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 that links out to the various publishers’ green-OA papers. With this established, the publishers think the government can then dispose of PubMed Central.

My comments

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 blogs

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:

Given the one-sidedness of my tweet-stream, I asked for dissenting views:

But they were not forthcoming:

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.

34 Responses to “All joined with a single voice to praise CHORUS, thus: “meh.””

  1. Mickey Mortimer Says:

    Commented (awaiting moderation…) over at the Scholarly Kitchen in response to Kent Anderson’s belief

    “Researchers spend most of their time as information consumers, not information producers, and they really want highly filtered, high-quality content, not just more content. Study after study shows this. New unfiltered mega-journals rank poorly compared to traditional branded journals. As readers, researchers are largely satisfied with the current system. Most of them have more than enough access.”

    It’s really astonishing people could have such misconceptions, unless paleo is VERY different from other fields.

  2. […] dieses Posting ansehen! Auch Jason Hoyt kritisiert CHORUS in einem lesenswerten Posting. Im Blog Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week hat Mike Taylor diese und weitere Stimmen zu CHORUS […]

  3. David Wojick Says:

    My point about the government being reasonable is that if they are not then we are all in for a big legal battle. My personal view is that PMC is illegal because the government has no property right in papers it did not pay to have written. This will be an issue for the Supreme Court to decide, which means nothing will be done for 15 years. If that is your preference so be it, but CHORUS is the compromise.

  4. Mike Taylor Says:

    Honestly, David, the notion that PubMed Central is illegal is the stuff of tinfoil hats. Like any funding agency, a government has the right to say “we will give you this money if and only if you adhere to the following quid pro quo conditions”. Once such is depositing works in PMC. Authors who don’t like that condition are free not to accept federal funds; and publishers who don’t like the condition are at liberty to decline submissions from federally funded authors.

  5. David Wojick Says:

    True enough Mike but there is no contract clause that actually says that. Check the FAR. The government does not get a perpetual license to whatever one writes just because you did some work for them.

  6. Mike Taylor Says:

    What is the FAR?

    On 6 June 2013 21:32, Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week

  7. David Wojick Says:

    FAR are the federal aquisition regulations. They govern federal procurement. PMC is based on vague language in the NIH policy manual which does not have the force of law. The issue has yet to be tested but if CHORUS is rejected it probably will be. This is not 2006 when the publishers rolled over.

  8. […] All joined with a single voice to praise CHORUS, thus: “meh.”( […]

  9. ucfagls Says:

    @David – what is to stop the Government stipulating in the legal contract that you sign when you accept monies from NIH, NSF etc. that published results arising from the granting of an award must be deposited in PMC? Nothing. They might need to tighten up the legalese but they could certainly do that. I don’t see why forcing a fight on this is in the long-term interests of publishers. It’s the people’s money and publishers have no right to control how the results of that money are disseminated.

  10. ucfagls Says:

    Mike – I’m certainly sceptical about the ability of publishers to stick to the agreements to automatically move content from pay-walled to Green OA on the lapse of the embargo. But if we step beyond that for the moment, CHORUS is not a bad idea in principle. There will be a one-stop place to access meta-data which allow works to be resolved, with open APIs so anyone can build on top of them. Publishers can still monetise their data base of papers through advertising etc., and as not all works will be federally-funded and thus within the meta data, researchers can then search on to find content.

    It is not ideal – but neither is duplication of resource by funding PMC. PMC is brilliant but it does replicate existing systems. Expanding PMC is a valid option because we don’t trust publishers to do what is right or what they’ve agreed to.

    I’m concerned the meta-data is only going to be handed to CrossRef. I’d prefer if it were made fully open so that anyone could build a product on top of the meta-data and not be reliant on the API that CrossRef implements.

  11. David Wojick Says:

    Ucfagls: There are several problems with such a contract. The first is defining what it means for an article to be based in part on federal funding? For example I did some federal research in 1978 and my report is still in DTIC. If I now mention those results in a journal article does the government have a right to my article? Suppose I happen to use some DOE supercomputer time in my research? Or if I have co-authors who did not receive funding how can I give away their rights? This will be a hairy piece of legal drafting. (I used to teach regulation writing.)

    But the deeper issue is that the government cannot simply do whatever it likes. Claiming an ownership right on my article just because of some work I once did is probably an uncompensated taking in violation of the fifth amendment (the Bill or Rights).

    Even worse the legal principle is not viable. The principle seems to be that the government has a perpetual ownership interest simply because I could not have written the article if I had not first done the work. By that principle the school that taught me how to write has an ownership interest in everything I write, which is nuts. If there is some other legal principle involved I cannot figure it out, but I am open to suggestions.

  12. Mike Taylor Says:

    David, none of this is complicated. There is an implicit understanding that if the Government (or indeed anyone) funds your work, then they have a say in how it’s disseminated. You point out that an implicit understanding may not be good enough (essentially because you posit weasly researchers who for some unexplained reason want to avoid their work being read). Very well; make it explicit. If it’s not already in place, have grant recipients sign a contract stating that they will make the results of their outputs open access on the funder’s terms.

