Liveblog: BRDI: Author Deposit Mandates for Federal Research Grantees

I’m liveblogging the first meeting of the new Board on Research Data and Information today and tomorrow, and will be liveblogging. Standard liveblogging disclaimers apply. The presentation slides are on the meeting site. Because the slides are online, I’ll focus on what’s not on the slides.

Public Symposium on Author Deposit Mandates for Federal Research Grantees

First is Martin Frank of the American Physiological Society.

This is not a pro-con discussion.
There hasn’t been full discussion by Congress of PubMed Central. In creating PMC, it superceded the effort of the publishing industry to create digital identifiers, potentially diverting eyeballs and damaging sustainability of publishers.

We provide delayed access after 12 months — it’s a sustainable model, which we adopted without government mandate, but we can change it if we need to. We also have an Author Choice option. Our entire backfiles are in Highwire.

DC Principles Coalition: We believe in free access to science, within the constraints of our business models.

NIH Public Access Plan’s goals could have been addressed if NIH had negotiated in good faith with publishers. PMC competes with publishers. PMC is not a good steward — uses PMCIDs, not DOIs. [How big a problem is this? Isn't this just another publisher attempt to pull a rabbit out of the hat?]

Actions suggest that NIH is trying to become the single source for NIH funded research. Threat of subscription cancellations is real.

If publishers don’t get money from subscription, the other option is author-side funding, which could detract from research funding.

Obama’s transparency memo focuses on access to information in forms the “public” can use. The public doesn’t need access to the full articles. America COMPETES Act is also a better model.

Next is Fred Dylla of the American Institute of Physics.

We invented the Web. [Funny, I didn't know Berners-Lee was an American!]

We’re all for public access to science, but we want to do it in a sensible way. Does the Public Access Policy provide meaningful public access? How will it affect quality control, scientific journals, scientific societies?

Open access does not mean free of cost. There are few sustainable OA business models that have been demonstrated. PLoS has yet to make money. The New Journal of Physics is not a sustainable model either.

Prevalent OA model is a fully author-pays model.

Mandates shifts to OA will negatively affect scholarly publishing: implications for quality control, investments in publishing technology.

Rhetoric on both sides lacks analysis. [What about the massive economic study just released by JISC?] Serials crisis is real — but does switching models solve it?

Are scholarly journals following newspapers over the cliff? The problem is that consumers want everything for free. Phil Davis sees the same problem.

Repositories can do all the functions of journals except quality control, and we don’t want government doing that.

Analyses are mostly cost-neutral [again, see JISC study], but don’t include transition costs or transaction costs (“getting checks from authors” instead of institutional subscribers).

Author survey (by publishers) says journal access is a low priority. NIH policy should return to a voluntary policy. Likes the NSF / America COMPETES Act model better.

Next is Steve Breckler of the American Psychological Association.

Social sciences often left out of discussions about data curation, open access, etc.

Everybody likes open access. Our publications have always been easily accessible in the technology of the era. But there are always costs in producing scientific publications, and the question is who bears those costs. Publishers add a lot of value. Our concern is the uncertainty, risk, and unintended consequences of public access policies. The policy could reduce the number and quality of journals, could increase publication costs, gives control to the federal government, and creates a class system in scientific publishing — concern about who is left out of databases.

One size doesn’t fit all, e.g. embargo period — some journals may be primarily used after 12 months. The Board needs to look very carefully at these issues.

Next is Elizabeth Marincola of the Society for Science and the Public. On the board of PLoS. Used to work for American Society For Cell Biology.

ACSB has a 2-month embargo, with no negative impact on subscriptions and a lot of positive feedback.
NIH has an obligation to provide a return to taxpayers for their investment in research. Before the Public Access Policy was implemented, there was a public comment period with overwhelming support. Interest of authors is largely in having their work made available to other researchers. The opponents are largely publishers who feel their business model is under threat. Societies have an obligation to serve its members and its field first. Putting publishing interests first isn’t effectively serving their members’ interests.

The public needs access to biomedical research — saying that the public can’t understand them is underestimating the intelligence of the lay public. Clinicians report that patients often come to them having reviewed medical research. Public, given the opportunity, does take advantage of open access.

Response to the idea that publishers are already offering these services: It’s only through a consolidated database that research can be integrated with other data. The whole is greater than the sum its part.

We are not being forced into one model: NIH has bent over backwards to accommodate publisher concerns and provide flexibility.

Next is Heather Joseph of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition.

Representing academic and research librarians — researchers, students, and the public.

Public access isn’t just logical, it’s imperative. We fund research with the expectation it will contribute to the public good. This can only happen if we maximize the reach of research. Research is cumulative — others need the opportunity to build upon. Communicating research is an integral part of research. Far too often, research results are not widely available to potential users, but only available to those who can pay increasingly steep prices. No library can afford to subscribe to everything it wants to — it’s a 20 year trend of cancellations. The current model is not sustainable. It was maybe understandable in a paper-based environment, but the Internet means we can disseminate at near-zero marginal cost, and enables new and innovative uses of information. The Public Access Policy is a crucial part of this framework and should be expanded to other agencies.

Taxpayers have the right to access the research that they funded. Millions of Americans seek health information online. Other areas, such as environmental information, are also of interest to the public.

Public access is good for science. There’s been an explosion of growth in publications — researchers need to be able to use new technologies to identify the information of interest, but they can’t do this when there are access barriers.

