January 22nd, 2010
Harvard’s provost Steven Hyman has submitted a response on behalf of the university to the White House Office for Science and Technology Policy’s RFI on public access policies. It should appear on the OSTP blog within a day or so, and is duplicated here as well. I am in strong agreement with the recommendations of Provost Hyman, and hope the White House process will lead to actual policies promoting open access to government-funded research.
OFFICE OF THE PROVOST
January 21, 2010
Dr. Diane DiEuliis
Life Sciences Office of Science and Technology Policy
725 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20502
I write on behalf of Harvard University in response to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy request for information “Public Access Policies for Science and Technology Funding Agencies Across the Federal Government.” In summary, I strongly support White House action to require and enhance public access to government-funded research. I provide our general recommendations, as well as more detailed responses to several of the nine particular questions that were called out in the RFI below. However, I emphasize that decisions on many of the detailed issues under discussion here and in the other responses to the RFI are secondary to the general principle of requiring public access.
I endorse the view that every federal agency funding non-classified research should require free online access (“public access”) to the peer-reviewed results of that research as soon as possible after its publication. There are three simple yet powerful reasons to take such a step. First, taxpayers deserve access to the results of taxpayer-funded research. Second, public access makes research as visible and useful as it can be, maximizing the return on the public’s enormous investment in the research. Third, public access accelerates research and all the benefits that depend on research, from public health to economic development.
The United States already recognizes the public interest in amplifying the impact of publicly funded medical research. A strong public-access policy has been in place at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for more than a year (since April 2008). But the same interest calls on us to amplify the impact of publicly funded research in every field, from alternative sources of energy to public safety to American history and culture. The NIH policy has been good for professional researchers, good for lay readers, good for medical professionals, good for patients, good for the NIH, and good for taxpayers. The same principles should be extended across the federal government.
While legislation on public access, which I support, is currently pending in Congress, the executive branch can uniquely take direct action to provide for public access, and can nimbly respond as new technologies and conventions are adopted through applications of the fruits of research keeping new policies current. Even Harvard University, whose library is the largest academic library in the world, is not immune to the access crisis that motivates much of the campaign for public-access policies. In fact, the Harvard library system has gone through a series of serials reviews with substantial cancellations, and further cancellations will undoubtedly occur in the future.
With respect to some of the specific questions posed in the request for information, I provide our recommendations below.
1. How do authors, primary and secondary publishers, libraries, universities, and the federal government contribute to the development and dissemination of peer reviewed papers arising from federal funds now, and how might this change under a public access policy?
A public access policy will not reduce the need for publishers or the services they perform. It will just prevent the fruits of our large public investment in research from being locked up by publishers that provide access only to paying customers. The NIH policy, for example, does not bypass publishers or peer review. It provides public access to peer-reviewed articles accepted for publication by independent (i.e. private-sector or non-governmental) publishers. Other research-funding agencies in the federal government should follow the NIH policy in this regard.
If publishers believe they cannot afford to allow copies of their articles to be released under a public-access policy, they need not publish federally funded researchers. To date, however, it appears that no publishers have made that decision in response to the NIH policy. Hence, federally funded authors remain free to submit their work to the journals of their choice. Moreover, public access gives authors a much larger audience and much greater impact.
2. What characteristics of a public access policy would best accommodate the needs and interests of authors, primary and secondary publishers, libraries, universities, the federal government, users of scientific literature, and the public?
The public access policy should (1) be mandatory, not voluntary, (2) use the shortest practical embargo period, no longer than six months, (3) apply to the final version of the author’s peer-reviewed manuscript, as opposed to the published version, unless the publisher consents to provide public access to the published version, (4) require deposit of the manuscript in a suitable open repository immediately upon acceptance for publication, where it would remain “dark” until the embargo period expired, and (5) avoid copyright problems by requiring federal grantees, when publishing articles based on federally funded research, to retain the right to give the relevant agency a non-exclusive license to distribute a public-access copy of his or her peer-reviewed manuscript.
There are two compromises here to support publishers: (1) the embargo period or delay before the government releases its public-access copy, and (2) the use of the author’s manuscript rather than the published edition. For the length of the embargo period, publishers will have the exclusive right to distribute the peer-reviewed text, and for the full term of copyright they will have the exclusive right to distribute the published edition of that text, sometimes called the “version of record” (copy-edited, formatted, paginated, and so on). Of course publishers remain free to allow other kinds of distribution as well, for example, by allowing authors to “self-archive” their articles without delay.
These are compromises because there is a strong public interest in immediate or un-delayed access to the results of publicly-funded research, and a strong public interest in access to the final, published edition of the researchers’ results. For more on both, see Questions 6 and 7 below.
3. Who are the users of peer-reviewed publications arising from federal research? How do they access and use these papers now, and how might they if these papers were more accessible? Would others use these papers if they were more accessible, and for what purpose?
Public access helps professional researchers as well as lay readers. It helps professional researchers who don’t have access to the same literature through their institutions and it helps lay readers who generally don’t have any access at all. (Public libraries rarely subscribe to peer-reviewed research journals.)
It doesn’t matter whether many lay readers, or few, are able to read peer-reviewed research literature or have reason to do so. But even if there are many, the primary beneficiaries of a public-access policy will be professional researchers, who constitute the intended audience for this literature and who depend on access to it for their own work.
If the United States extends a public-access mandate across the federal government, then lay citizens with no interest in reading this literature for themselves will benefit indirectly because researchers will benefit directly.
