and inspire others. “We are doing this through the case study approach,” said Julian.  “This is my goal – to be able to communicate better. I am an author – what can I do? I am a publisher – what can I do?”

The Open Journal Project is hoping to formally launch later this year. Meanwhile, Volume 2 issue 1 is about to be released.

Twitter handle – @OpenJournal

Dr Danny Kingsley
Executive Officer
Australian Open Access Support Group

Lost & found: challenges accessing government research

While there’s been much angst about the locking away of academic literature and sky-high fees for libraries to access academic journals, what about all the other sources of publicly-funded material? Why are they also not included in the brave new world of open access?

As a PhD student working in a reasonably cutting-edge area, grey literature* is my life-blood. And yet when it comes to some key sources who take money from public coffers for their work, getting access to material that should be public domain is tricky at best.

My area of interest – not-for-profit, non-government hospitals and large scale clinics in developing countries – has not generally been the focus of briefing papers and articles. But often these health facilities are included in documents for various reasons without being the focus. And given the dearth of directly relevant data, I’m prepared to take what I can get – or at least what I can find.

Government Double Standards?

While recipients of Australian Government funds for research now have an obligation to allow open access, the same can’t be said for government departments, which are encouraged, but not required, to make their work open access. 

Try checking AusAID’s website for their list of advertising projects or FOI procedures and requests or this page on consultation arrangements. The links lead you either to a blank page or an announcement that the information will be added when it becomes available.

And that’s just scratching the surface of the problem. A significant amount of research is now outsourced to specialist consulting firms or hubs at academic institutions. What that means in practice is we have no idea how much information isn’t making it onto indexes on government websites.

As part of my research I went to AusAID looking for any information they might be able to contribute. I should stress the staff I dealt with were professional and went out of their way to check for me. But the end result was a direction to an outside body, the Nossal Institute,  a health knowledge hub for AusAID. After I found some useful reports on Nossal’s website, I went back to the AusAID publications area and searched for them using keywords from the title. Nothing. I searched under health. Nothing. The document register similarly yielded nothing.

So what happens to members of the public who don’t know AusAID has a librarian to ring and ask for advice? Or who doesn’t make the connection between AusAID and Nossal or any other body contracting to AusAID for that matter?

Your ability to track down information funded by the Australian taxpayer shouldn’t be dependent on how ‘in the know’ you are. Whether you’re a researcher or a tradie, these documents should be easy to access.

It’s in the Report

The sad reality is that even when you finally find the document you’re after, you probably won’t be getting the full picture. As anyone who has ever done research will tell you, there’s a lot that misses the final cut. What happens to that uncaptured knowledge?

When all the researchers were in-house, that institutional knowledge collected along the way stayed within the institution. But now, it dissipates out to a complex web of contractors and partner organisations. So what hope does anyone outside the organisation have of tracing detail that didn’t fit the word limit?

Make an Appointment

I imagined a world where I could ring the librarian, put in a formal request to get access to the library and come and thumb the physical pages, letting the Dewey decimal system lead me from one title to another and maybe even hit the jackpot with a title I would never have thought to search for. Or better still, in a face-to-face conversation with that gatekeeper of knowledge, the librarian might plant a thought that led me to the holy grail. Apparently not.

Along with the outsourcing of much research capacity, the AusAID library now resides off site, so even staff put in requests for books to be retrieved and brought in. While it makes sense for archival or rarely accessed material, there are some titles that could and should be read often. And yes, there are electronic books, but not everything comes in e-book format, not to mention the costs if every individual in an organisation paid for an e-book every time they wanted to read a few prescient pages.

While I’ve focussed on AusAID here, I gather from anecdotal conversations with departmental staff and fellow researchers that this experience is far from rare. I’ve singled out AusAID purely because of my recent interaction with them as a source.

And now the good news…

I was preparing to be less than glowing about the World Bank’s open access. I started by writing that the World Bank had an obligation, given their highly specialised research, to make all their reports accessible for free.

As a frequent user of the site in the past, when I started searching the site again I went straight to the publications catalogue. I was appalled that it still cost $100 to get a report as crucial as African Development Indicators. The best they seemed to offer on the online bookshop was a ‘geographic discount’ for developing country purchasers.

What I missed in the catalogue was the announcement on the inside cover page that ‘most publications are now available for free online’. I ended up stumbling on to the Open Knowledge Repository area of the website which is well designed, easy to search and remarkably had the vast majority of reports published by the World Bank available to download free.

There are some exceptions in the open access policy. Open access only applies to external research when that research was commissioned on or after July 1, 2012 which presumably leaves some research still being undertaken now exempt from the rules. However given the volume of current and historical material available free it seems the Bank has worked hard with its authors to get their consent to publish full reports online.

My one criticism is that this needs to be better flagged on the site, and particularly in the online bookshop. Over-familiarity with the old site led me to miss these changes – like many researchers I can be guilty of being a ‘mongrel reader’ and skipping straight ahead if I think I know a website well. The ‘read and share this’ button looked to me like a clunky piece of advertising rather than an invitation to download the research.

So the upshot is that global organisations like the World Bank, with their multitude of stakeholders, are making huge gains rapidly, while Australian government departments are still lagging behind. It’s time government departments similarly made significant inroads into genuine open access.

* Grey literature is defined as ‘ … document types produced on all levels of government, academics, business and industry in print and electronic formats that are protected by intellectual property rights … but not controlled by commercial publishers i.e., where publishing is not the primary activity of the producing body.’ –  12th International Conference on Grey Literature at Prague, December 2010

Belinda Thompson
PhD Scholar
Menzies Centre for Health Policy
Australian National University

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