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Research and development is an integral part of breakthrough innovation and discovery. But disseminating R&D information to the public is just as important, and the U.S. government agrees. To speed up progress in science and technology, the White House has called on R&D agencies to develop plans to increase public access to peer-reviewed scientific literature and data sets. The National Institutes of Health has had a legislative mandate for years to provide such public access, and now other agencies are following suit.

With both executive and legislative requirements for broader public access to journal articles and datasets, agencies are opening access to vast quantities of scientific outputs—a movement that has growing momentum across the globe.

“Government should embrace a support for science and the knowledge

should be diffused to accelerate discovery,” said Jeffrey Salmon, Ph.D, deputy director for resource management for the Department of Energy, during the second annual R&D 100 Conference in Washington, D.C., this past November.

In his presentation, “Inspired Leadership in R&D: The New Face of Public Access to Federal R&D Results,” Salmon gave a summary of U.S. agencies’ public access progress, with a special emphasis on the model used by the DOE and its national laboratories, showing the scientific world how to take advantage of public access for R&D.

History of R&D public access

Salmon referred to the 1945 study, Science: The Endless Frontier, as the originator of what we know now as public access. Towards the end of WWII, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked his then Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development Vannevar Bush to author a study looking at the future of science in America, which broadened the term ‘basic research’ and led to the creation of the National Science Foundation. Roosevelt’s goal at the time was to make it known what contributions have been made during the war efforts to scientific knowledge.

“The diffusion of such knowledge should help us stimulate news enterprises, provide jobs for our returning servicemen and other workers,and make possible great strides for the improvement of the national well-being,”  Roosevelt wrote in his letter to Bush.

“Vannevar Bush’s study changed theway our government treats science,” Salmon added. “It called for a very centralized approach to science funding, more centralized than actually developed. It also called for tremendous increase in science funding and that did take place.”

According to Salmon, Vannevar Bush used the term ‘lifting the lid’ to express the new openness the DOE and its predecessor agencies inherited to promote the flow of scientific information. Since that study came out, by law, DOE and its predecessor agencies are required to publicly disseminate unclassified R&D information, which takes place at the Scientific Office of Technical Information.

What is public access and why should it be provided?

In terms of the R&D world, public access is free access to scholarly publications, such as journal articles or accepted manuscripts, including digital data resulting from federal research funding. While “open access” is the more widely used term, the government prefers the term public access instead to distinguish itself from the interest groups that advocate for open access, according to Salmon.

“The government puts emphasis on its public responsibility versus its openness responsibility,” he said.

There are two main reasons why public access needs to exist, according to Salmon. One of them is to increase the diffusion of knowledge and, as a result, accelerate discovery and innovation or the common good. The second reason, he explained, was stated most eloquently in an editorial by The Economist 12 years ago, which noted that when research is funded by taxpayers or charities, the results should be available to everyonewithout charge. According to the magazine, academic journals were raking in huge profits by selling content that was supplied to them largely for free, and inthe process restricting public access to valuable research to just those willing and able to pay the subscription, which is known to be costly.

“The answer to this, what The Economist termed ‘absurd and unjust situation,’ is simple—governments and foundations that fund research should require that the results be made free to the public immediately,” said Salmon. “The Economist" sets up nicely this debate of free access immediately versus the interest and needs of the publishing community to stay in business, and it’s what the government that is putting together public access programs have to take into account."

Types of public access

There are two types of public access—green and gold. With the more widely used one—the green model—authors deposit their final peer-reviewed, accepted manuscript into an institutional or centralized repository. The public access is typically enabled after an embargo period of 12 months. After that period, the publication is freely accessible.

In the gold model—authors pay a fee to publishers to make the article immediately available upon publication. The fee varies from several hundred dollars to several thousand, according to Salmon. The payment of the fee is asked up front, since it’s a way for publishers to regainthe publication costs without a subscription charge, because the article then becomes accessible for even those without a subscription. According to Salmon, the government prefers the green model of public access and adopted it immediately four years ago.

In a memo on February 2013, John Holdren, the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told federal agencies to prepare plans to make their research results free to read within 12 months after publication.

“The Obama Administration is committed to the proposition that citizens deserve easy access to the results of scientific research their tax dollars havepaid for,” the memo said. The OSTP also told agencies to maximize public access to non-classified scientific data from research they fund.

“Public access is a global movement and most nations are following this so-called green model,” Salmon added.

The DOE permits the gold model where the author pays a fee as an option, but the agency tends to steer away from that model, said Salmon. Although the gold model avoids the 12-month embargo period, if it were fully implemented, it would cost the department $90 million a year to install, something the government is not keen on doing.

“We would rather stick with the other model and save $90 million for further research,” he added.

In large numbers, nations are choosing either the exclusive green or a permissive approach to the gold model, similar to

the U.S. Salmon agreed that there is an argument for immediate access and foregoing a year’s wait period, but it comes at a considerable cost, and those two concerns should be taken into account and balanced.

While the 12-month embargo period has not been without controversy in the publishing community, the medical community is used to it and the scientific community has been in large in collaboration and cooperation as well, he said.

“We believe the tradeoff—embargo in exchange for free access and saving $90 million is worth it. I’s worked for NIH for years,” said Salmon. “We’ve done the best to balance these two and so far it’s working pretty well.”

What the future holds

All of the R&D agencies have issued plans for meeting the requirement set up by the White House to supply free publicaccess after a 12-month embargo to their published research. But since there are so many agencies and to research every single one would be cumbersome, the government is looking into a single-access point to all governmentfunded R&D. The portal for this project already exists—it is called science.gov. While thewebsite does not yet have the capability for this project, it is something in the realm of possibility that’s not difficult to do and is being worked on for future access, said Salmon.

Going forward, the White House is also looking to seamlessly integrate text, data, videos and all other information that will appear in a publication. Computer-driven text and data mining is the newly accessible collection that the government is putting together, which is said to holdtremendous opportunity for discovery.

“The government is not about efficiency, it’s about representation. For some we have found that progress and the public access field is much too slow, they would argue that the government is dragging its feet in getting this article off the ground,” Salmon concluded. “For othersit’s a threat to the publishing community. We’ve tried to find a way to meet these competing interests while serving the public.”

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