Just last month, the Research Information Network released a report showing that researchers can discover new research more easily than they can access or retrieve it, and that access barriers slow their research, hinder collaboration, and “may well affect the quality and integrity of work produced….” <http://www.rin.ac.uk/our-work/using-and-accessing-information-resources/overcoming-barriers-access-research-information>
That is the primary problem for which public access is the solution.
6. What version of the paper should be made public under a public access policy (e.g., the author’s peer reviewed manuscript or the final published version)? What are the relative advantages and disadvantages to different versions of a scientific paper?
The policy should require public access to the final version of the author’s peer-reviewed manuscript. This makes the publisher the sole distributor of the published version, unless of course the publisher has consented to allow author-initiated self-archiving or some other form of distribution. The NIH allows willing publishers to substitute the final published edition for the author’s peer-reviewed manuscript in the government repository.
The published edition contains the final (often copy-edited) version of the language. It also contains authoritative pagination. For these reasons, the published edition is preferable for citing a paper or quoting from it. However, for the purposes of advancing research, it is sufficient for researchers to have access to the peer-reviewed manuscript. Allowing publishers to be the exclusive distributors of the published editions will help protect their business models, and will not harm research; hence, it is an attractive compromise.
7. At what point in time should peer-reviewed papers be made public via a public access policy relative to the date a publisher releases the final version? Are there empirical data to support an optimal length of time? Should the delay period be the same or vary for levels of access (e.g., final peer reviewed manuscript or final published article, access under fair use versus alternative license), for federal agencies and scientific disciplines?
The embargo period (time between publication and public-access) should be as short as possible. Because the public has a strong interest in immediate access, any delay is a compromise, and we should not compromise the public interest any more than absolutely necessary.
The NIH policy allows a 12-month embargo. However, I recommend a maximum six-month embargo, not only for other agencies but for the NIH itself. This is also the position taken by FRPAA. The NIH is the only medical funder in the world with an open access policy allowing an embargo longer than six months. Every other agency without exception caps the embargo at six months: the Arthritis Research Campaign (UK), British Heart Foundation, Canadian Breast Cancer Research Alliance, Canadian Health Services Research Foundation, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, European Research Council, Cancer Research UK, Chief Scientist Office of the Scottish Executive Health Department, Department of Health (UK), Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec (Canada), Fund to Promote Scientific Research (Austria), Genome Canada, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Joint Information Systems Committee (UK), Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (Canada), National Cancer Institute of Canada, National Institute for Health Research (UK), Vetenskapsrådet (Swedish Research Council, Sweden), and the Wellcome Trust (UK).
When the European Research Council adopted its public-access mandate (December 2007), it adopted a six month embargo but added: “The ERC is keenly aware of the desirability to shorten the period between publication and open access beyond the currently accepted standard of 6 months.” <http://erc.europa.eu/pdf/ScC_Guidelines_Open_Access_revised_Dec07_FINAL.pdf>
When the European Heads of Research Councils (EuroHORCs) — representing all the major funding agencies in 24 European countries — recommended that its members adopt public-access mandates (April 2008), it also recommended that they “reduce embargo time to not more than six months and later to zero.” <http://www.eurohorcs.org/SiteCollectionDocuments/EUROHORCs_Recommendations_Op enAccess_200805.pdf>
When the Canadian Library Association recommended that Canadian libraries support public-access policies (May 2008), it wrote, “If delay or embargo periods are permitted to accommodate publisher concerns, these should be considered temporary, to provide publishers with an opportunity to adjust, and a review period should be built in, with a view to decreasing or eliminating any delay or embargo period.” <http://www.cla.ca/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Position_Statements&Template=/CM/ContentDisplay.cfm&ContentID=5306>
If embargo periods should be no longer than necessary, then how long is necessary? This is a difficult question, chiefly because it is difficult to choose the most appropriate criteria. Publishers have often suggested that public-access policies should use embargo periods no shorter than those that publishers voluntarily adopt for themselves. This, at least, is the wrong criterion. Either it presupposes that publishers are already trying to minimize their embargo periods, or it presupposes that funding agencies have the same interests as publishers. Both are untrue.
I am not ready to propose the exact length of the shortest necessary embargo. But I urge that the decision be made in light of this principle: the public interest in shortening delays and the private interests in lengthening delays must each give up something. The public interest bends by allowing some delay (any delay). If we allow publishers the same delays they voluntarily adopt for themselves, then there is no compromise; we simply subordinate the public interest to private interests.
9. Access demands not only availability, but also meaningful usability. How can the federal government make its collections of peer-reviewed papers more useful to the American public? By what metrics (e.g., number of articles or visitors) should the Federal government measure success of its public access collections? What are the best examples of usability in the private sector (both domestic and international)? And, what makes them exceptional? Should those who access papers be given the opportunity to comment or provide feedback?
Among the metrics for measuring success, I can propose these: the compliance rate (how many articles that the policy intends to open up have actually been opened up); the number of downloads from the public-access repositories; and the number of citations to the public-access articles. As we use different metrics, we must accept that we will never have an adequate control group: a set of articles on similar topics, of similar quality, for which there is no public access.
Publishers sometimes cite downloads from public-access repositories as evidence of harm to them. But downloads are not cancellations, and so far publishers have not shown that increased downloads from public-access repositories correlates with increased cancellations. I recommend that increased downloads be regarded as a sign of success, among other signs. It is a sign of meeting previously unmet demand.
Steven E. Hyman