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The latest on public access to scientific literature reporting federally funded research (formerly known as "open access")

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In days of yore, if you wanted a paper from a journal to which you did not subscribe, you could write to the author to request a reprint* or go to a library. Members of the public at large had very restricted access to scientific literature. Unless they lived near a large research institution with a good library and had the time and wherewithal to use a research library, or unless they could find an address for the author and write to request a copy, they would have had no realistic means to obtain a copy of a paper, much less numerous papers.


* Most of you probably remember libraries, and not just as places to meet dates. There was a time when people actually went to buildings to find books and journals. Some of you are old enough to remember that whole "drawer full of reprints" system. When you published a paper, the publisher would send you a certain number of copies for free and if you wanted more copies, you would have to pay for them. When people asked for copies of your paper, you would pull a copy from the file drawer and mail it to them.


Starting in the early 1990s, and spurred by the development of the internet, some individuals and organizations began to call for what was originally called "open access." The idea was to require that all scientific literature reporting research funded with federal money (i.e., tax dollars) should be made fully available to everyone at no cost.


This spurred a war between the publishers - particularly the large, for-profit publishers - on the one hand and the libraries and the public on the other regarding the extent to which the public should have open access. Some of the battles focused on the how issues: how long could the publisher embargo the paper, how was the paper to be made available (a central, government-run repository vs. the publisher's website), which version of the paper was to be published, and so on. Scientific society publishers typically did not oppose open access but wanted government policies to reflect the need for these societies to derive revenue from their journals and so wanted flexible embargo periods. This was the position of the DC Principles for Open Access, a coalition of not-for-profit scientific societies that publish journals:




The Ornithological Council is a member of this coalition, which formed over 10 years ago, when the National Institutes of Health developed its own mandatory open access policy.


Then began the drive by open access proponents to force a government-wide policy. During that time, the name changed from "open access" to "enhanced public access."


[numerous interim skirmishes]


In reauthorizing the America COMPETES Act in 2011, Congress directed the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy to SEC. 103.




(a) Establishment.--The Director shall establish a working group under the National Science and Technology Council with the responsibility to coordinate Federal science agency research and policies related to the dissemination and long-term stewardship of the results of unclassified research, including digital data and peer-reviewed scholarly publications, supported wholly, or in part, by funding from the Federal science agencies.

(b) Responsibilities.--The working group shall--

(1) identify the specific objectives and
that need to be addressed by any policies coordinated under (a);

(2) take into account inherent variability among Federal
science agencies and scientific disciplines in the nature of
research, types of data, and dissemination models;

(3) coordinate the development or designation of standards
for research data, the structure of full text and metadata,
navigation tools, and other applications to maximize
interoperability across Federal science agencies, across science
and engineering disciplines, and between research data and
ations, taking into account existing consensus
standards, including international standards;

(4) coordinate Federal science agency programs and
activities that support research and education on tools and
systems required to ensure preservation and stewardship of all
forms of digital research data, including scholarly

(5) work with international science and technology
counterparts to maximize interoperability between United States
based unclassified research databases and international
databases and repositories;

(6) solicit input and recommendations from, and collaborate
with, non-Federal stakeholders, including the
universities, nonprofit and for-profit publishers, libraries,
federally funded and non federally funded research scientists,
and other organizations and institutions with a stake in long
term preservation and
to the results of federally funded

(7) establish priorities for coordinating the development of
any Federal science agency policies related to
public access
the results of federally funded research to maximize the
benefits of such policies with respect to their potential
economic or other impact on the science and engineering
enterprise and the stakeholders thereof;

(8) take into consideration the distinction between
ations and digital data;

(9) take into consideration the role that scientific
publishers play in the peer review process in ensuring the
integrity of the record of scientific research, including the
investments and added value that they make; and

(10) examine Federal agency practices and procedures for
providing research reports to the agencies charged with locating
and preserving unclassified research.



Whereupon OSTP published this notice calling for comments:




The Ornithological Council filed these comments:




Stay tuned....

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