Good news!

Probably by now everyone’s heard about the European Union’s conclusions on the transition towards an Open Science system. This is progressive and positive, pretty much from start to finish. It’s so good that you should really read the whole thing — but here are some edited highlights:

The Council of the European Union […] STRESSES that open science entails amongst others open access to scientific publications and optimal reuse of research data, citizens science, and research integrity; TAKES NOTE that open access to scientific publications and optimal reuse of research data are of utmost importance for the development of open science.
AGREES that the results of publicly funded research should be made available in an as open as possible manner and ACKNOWLEDGES that unnecessary legal, organisational and financial barriers to access results of publicly funded research should be removed as much as possible and appropriate in order to attain optimal knowledge sharing, taking into account when necessary the need for exploitation of results,
CONSIDERS that assessing scientific quality should be based on the work itself and be broadened to include an assessment of the impact of science on society at large, while the current focus is on indicators based on impact of journals and publication citation counts.
STRESSES that incentive mechanisms need to be put in place to reward researchers (and research stakeholders) for sharing the results of their research for reuse;
STRESSES the need to continue the support by the Commission and Member States to allow all bodies and organisations, including citizens, scientists and businesses and SMEs, to mine results of publicly funded research they already have legal access to.
BELIEVES that optimal access and reuse of the results of scientific work can be enhanced if researchers or their employers retain the copyright on their scientific works; INVITES the Commission and the Member States to explore legal possibilities for measures in this respect and promote the use of licensing models, such as Creative Commons, for scientific publications and research data sets.
WELCOMES open access to scientific publications14 as the option by default for publishing the results of publicly funded research; RECOGNISES that the full scale transition towards open access should be based on common principles such as transparency, research integrity, sustainability, fair pricing and economic viability; and CALLS on Member States, the Commission and stakeholders to remove financial and legal barriers, and to take the necessary steps for successful implementation in all scientific domains, including specific measures for disciplines where obstacles hinder its progress.
AGREES to further promote the mainstreaming of open access to scientific publications by continuing to support a transition to immediate open access as the default by 2020, using the various models possible and in a cost-effective way, without embargoes or with as short as possible embargoes, and without financial and legal barriers.
WELCOMES the intention of the Commission to make research data produced by the Horizon 2020 programme open by default17, whilst recognising the right of opting out on grounds based on Intellectual Property Rights, personal data protection and confidentiality, security concerns, and other legitimate interests.

Well, the good news just keeps coming. This is good for us all, of course: for researchers, for funders, for doctors, for patients, for schoolteachers, for university lecturers, for legislators, for local government officials.

Who could possibly oppose such a thing?

Bad news!

Suprise! The International Association of STM Publishers — which is pleased to call itself “the global voice of scholarly publishing” — released this statement in response to the EU conclusions:

We note with concern, suggested embargo periods which do not take into account the long-term sustainability of continued quality content generation.

(Let me translate this, for anyone not familiar with STM-speak: “we note with concern” means “we will fight tooth and nail against”; “sustainability” means continuing the current levels of profitability; “quality content generation” means accepting the donations of manuscripts from researchers.)

But wait — there’s more!

[We note with concern] proposed extensions to commercial text and data mining (TDM) which pre-empt the current work of the EU Commission on impact assessments.

Yes — the STM Association is against text-mining as well as immediate open access.

And this, folks, is the kind of thing I’m on about when I say that legacy publishers are not our friends. I reiterate once more that I’m not saying they are evil; just that their interests are the opposite of ours; and by “ours” I mean basically everyone — all the doctors and teachers and suchlike that I mentioned above.

Those who want to dig into this will be interested in SPARC’s dissection of the STM response, but I don’t need to go on. What I want to say here is that, while we don’t need to demonise the STM Association, we do need to do all we can to make sure they’re unable to prevent the progress that the EU is pushing for here.