    On 7 June 2013 18:25, Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week

  13. ucfagls Says:

    @David Citing earlier work does not transfer an obligation to submit the new paper to PMC, doesn’t virally allow the Government to claim some ownership of the new paper. That is quite frankly a bizarre suggestion, which makes me think your are trolling? The results are published, you cite them that is fine. If you get new money and then publish those new results, it is right the Government has a say in where you publish those new results. The issue is not that you receive funding at some point but that the specific set of results were funded by the public purse.

    Your second paragraph is just absurd; no one is suggesting such a thing.

  14. David Wojick Says:

    Mike, implicit understandings have no force in law. My background happens to be the regulatory arena where industry and government are adversaries, especially US EPA. See

    Thanks to you OA folks there are a lot of angry publishers out there so if the government tries to roll the publishers litigation is quite possible. People do not like being demonized. I am an issue analyst and this is clearly an emerging issue, hence my research.

    As for the rest the US Government has no say in where results are published, and at this point claims none. This is a copyright issue. The government is claiming an ownership interest, specifically a federal use license, for work that it does not pay for. I see no legal basis for this claim, so I am looking for one.

  15. David Wojick Says:

    Ucfagls: I did not say citation. The standard language in the government’s claim is “based in whole or in part on federally funded research.” This is usually piggybacked on the Rights in Data FAR clauses (even though journal articles are not data developed during the research). So if I include data from my 1978 study in a 2014 paper does the government have a claim on the new paper? The paper is clearly based in part on that prior funded work.

    What is absurd is the government’s blanket claim. In legal language it is probably void for vagueness. Just because I do some work for them, does not give then a perpetual license to my expressed thoughts about it thereafter. Lines need to be drawn.

    There is this slogan about taxpayers having a right to the research they pay for, and so they do. But that research is the paid labor plus expenses and the final report which the government owns. If journal articles are written after the contract ends, or are not charged to the contract, then I see no basis for the government’s claim.

  16. Mike Taylor Says:

    Of course implicit understandings have no force in law. No-one ever said they did. It’s what civilised people use in place of running to lawyers. Since it now seems apparent that some publishers don’t want to play by civilised rules, it may become necessary for that implicit understanding to be replaced by an explicit one. If it’s necessary, it will be done. No problem.

    As for the idea that thanks to the big, bully OA folks, the poor little oppressed publishers have become angry — watch as a I weep copious tears. Of laughter. If there’s any anger in this situation it resides, rightly, with the authors and libraries who have been exploited so grotesquely for the last decades. I see very little anger from legacy publishers. What I do see is fear — the city is rank with it. Fear that the gravy train is coming to an end. Cameron Neylon said it best: they never had a business model, they had a government subsidy. Now the government is realising it can spend its citizens’ money more efficiently.

    Finally, if you truly think this is a copyright issue than I can only conclude you haven’t been paying any attention at all. The government holds copyright in no papers. Even the ones written by its own employees are placed in the public domain. That’s because the government is about improving the lot of its citizens, not in exploiting a monopoly for financial gain. For the same reason, Federal grant recipients publishing with BMC, PLOS, eLife or PeerJ all retain copyright on their work. The government doesn’t care. What it cares about is that the world has the right use the work it funded.

  17. David Wojick Says:

    Civilized Americans do not let the government roll over them. Rule making has its own laws, some of which I helped write.

    It is a copyright issue because the government is claiming it has a perpetual federal use license to all works based in whole or in part on federally funded research. Perhaps you did not know this.

  18. Mike Taylor Says:

    Civilised Americans also realise that accepting Federal money comes with a quid pro quo. Like I said, if that implicitly obvious fact is not apparent to certain parties, it’s not hard to write it into a contract.

    On 7 June 2013 21:44, Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week

  19. ucfagls Says:

    @David – The generally accepted idea is that the results, data, whatever of the originally-funded work should be open. If you go on to make use of these results in non-funded work that doesn’t/shouldn’t count – is that being claimed by the US Government, NIH/NSF?

  20. You missed one:


    The OSTP should on no account be taken in by the Trojan Horse that is being offered by the research publishing industry’s “CHORUS.”

    CHORUS is just the latest successor organisation for self-serving anti-Open Access (OA) lobbying by the publishing industry. Previous incarnations have been the “PRISM coalition” and the “Research Works Act.”
    1. It is by now evident to everyone that OA is inevitable, because it is optimal for research, researchers, research institutions, the vast R&D industry, students, teachers, journalists and the tax-paying public that funds the research.

    2. Research is funded by the public and conducted by researchers and their institutions for the sake of research progress, productivity and applications — not in order to guarantee publishers’ current revenue streams and modus operandi: Research publishing is a service industry and must adapt to the revolutionary new potential that the online era has opened up for research.

