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Open-access advocates find Energy Department plan "vague and disappointing"

Nature, Science, and the Washington Post report reactions to the first major development under a 2013 White House directive.

A 4 August Energy Department press release announced a plan for a "Public Access Gateway for Energy and Science—PAGES—a web-based portal that will provide free public access to accepted peer-reviewed manuscripts or published scientific journal articles within 12 months of publication." Media coverage remains sparse as of 6 August, but three major publications have emphasized criticism and misgivings.

In February 2013, the Obama administration announced a new policy requiring efforts to expand free public access to scientific papers and data that convey results from taxpayer-funded research. Presidential science adviser John Holdren's memorandum for administration officials directed "each federal agency with over $100 million in annual conduct of research and development expenditures to develop a plan" generally using "a twelve-month post-publication embargo period as a guideline."

Holdren stipulated that the administration "recognizes that publishers provide valuable services, including the coordination of peer review, that are essential." He urged public–private collaboration. The recent Department of Energy (DOE) press release reports:

As it grows in content, PAGES will include access to DOE-funded authors' accepted manuscripts hosted primarily by the Energy Department's national labs and grantee institutions, in addition to the public access offerings of publishers. For publisher-hosted content, the department is collaborating with the publisher consortium CHORUS—the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States.

In a blog posting at Nature, Richard Van Noorden reports that open-access advocates find the plan "vague and disappointing on some key points. For example, it seems that 'free' manuscripts may not be legally open to bulk downloading, re-distribution and re-use for creative purposes such as text mining." The posting links to his 2012 article "Trouble at the text mine: Computers can rapidly scan through thousands of research papers to make useful connections, but work is being slowed by publishers' unease."

Van Noorden and others quote Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) in Washington, DC: "We don't want to end up in a 'read-only' world of US science articles." He explains that rather than follow the National Institutes of Health's PubMed Central repository model, now several years old, publishers sought to retain their own online hits. They sought decentralized access by launching CHORUS as a mechanism by which they can make final published versions, or versions of record, freely available at their own websites.

DOE, Van Noorden says, "wants two versions of a paper to be freely accessible" but "also wants its researchers to archive copies of accepted manuscripts in online repositories." He continues:

Exactly when the DOE's researchers will have to upload their manuscripts online isn't immediately clear, however.

The DOE will link out to these papers from its PAGES portal 12 months after publication, says Brian Hitson, from the agency's Office of Scientific and Technical Information, with the aim of linking to the publisher's version of record when it is available. The agency will also gather the accepted manuscripts together to create a 'dark archive' that it can release should publishers' websites or repositories go down. Hitson said that the agency didn't yet know whether it might place sanctions on researchers who didn't comply with its manuscript archiving policy, as the NIH is beginning to do.

Van Noorden notes that under DOE's plan, "it isn't clear whether the public can legally download 'free' manuscripts in bulk, redistribute them online, translate or content-mine their text, or otherwise mash up the text to create new works." DOE has the right to distribute accepted manuscripts without infringing on publishers' rights, he observes, but wants to "balance the services of publishers with the need for broad public access." He adds:

[P]ublishers say that the final version of papers made free on their websites will be available to read, download (individually) and analyse, just as the White House had required. The ability to text mine papers is also built into CHORUS, says Susan King, a member of its steering committee. SPARC's Joseph says that she is nevertheless worried that "terms and conditions of use may be restricted" for articles on publishers' websites.

Concerning the criticisms and misgivings, Washington Post blogger Andrea Peterson's contribution carries the headline "Why open access advocates aren't thrilled with the DOE's plan to expand public access to its research." A report by Jocelyn Kaiser at Science magazine includes this parenthetical: "(The same gripes will likely apply to the National Science Foundation's public access plan, which has not yet been issued but is expected to be similar to DOE's.)" Concerning text mining, Kaiser writes:

But Frederick Dylla, executive director and CEO of the American Institute of Physics (AIP) and a board member of CHOR Inc., which runs CHORUS, says the group is "working towards" allowing full-text and data mining. At the same time, he says there is little demand for text mining. He says AIP has never gotten a request for its more than 1 million articles; Elsevier, the publishing giant, gets only about six requests a year, he says. Text mining journal articles is "a field that's just beginning," he says.

At Nature, the Post, Science, and beneath a short summary report at the Chronicle of Higher Education, the often-heard open-access advocate Stevan Harnad has posted comments under the headline "The importance of requiring institutional deposit immediately upon acceptance for publication." In the version at Nature, he proposes that the "downloads and citations of papers made OA later never catch up with those of papers made OA immediately." At the Post, he charges that DOE "has adopted a policy that serves the interests of the publishing industry rather than those of research, researchers and the tax-paying public."


Steven T. Corneliussen, a media analyst for the American Institute of Physics, monitors three national newspapers, the weeklies Nature and Science, and occasionally other publications. He has published op-eds in the Washington Post and other newspapers, has written for NASA's history program, and is a science writer at a particle-accelerator laboratory.


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