By the way, who is this STM Association? Is it just a rogue group of a few luddite publishers who got left behind in the 1900s when everyone else had moved on? Sadly not. As their own press release reminds us, “STM is an international association of over 120 scientific, technical, medical and scholarly publishers, collectively responsible for more than 60% of the global annual output of research articles.” When they write these regressive things, they are not speaking for a lunatic fringe of legacy publishers; they are the mainstream.

Those of you who work for more progressive publishers who support the European Union’s proposals: are you satisfied to have STM speaking for you? If not, what can you do to change their position? And if you can’t do anything to make this body actually represent you, do you really want to be members?

Update (the next morning)

See also: Chris Hartgerink’s satirical rewrite of the STM response! Thanks to Jon Tennant for drawing my attention to this.

It is, truly, excellent news that the US budget passed by Congress on Thursday night includes open-access language that effectively extends the NIH open access policy to many other federal agencies. It’s a huge and important step forward. (See Peter Suber’s typically careful analysis of how it compares with the NIH policy, the proposed FASTR bill and the White House OSTP directive). In keeping with the Library Loon’s post on framing incremental gains, I am delighted by this very positive step.

On the other hand …

When I read the headline of the Washington Post piece that I linked above, “Half of taxpayer funded research will soon be available to the public”, it reminded me just how far we still have to go. Half of taxpayer-funded research? How disgraceful that we report that as a good thing.

“Hey, great news everybody! Half of all the food you buy will soon be available for you to eat!”

Or no, wait, it’s worse: “Half of all the food you buy will soon be available for you to eat after not more than 12 months!”

So yes, this is excellent news, when considered against the backdrop of the iniquitous historical situation. But we have a long, long way to go before we reach justice.

Let’s not ease up, folks: until everyone has immediate free access to read, use and redeploy the research that we all fund, we will still have a situation where publishers deliberately hobble progress, and are allowed to do so. And that should not be acceptable to anyone.



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.

Well, yesterday was insane.

In the morning, we had the UK House of Lords report on its inquiry into open access: fearful, compromised, regressive, and representing the latest stage in the inexorable defanging of RCUK’s policy.

I happened to be going out yesterday evening; when I left the house it had been the worst day for open access in recent memory. Then when I got back three hours later it was to the news the the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) had responded to the #OAMonday petition, issuing a memorandum that greatly increases access to US government-funded research.

So it’s one step back in the UK, two steps forward in America. With my nationalist hat on, it’s a shame to see Britain so cravenly abandon its position of leadership in the worldwide move to open access. But I can’t really care too much about that. Progress towards open access is not a zero-sum game: when America wins, we all win. And when we in the UK win — as we surely win — everyone will benefit from that, too.

I won’t go into details — there’s no need to, as Peter Suber has done a fantastically detailed job of explaining what the new policy does and doesn’t include, and how it resembles and differs from the still very important FASTR legislation. Get yourself over there are read up on the details.

Then crack open a bottle a wine and celebrate. This policy isn’t perfect, no, and there is still a lot of work to do. But it represents significant progress. O happy day.


Here’s a timeline of what’s happened with the RCUK’s open access policy (with thanks to Richard Van Noorden for helping to elucidate it).

March 2012: draft policy released for comment. As I noted in my submission, it was excellent. It did not accept non-commercial clauses (on either Gold or Green OA), and allowed Green-OA embagoes of no more than six months (with a twelve-month exception for two humanities councils). “It is anticipated that the revised policy will be adopted in summer 2012”

July 2012: actual policy released. Weakened to allow publishers to impose non-commercial clauses on Green OA. (They didn’t tell anyone they’d made this change, as far as I ever saw. I discovered it for myself.) “The policy applies to all research papers whose work was funded by RCUK being submitted for publication from 1 April 2013”

November 2012: RCUK announce that they will only fund APCs for 45% of articles as Gold OA.

January 2013: RCUK announce that they “will not enforce” embargo periods.

