Publishers Respond in CHORUS to White House Open Access Mandate

In February, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) informed federal agencies spending more than $100 million on research to develop strategies to make published results of federal funded research publicly available. OSTP stipulated that results must be freely available within one year of publication.

Legislation to ensure access to research findings was already in the works in Congress. But FRPAA, introduced in 2012, died in committee. The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), a better version of FRPAA, was introduced shortly before OSTP’s memo. It requires that findings be available six months after publication.

Yesterday the Association of American Publishers (AAP), a group of primarily subscription based journal publishers, responded to OSTP’s mandate with a solution of their own. Called CHORUS (ClearingHouse for the Open Research of the United States), it is a system to search for federal funded science articles retrievable from each publisher’s site.

Currently, subscription-based journal publishers put scientific results behind a pay wall. Journals are accessed through yearly subscriptions – usually purchased by university libraries – or by paying a fee for individual articles.

But consider Joe Taxpayer. He pays his income taxes every year. Part of his tax money ends up in the NIH budget that supports hundreds of research projects. One day Joe decides he wants to read about studies on how genetics affects response to chemotherapeutic drugs. He does an internet search and finds a study published in a subscription journal. In order to read that article, Joe must pay $35 to get a PDF of the article. He pays it. Essentially, Joe Taxpayer has paid twice for research – once by funding it and again by accessing the results of science he already funded.

This seems wrong.

CHORUS is only loosely formulated, with few specifics on infrastructure or implementation. Libraries/Librarians, researchers, data miners, Congress, and the White House have yet to weigh in on the proposed system. Scientist Michael Eisen, co-founder of the Public Library of Science (PLOS), pulls no punches in his recent response to the announcement of CHORUS.

Those of us in research will continue to watch how publishers craft their compliance to the White House mandate. In the meantime, let’s close with a few questions for you, the taxpayer, to ponder:

  • Why are scientific results not immediately available after publication?
  • Why aren’t publishers willing to deposit into PubMed Central, a searchable archival system that has been successfully used for over a decade?
  • Why isn’t the public more vocal in requesting returns on their investments and holding scientists and publishers accountable for ensuring those returns are easily and freely available?