All joined with a single voice to praise CHORUS, thus: “meh.”
June 5, 2013
I’m sure we all remember the White House OSTP’s recent memo on open access — a huge step forward that extends an NIH-like Green OA policy to all US federally funded research. It was a triumph for common sense, an explicit repudiation of the mindset behind the Research Works Act, and an affirmation for the ongoing FASTR legislation.
Yesterday, the publishers announced their response to this: an initiative named CHORUS (ClearingHouse for the Open Research of the United States), described most fully on the Scholarly Kitchen blog. The idea is that publishers themselves will make articles available open access after embargo periods have expired, and that they will provide a portal (they suggest chorus.gov) that links out to the various publishers’ green-OA papers. With this established, the publishers think the government can then dispose of PubMed Central.
I commented on the Scholarly Kitchen post:
This does look potentially positive, though I think there is a big trust gap to be bridged before researchers, librarians and indeed the government will be happy entrusting all this to the very publishers who up till now have made themselves roadblocks in the path of all such initiatives.
And then in response to a comment by David Wojick:
“where the industry keeps the eyeballs by meeting the Federal needs, provided the latter are reasonable.”
That’s the kicker. Those of us who remember PRISM, the RWA and the Georgia lawsuit are not predisposed to imagine that publishers’ notions of what is “reasonable” will coincide with ours. To pick one obvious example, I’m pretty confident that the OSTP’s 12-month embargo periods will quickly become 24 or 48.
I think publishers have a lot of bridge-building to do before librarians and researchers will trust them with something as important as a PMC replacement, and the CHORUS proposal has come too soon for that to have happened.
Other opinions were not slow to appear.
Jonathan Eisen wrote one of those posts whose title tells you much of what you need to know: I am highly skeptical of the CHORUS system proposed by scientific publishers as an end run around PubMed Central. He gives the example of Nature Publishing Group’s repeated failures to keep to its own policy of making genome papers freely available.
PLOS co-founder Michael Eisen (Jonathan’s brother) offered A CHORUS of boos: publishers offer their “solution” to public access. He points out that the Association of American Publishers (AAP), who are behind this proposal, “have been, and continue to be, the most vocal opponent of public access policies. They have been trying for years to roll back the NIH’s Public Access Policy and to defeat any and all efforts to launch new public access policies at the federal and state levels. And CHORUS does not reflect a change of heart on their part – just last month they filed a lengthy (and incredibly deceptive) brief opposing a bill in the California Assembly would provide public access to state funded research.” Skepticism about their motives is understandable.
PeerJ co-founder Jason Hoyt wrote CHORUS: It’s actually spelled C-A-B-A-L, which begins by asking questions about the financial cost before making the crucial point that “more concerning is the cost of giving control of Open Access content to organizations whose business model is counter to the principles of OA“. He asks: “Are these APIs truly open? What happens if I decide to build an aggregator with this content that is supposed to be Open Access? Will I be restricted or charged for high volume access, because publishers are now losing eyeballs as researchers go to my aggregator search engine?”
Finally, pseudonymous academic librarian The Library Loon gave us a post entitled CHORUS: hoping for re-enclosure. I find the Loon’s habit of referring to herself in the third person an irritating affectation, but she is an informed and astute commentator, always worth listening to. She makes the important point that “control of the infrastructure on which open-access copies reside is important for more than immediate financial reasons, and it’s what the publishers are playing for here. Infrastructure that publishers control is vastly easier to re-enclose.“
But maybe my favourite commentary on CHORUS is five short words from a tweet by Heather Morrison:
Public access needs public stewardship.
That’s the issue in a nutshell
I’ve been really struggling to find anyone with a good word to say about CHORUS who does not work for a barrier-based publisher. Here are a few selections of the comments I’ve seen:
Heather Piwowar (@researchremix) June 05, 2013
Ethan White (@ethanwhite) June 05, 2013
.@emckiernan13 So instead of having papers in 1 place, we get redirected to different publishers so they can show us advertisements. Great.—
Justin B. Kinney (@jbkinney) June 05, 2013
Erin McKiernan (@emckiernan13) June 05, 2013
Given the one-sidedness of my tweet-stream, I asked for dissenting views:
Mike Taylor (@MikeTaylor) June 05, 2013
But they were not forthcoming:
Erin McKiernan (@emckiernan13) June 05, 2013
I’m afraid it’s still the case that no-one outside of traditional publishing (i.e. the vested interests) seem to have a remotely positive perspective on CHORUS. It’s perceived as at best irrelevant, and at worst a land-grab.