February 2013: In response to House of Lords enquiry, RCUK clarifes “that it will gradually phase in its open access policy over a five year implementation phase”. BIS and RCUK both endorse embargo-period “decision tree” that allows embargoes of up to two years.


At every single step of the way, the RCUK policy has been weakened. From being the best and most progressive in the world, it’s now considerably weaker than policies already in action elsewhere in the world, and hardly represents an increment on their 2006 policy. Crucially, all three of the key differences discussed in March’s draft policy have now been eliminated:

  • “Specifically stating that Open Access includes unrestricted use of manual and automated text and data mining tools; and unrestricted reuse of content with proper attribution.” — not if you use Green OA.
  • “Requiring publication in journals that meet Research Council ‘standards’ for Open Access.” — this will not be enforced.
  • “No support for publisher embargoes of longer than six months from the date of publication (12 months for research funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)).” — no, embargoes of up to 24 months allowed even in the sciences.

Can anyone doubt that the nobbling of a truly progressive policy was the result of lobbying by a truly regressive publishing industry? It’s been a tragedy to watch this policy erode away from something dramatic to almost nothing. Once more, it’s publishers versus everyone else.

Again, I have to ask this very simple question: why do we tolerate the obvious conflict of interest in allowing publishers to have any say at all in deciding how our government spends public money on publication services?

A while back, I submitted evidence to the House of Lords’ inquiry into Open Access — pointlessly, as it turns out, since they were too busy listening to the whining of publishers, and of misinformed traditionalist academics who hadn’t taken the trouble to learn about OA before making public statements about it.

Today the Lords’ report [PDF version] is out, summarised here. And it’s a crushing disappointment. As I’d feared, this inquiry didn’t represent an opportunity to forge ahead, but a retreat. The RCUK’s excellent OA policy is to be emasculated by a more gradual implementation, the acceptance of longer embargoes and a toning down of the preference for Gold over Green. (While there is case for Green in the abstract, the form of Green required by the RCUK policy is much weaker that its form of Gold, in that it doesn’t require a liberal licence such as would enable text-mining, use in education, etc.)

On top of that, RCUK have been criticised for “lack of clarity”: quite unfair since their policy is pretty explicit and in any case has twice been clarified on their blog. This is not a hard resource to find: anyone honestly concerned about a perceived lack of clarity could find it in ten seconds of googling. RCUK also caught criticism for lack of consultation — also unfairly, as they made a call for comments which I also responded to.

RCUK has responded apologetically to all this — “Lessons have been learned and we will continue to actively engage with the academic and publishing sectors” as though the publishing sector has any right to a say. I would much rather RCUK had shown the balls to stick with the leadership they initially provided, but I assume they’re under political pressures and were left with no choice. Instead, venality from publishers, ignorance from certain academics and cowardice from the Lords has conspired to strip the UK of its leadership in OA, and reduce it to being a follower.

As Nature News editor Richard Van Noorden said, “In other words, RCUK in response promises nothing it wasn’t doing already”. And the reason was rather diplomatically stated by ICL researcher Stephen Curry:  “Not 100% convinced their lordships have mastered topic”. You can say that again.

Taking a step back — and a deep breath — the weakened RCUK policy is still A Good Thing — just a much less good thing than it could have been, and was on track to be. At a time when radical new journals like eLife and PeerJ are showing just how much better our publishing ecosystem can be, it’s desperately disappointing to see the Lords backing an approach to OA that will mean we

What I would like to see from RCUK now is a statement that, if the public that funds our research is to face yet longer embargoes before it can see that work, it must at least be allowed to use it when it gets it. RCUK must insist on CC BY for the Green arm of its policy.

Publishers versus libraries

February 16, 2013

A couple of years ago, Matt wrote about the conflict between authors and publishers. Yesterday, two offical statements about the FASTR bill showed us with devastating clarity that publishers are opposed to libraries, too.

FASTR, the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research act, wants to extend the NIH’s open-access policy to all other US Government departments with research budgets exceeding $100M, and to reduce the embargo period on new papers to six months, down from the current twelve.