Public access will fuel innovation and economic growth. Expanding access offers the very real potential for downstream stimulus.

We are not alone — many worldwide public access policies. Many of the others are more stringent, e.g. with shorter embargo.

Public access also supports transparency, cf. Obama’s agenda.

Next is David Shulenburger of the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges.

I served as provost of the University of Kansas. I watched research information become more difficult to access. I believed the transition to economic form would eventually remedy this. But prices kept going upwards. I’ve spent much of the last decade trying to make sense of this. Many other institutions had the same problem — this is bad for science. But there’s been an enormous growth of open access.

Earlier speakers said that subscription journals would die and be replaced with author-pays journals. Self-archiving has allowed some users to bypass the journal system but the subscription journal system hasn’t collapsed. Researchers won’t wait — if there’s a delay, subscriptions won’t dry up.

The Public Access Policy should be adopted by other agencies. There must be mandatory deposit for grantees. Embargo period is important — a 6 or 12 month delay works. But place of deposit doesn’t matter — other agencies don’t need their own PMC. Submission of published versions would be helpful. Databases need to be linked, but not necessarily in the same repository.

You’ve heard that refereeing is threatened. I don’t think so. It’s a core function. The last thing a journal will scrimp on is refereeing. Researchers are happy to do it.

If the current model doesn’t work, I have great confidence that we’ll come up with a model that ensures that refereeing continues. What we’re asking for is a system that ensures systematic availability of articles resulting from federally-funded research.

I surveyed the academic officers of NASULGC about implementing the NIH policy. There was a little grumbling about the mechanics, but no expressions of opposition from faculty. But when faculty are mad, the provost knows about it quickly. Faculty understand the need for access.

The good from ensuring public access is potentially immense — not just for researchers, but for students, small business, and independent thinkers.

Q&A:

Frank: I agree with Shulenburger — we told NIH that the policy could work with distributed repositories, but they refused. Also, NIH only funds a small percentage of the literature.

Shulenburger: We need a nudge — if discussions has solved this, we wouldn’t be here. But now we have a nudge that will make stakeholders respond.

Q: The taxpayer access argument was strongly made. We could argue that taxpayers paid for the research in general, not necessarily each publication.

A: Joseph: Taxpayers have paid for the results of research. Publishers do add value. But the Public Access Policy requires the peer-reviewed manuscript, not the one after which the publishers add value. The America COMPETES model, for un-peer-reviewed grant proposals, is almost useless to the public. In health, you want the refereed results, not the grantee’s report to the agency.

A: Dylla: Maybe a compromise is the embargo period — allows publishers to preserve the subscription model.

A: Joseph: It’s not our concern to preserve the subscription model — it doesn’t serve us particularly well — but an embargo is a compromise that allows publishers time to come up with new models.

A: Marincola: Is there any evidence of harm to publishers?

A: Frank: 12 months is sustainable for APS, but maybe not for everybody. Says that prices have gone up with the transition from print to electronic with the transition from multiple subscriptions in paper to one electronic subscription per institution.

Marincola: So, no?

Breckler: We’d rather do experiments before adopting changes that could do irreparable harm. We could look back in 10 years and find we’ve made a big mistake. We want to take a reasoned approach to this. We should try several models — maybe compare NSF and NIH model.

Joseph: We have data from NSF and NIH policy. NSF policy hasn’t made a single article available.

Marincola: Have to weigh theoretical future harm to existing, demonstrated harm. If journals can’t survive, from an economic perspective, that’s not harm — it’s just a failure to adapt.

Q: There has been some impact of people who’ve tried these experiments and it hasn’t worked. BMJ backed off from its OA policy. [But then they went back to OA.] The trouble with a government mandate is that it’s immovable. [Some bizarre comparisons with agricultural subsidies... is there a question here?] What’s the best way to get information out there — what problem will you solve by giving it away? Access isn’t an actual problem.

Shulenburger: No one opposes the subscription model — but there are access problems. There’s tremendous variety in approaches to this question. Public access policies ensure that access exists and prices stay reasonable.

Dylla: Journal growth trends with funding for researchers. As universities want to be more prestigious, they aim to publish more. Trying to have access to everything requires too much money — you have to prioritize.

Q: We need to experiment with models.

A: Some speakers said OA isn’t sustainable. PLoS is well on its way. Springer wouldn’t have bought BMC if it didn’t expect to make money.

Q: Lesk: About 15 years ago, I tried to look at who published articles in Phys Rev Letters vs. who paid for them. Authors were mostly in universities; greater proportion of universities were in corporations and government.

A: Dylla: Corporations basically get a free ride.

Shulenberger: There are many models, not just subscription-side or author-side.

Breckler: There are lots of models, and lots of goals. Our task is to figure out what we want to achieve, then figure out which model will help us achieve it. Some models will work in different situations. If the question is should we apply the NIH model to other funders, that takes a single model and puts it into place everywhere. That’s scary.

Q: Digital also offers new options for vetting and credentialing.

A: Frank: Many of us are experimenting. There are other options.

Joseph: We have cyberinfrastructure that allows us to do new things. These possibilities go beyond access to new and innovative uses. The NIH policy isn’t punitive against the publishing industry, but was carefully crafted to best serve all stakeholders. Public access policies don’t force publishers into one model — we’re only limited by our imagination.

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