    3. That is why both research funders (like NIH) and research institutions (like Harvard) — in the US as well as in the rest of the world — are increasingly mandating (requiring) OA: See ROARMAP.

    4. Publishers are already trying to delay the potential benefits of OA to research progress by imposing embargoes of 6-12 months or more on research access that can and should be immediate in the online era.

    5. The strategy of CHORUS is to try to take the power to provide OA out of the hands of researchers so that publishers gain control over both the timetable and the insfrastructure for providing OA.

    6. And, without any sense of the irony, the publisher lobby (which already consumes so much of the scarce funds available for research) is attempting to do this under the pretext of saving “precious research funds” for research!

    7. It is for researchers to provide OA, and for their funders and institutions to mandate and monitor OA provision by requiring deposit in their institutional repositories — which already exist, for multiple purposes.

    8. Depositing in repositories entails no extra research expense for research, just a few extra keystrokes, from researchers.

    9. Institutional and subject repositories keep both the timetable and the insfrastructure for providing OA where it belongs: in the hands of the research community, in whose interests it is to provide OA.

    10. The publishing industry’s previous ploys — PRISM and the Research Works Act — were obviously self-serving Trojan Horses, promoting the publishing industry’s interests disguised as the interests of research.
    Let the OSTP not be taken in this time either.

    Giles, J. (2007) PR’s ‘pit bull’ takes on open access. Nature 5 January 2007.

    Harnad, S. (2012) Research Works Act H.R.3699: The Private Publishing Tail Trying To Wag The Public Research Dog, Yet Again. Open Access Archivangelism 287 January 7. 2012

  21. Mike Taylor Says:

    Stevan, I really appreciate having your voice on this blog. And as it happens I think your analysis of CHORUS is excellent. But this long comment is merely a cut-and-paste of your post over on your own blog.

    I really don’t think it’s right for your to use other people’s blogs as platforms for your posts. When commenting here in future, please write an actual comment on what’s been said here (in the article or comments), not your own independent take on the subject. You’re also welcome to post a short comment saying “Go here to read my thoughts on this” and linking to your blog.

    Thanks for understanding.

  22. David Wojick Says:

    Stevan’s manifesto does not address the CHORUS issue, which is simply should the federal funding agencies create a bunch of new embargo based repository systems or send readers to the publisher’s websites via CHORUS? In the latter case the publishers will match the federally specified embargo periods. In return for keeping the readers they will pay the processing costs. CHORUS also reduces the burden on the authors who will not have to deal with new federal repository systems.

    The kind of immediate access, local repository system Stevan describes is not on the table. Basically it is CHORUS versus a bunch of federally funded PMC clones. In either case the default embargo period is 12 months.

  23. Mike Taylor Says:

    I don’t understand why publishers keep talking as though PMC doesn’t already exist, or as though there is some profound technical barrier preventing it from accepting work funded by other federal agencies as well as the NIH.

  24. […] pseudonymity is not without its irritants, as well as its compensations. This appears to be true for the Loon’s readers as well as the Loon herself; she can only suppose that internal editorial discussions were had at […]

  25. David Wojick Says:

    Mike: In principle PubMed Central could become PubFed Central and they have a marketing team out promoting that. There are several obstacles. First there is a general policy against one agency funding another. Second each agency already has its own little publishing empire which wants to grow. Perhaps the biggest problem is that NIH, NLM and PMC are the rich kids in the federal system. Budgets are shrinking so no one can afford what PMC would cost to handle their papers. This is what makes CHORUS attractive. The publishers are buying back the eyeballs.

  26. Mike Taylor Says:

    “PubFed Central” — nice name! Did you make it up?

  27. David Wojick Says:

    Yes I coined it. I used it in a Kitchen comment and others have picked it up. As an issue analyst I look for the simplest way to express the essence of a complex issue. PubFed Central is one of the basic US OA policy options.

  28. David Wojick Says:

    If anyone is interested I have a crude-but-free textbook on Issue Analysis, written many years ago when I taught it at Carnegie Mellon, It was just something simple written for classroom use.

    Click to access Wojick_Issue_Analysis_txt.pdf

    The issue tree is a fundamental logical structure of all complex issues. Knowing this can be helpful.

  29. Revealing Dialogue on “CHORUS” with David Wojick, OSTI Consultant

  30. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks for this, Stevan.

  31. David Wojick Says:

    I am also happy that my voice is being heard. Stevan chopped my stuff but I think the reasoning gets through.

  32. […] here (Michael Eisen, Berkeley Blog), here (Kevin Smith, Scholarly Communications @ Duke), or here (a blog called… Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week…) for more discussion on that […]

  33. […] be used. It’s lamentable that a full year’s embargo has been allowed, but at least the publishers’ CHORUS land-grab hasn’t been allowed to hobble the whole […]

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