I won’t insult the intelligence of long-time readers by explaining yet again why this would be a good thing for research, medicine, engineering, industry, education, and indeed everyone and everything except barrier-based publishers. Because for the purposes of this particular post it doesn’t matter what’s actually in the act.

All you need to know is in the two statements: one issued by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and one from the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). AAP is against the FASTR bill, and ACRL is for it. For our present purposes, it doesn’t matter what their various reasons are. All we need to know is that publishers want the opposite of what libraries want.

It’s time to abandon the comforting but laughable fiction that barrier-based publishers are our friends, our colleagues or our partners. They’re not. They’re our enemies. Hard words, but true ones. In the immortal words of Tom Holtz, “Sorry if that makes some people feel bad, but I’m not in the ‘make people feel good business’; I’m a scientist.”

“But Mike”, you say. “Not all the publishers that are members of the AAP agree with its stance.” That is good news, Fictional Interlocutor. I greatly look forward to seeing them break ranks, one by one, to repudiate the AAP’s antediluvian and anti-science stance. Bring it on, Good Guy Publishers. I will be delighted to give credit just as soon as some is due.

Update (later the same day)

Great to see this letter in support of FASTR signed by ten important organisations: The American Library Association, Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries, Association of College & Research Libraries, Association of Research Libraries, Creative Commons, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Greater Western Library Alliance, Public Knowledge, Public Library of Science and SPARC.


Wire skull

Big news yesterday. Identical bills were introduced into the US House of Representatives and Senate that, if passed, will make federally-funded research freely available within six months of publication. Here’s the exact wording, from the press release on Mike Doyle’s (D-PA) website:

The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) would require federal agencies with annual extramural research budgets of $100 million or more to provide the public with online access to research manuscripts stemming from funded research no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

As Peter Suber explains here and here, FASTR is a stronger version of FRPAA, the Federal Research Public Access Act, which has been introduced in Congress three times before (2006, 2009, and 2012) but never come up for a vote. However, momentum for open access is gathering, both on the supply side with progressive new outlets like eLife and PeerJ, and on the demand side of, well, citizens demanding access to the research they’ve already paid for, and legislators increasingly agreeing with them. So FASTR  has a real shot at getting to a vote, and if voted on, could well pass. Which would be awesome, because we all need access.

Raptor skull in cardboard

I am especially happy that FASTR has bipartisan sponsorship in both houses of Congress. The sponsoring representatives in the House are Mike Doyle (D-PA), Kevin Yoder (R-KS), and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). The identical Senate bill was introduced by John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). So we’ve got Democrats from deeply blue states and Republicans from deeply red states, which is awesome and totally appropriate, because this issue really does cut across party lines. And, hell, last year Elsevier managed to hire bipartisan sponsorship for their toxic–in more ways than one–and rapidly-killed Research Works Act, so it’s nicely symmetrical that politicians from both sides of the aisle have come together to sponsor that bill’s near-opposite.

What can you do? If you live in the US, contact your legislators and tell them to support FASTR! It takes almost no time at all and it makes a big difference. This afternoon I called all five of the sponsoring legislators to thank them, and I called my representative and both California senators to encourage them to support the bill, and all told it took just a little over half an hour. If you skipped the thank yous and just got in touch with the legislators who represent you, it could be done in 15 minutes, and you’ve probably wasted more time than that today daydreaming about dinosaurs. Here’s what you’ll need.

Encourage your legislators:

Thank the bills’ sponsors:

This is big. This matters. Send an email, pick up the phone, make a difference.

Rexy skeleton

I didn’t have any really motivational “contact your legislators!” artwork so the photos in this post are of papier mache dinosaurs–all stinkin’ theropods, I’m afraid–that I’m building with my son. More to come on that soon, but in the meantime, check this out and give it a whirl–after you contact your legislators!

The Three Machesketeers