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After more than a year of consideration, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced its plan to allow the public to freely read academic journal articles by researchers supported by federal funding.
August 19, 2014 | Michael Lucibella
On August 4, DOE unveiled a beta version of its new Public Access Gateway for Energy and Science (PAGES) website, an online hub that gives a link to the publisher’s website, in addition to providing author manuscripts or links to institutional repositories. According to the new policy, researchers must make such articles freely available to the public after a year-long embargo.
This policy responds to a memorandum issued in February of last year by the Obama administration's Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The White House has directed federal agencies to come up with a plan to open up the results of research conducted with federal funds. Following the memo, publishers and open access advocates began working with DoE to come up with a workable policy. "We used that memo as a sort of guidebook...of the elements that our public access plan should contain," said Brian Hitson, the associate director of administration and information services at the DoE’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI). "[The policy] took into account the diverse views of the stakeholders."
Anyone interested in reading one of these journal articles can access it through a portal on the PAGES website. The PAGES website acts as a switchboard to supply articles directly via the publisher's website, or will direct the reader to an institutional repository. Prior to this policy, readers had to pay for access to these journal articles, though policies varied by publisher.
The Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS), of which APS is a member, is a group of publishers working with DOE and other agencies to develop a policy that would satisfy the OSTP requirements at no additional cost to those agencies. "I think it is generally a very good response to the OSTP mandate," said Joseph Serene, former Treasurer/Publisher of APS and board member of CHORUS. "I honestly don't see any major shortcomings of the policy."
Response from open access activists has been mixed. "The idea that articles are made accessible is one thing, and I think the DOE's plan does this. But making sure that the articles are usable by the public is another thing, and we don't think the DoE's plan does that," said Heather Joseph, director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), an organization advocating for more open access. She added that they would have preferred to see options for bulk downloading, text analysis, and rights to access manuscripts from institution's servers.
The access plan requires researchers to make the articles available at the end of the embargo period, and the OSTP would prefer the version of record, but publishers are not told how to help authors comply. “There are some places in [the plan] where it seems to be to be slightly ambiguous,” Serene said. “I think those ambiguities will get sorted out in the days and months to come.”
The version of record is the published version of the article that is posted on the publisher’s web site. The author's accepted manuscript has changes made from the peer review process, but not the final copyediting and conversion into the XML code used by publishers for serving and archiving the article. "The differences are minimal,” Serene said. “If you look at what the actual content of the paper is once it’s been through the referee process, the content is essentially the same.” Gene Sprouse, Editor in Chief of the APS journals adds that “APS has always allowed authors to post the version of record on their or their institution's website, and in many cases the author's final manuscript is already available on the arXiv preprint server."
The text of the DOE plan reads, “Under this proposal, the best version of the article is the [Version of Record] hosted by the publisher. In cases where this is not publicly accessible, the Department will provide access to accepted manuscripts in publicly accessible repositories.”
Hitson said that DOE ideally would like to point the public to the versions of record, but if that version isn’t made available by publishers, the author’s manuscript would be an acceptable substitute. “It’s economical and more or less ticks off all the points in the OSTP memo,” Hitson said.
The plan also calls for the creation of a large “dark archive” of manuscripts maintained by the DOE’s OSTI, which would be published if a publisher refuses to post a version on its own website. Papers stored on the archive will ordinarily not be accessible by the public, unless that’s the only free version available. CHORUS is working with partners to create an archive of publisher content, which would become available if publishers fail to keep the articles publicly available.
Joseph said that she and her organization were hoping for the formation of a centralized archive like this, but one that would be open to the public. “They’re collecting the papers simply to preserve, not to utilize,” Joseph said. “It’s almost like they came right up to the edge and then said ‘Well, we collected them but we’re going to keep them dark.’ ”
Each federal agency is free to develop its own policy for open access, but in leading the way, DOE's system may serve as a model for others.
*An expanded and corrected version of this article was posted on September 26, 2014.