Monday, June 10, 2013

The Feds, Open Access, and Scholarly Societies (Part 1 of a series)

Scholarly and scientific publishing is rapidly changing.  With the goal of helping to keep JSR Paper Clips readers, Journal of Sedimentary Research authors, and the community of sedimentary geologists and paleontologists informed, this post is the first of a series that explores continuing developments in this area.  The posts are provided not as official views or policies of SEPM, but rather as my perspectives as an editor, author, and faculty member at an institution that seeks to be a leader in the open access movement.

Recently (February 2013), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) issued guidelines for “Increasing Access to the Results of Federally Funded Scientific Research” to heads of federal agencies.   Dr. John Holdren, director of OSTP, summarized the basic idea as “… scientific research supported by the Federal Government spurs scientific breakthroughs and economic advances when research results are made available to innovators….  Moreover, this research was funded by taxpayer dollars. Americans should have easy access to the results of research they help support” [emphasis added].  To accomplish these goals, the new edict directs Federal agencies with “more than $100 million in research and development expenditures to develop plans to make the results of federally-funded research publicly available free of charge within 12 months after original publication.”   U.S. government agencies that fall into this category (including NSF, DOE, NASA, USGS, and other sedimentary geology-supporting agencies) have until August to formulate their policies and implementation plans.

Such motivations and plans are not new; and to most, “results of research” means publications.  The U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) have had such a policy for years, as has the Research Councils of the UK, whose requirements, including open access upon publication, became active in April 2013.  What will actually happen for sedimentary geologists in the U.S. is unclear, as each agency develops its own plans, and as some of the guidelines are nebulous, and various groups jockey for influence.  For example, although the OSTP guidelines call for a “twelve-month post-publication embargo period as a guideline” [emphasis added], a new bill in the US House requires “free online public access…not later than 6 months after publication.”

Free, unrestricted access to scientific publications –including scholarly society journals
while obviously every reader’s (and authors?) wish, has implications.  In journal production, scholarly societies incur costs related to using the e-portals for manuscript management, staff to assist authors and editors to maintain timely flow of manuscripts, copy editing, and final formatting into a journal paper, DOI assignment and registration, file checking and uploading, online support for access, not to mention web hosting and archiving, etc. the list is long. As noted by the Feds, scholarly publishers “provide valuable services, including the coordination of peer review, that are essential for ensuring the high quality and integrity of many scholarly publications. It is critical that these services continue to be made available.”  Beyond these considerations, many non-profit society publishers rely on some amount of positive revenue from publications to allow them to subsidize other activities (e.g., short courses, field trips) that cannot easily pay their own costs, yet which are important to fulfill their science mission. 

The next post will explore this concern more, but it appears that open access could cause fundamental modifications to the means by which some scholarly societies serve the community.  

This post represents one of a series in JSR Paper Clips.   These posts are available here:

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