Results on petition for Increasing Public Access to the Results of Scientific Research

I signed a petition to the White House a while ago about increasing public access to government-funded research — if a petition gets 100,000 signatures then they White House will draft a response. Some of the petitions are silly, but generate amusing responses, c.f. This Isn’t the Petition Response You’re Looking For on government construction of a Death Star. The old threshold was 60K, which the petition I signed passed. On Friday I got the official response from John Holdren, the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. The salient bit is this one:

To that end, I have issued a memorandum today (.pdf) to Federal agencies that directs those with more than $100 million in research and development expenditures to develop plans to make the results of federally-funded research publically available free of charge within 12 months after original publication. As you pointed out, the public access policy adopted by the National Institutes of Health has been a great success. And while this new policy call does not insist that every agency copy the NIH approach exactly, it does ensure that similar policies will appear across government.

The memorandum goes into a bit more detail. Here’s the complete plan in pieces:

Further, each agency plan shall:
a) Ensure that the public can read, download, and analyze in digital form final peer-reviewed manuscripts or final published documents within a timeframe that is appropriate for each type of research conducted or sponsored by the agency. Specifically, each agency:
i) shall use a twelve-month post-publication embargo period as a guideline for making research papers publicly available; however, an agency may tailor its plan as necessary to address the objectives articulated in this memorandum, as well as the challenges and public interests that are unique to each field and mission combination, and
ii) shall also 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;

This is a good start, although I would argue that 12 months is a bit too long (why wait?) If we accept the necessity of an embargo for some fields, at the very least it should start with the online publication of the article — I had an article available online for 4 months before it hit the print edition. The document doesn’t define stakeholders really, but the notion of another petition sounds like a way of bureaucratically killing further change.

b) Facilitate easy public search, analysis of, and access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications directly arising from research funded by the Federal Government;
c) 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;
d) Encourage public-private collaboration to:
i) maximize the potential for interoperability between public and private platforms and creative reuse to enhance value to all stakeholders,
ii) avoid unnecessary duplication of existing mechanisms,
iii) maximize the impact of the Federal research investment, and
iv) otherwise assist with implementation of the agency plan;

People charge for metadata? Those publishers should be boycotted forthwith for being incompetent jerks. This public-private cooperation blah blah is devoid of any real content but just seems there to placate publishers who are worried about their fat profit margins. Thank goodness there was no mention of “synergy.”

e) Ensure that attribution to authors, journals, and original publishers is maintained; and
f) Ensure that publications and metadata are stored in an archival solution that:
i) provides for long-term preservation and access to the content without charge,
ii) uses standards, widely available and,to the extent possible, non proprietary archival formats for text and associated content (e.g., images, video, supporting data),
iii) provides access for persons with disabilities consistent with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973,1 and
iv) enables integration and interoperability with other Federal public access archival solutions and other appropriate archives.

I was going to write here that the government could probably buy/commission/issue a call for software to do all of these things, and in general, the future of digital archiving is something that librarians do care about, so maybe it’s actually a research issue. However, looking at things like FastLane, I’m not sure if the resulting solution will be very usable.

In general, developing a nice open-source alternative for journal management (including reviews and so on) would be great — HotCRP is a possibility, but I think different journals have different needs/requirements. This would make it easier to start new journals or for those in nontechnical fields to transition away from expensive commercial publishers to newer free platforms. All of this debate about open access really doesn’t speak to the large amount of scholarship outside of science/math/engineering, and those communities would be greatly aided by an easy-to-use solution.

Also, as Amrys says, maybe switching to LaTeX would be good too.

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