Publishers Propose Public-Private Partnership to Support Access to Research

A group of scholarly publishers is proposing a publisher-run partnership to make it easier for agencies and researchers to comply with the federal government’s new open-access policy.

Called Chorus—the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States—the partnership would use publishers’ existing infrastructure to identify and provide free access to peer-reviewed articles based on publicly supported research. The proposal comes as an August deadline looms for federal agencies to comply with the new policy.

The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy issued the open-access directive in February. It applies to agencies with more than $100-million to spend every year on research and development.

The precise details of how the clearinghouse would work and who would be directly in charge of it have yet to emerge. According to a background document circulated on Tuesday, Chorus would “provide a full solution” for federal agencies that must comply with the open-access policy. The clearinghouse would “streamline compliance” for authors as well, “by integrating public access into the publishing system.”

Chorus would require little or no federal money, the document says, because it would draw on resources that are already in place or in development. It would use existing tools and services such as CrossRef, FundRef, and Orcid to make articles more easily found, searched, and archived. (CrossRef is a publisher-supported research-linking service; FundRef collects information about where money to support specific research comes from; Orcid provides persistent digital identifiers for individual researchers that help track their work.)

The document’s language suggests that publishers would be the conduits for public access to research. It says that researchers and libraries would be able to gain access to articles “in context”—by “finding them in the journals in which they are published.”

More than 50 for-profit and noncommercial publishers have endorsed the idea, according to a list provided to The Chronicle by the Association of American Publishers. They include the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Chemical Society, the American Geophysical Union, the American Psychological Association, Columbia University Press, Elsevier, IEEE, McGraw-Hill, The New England Journal of Medicine, Oxford University Press, Springer, the University of Chicago Press, and John Wiley & Sons, among others.

Niko Pfund, president of Oxford University Press USA, said that Chorus seems like “a usefully distributed solution.” Many details remain to be worked out, he said, but a clearinghouse solution makes sense. “It seems to me to acknowledge the need to do this quickly, in a way that is within people’s budgets,” Mr. Pfund said. Discussions call for a steering committee, and “our hope would be that it would be a broad-based group of scholarly publishers,” he said.

At least one open-access advocate responded to the idea with initial skepticism, however. Heather Joseph is executive director of Sparc, the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, which lobbied long and hard for the federal government to embrace open access.

It’s hard to judge the merits of Chorus based on the document being circulated, but it “seems like very much of a restatement of the status quo,” she said via e-mail. Under the plan as it’s been explained so far, “publishers will still continue to control the sole point of access to publicly funded articles.”

“Simply allowing the public to link to and read articles on disparate, proprietary publisher Web sites,” Ms. Joseph continued, “doesn’t offer a solution for a stable, sustainable long-term archive, or do much of anything to facilitate reuse of the full corpus of publicly funded research (text-mining, computational analysis, etc.)—items that are key to the success of the OSTP directive.”

That White House policy notes publishers’ contributions to scholarly communication but also urges that scientific research and data be put to use to support fresh business models. “If you don’t enable that second half of the equation, you can’t achieve the directive’s stated goals of maximizing the federal research investment and maximizing the potential to create new business opportunities,” Ms. Joseph said.

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