Research Works Act: Who Needs Open Access To What? And Why?

Sandy Thatcher [ST] asked (off-line):

ST: “Can you give me any numbers for scientists within the U.S. who do not have access to the professional literature they need through either their institutional affiliations or services like DeepDyve?”

I can give you the following pieces of indirect evidence:

(1) The (now-out-of-date) ARL stats on institutional serials holdings. The estimate is that the articles in the serials that the institution cannot afford to subscribe to or license are inaccessible to the users at that institution.

(2) The data on the OA advantage in downloads and citations (indicators of what is being lost if access is restricted to subscribers only).

More direct evidence can only come from polling researchers or monitoring their web activity automatically, to see how many times they click on articles and are stopped by a pay-wall (including a DeepDyve pay-wall).

ST: “(I do not believe it is the responsibility of the U.S. government to provide research to everyone in the world.)”

Perhaps not (though US researchers do not conduct research only intended to be used, applied and built upon by US researchers; and lost research uptake and progress is a loss for all researchers and research) — but the ARL stats show that no US institution can afford access to all or most journals, and many can only afford only a small fragment.

That’s all lost research impact and progress.

ST: “How much of the literature they need is not already being provided through Green OA repositories?”

At least 80% is not provided — except if deposit is mandated, in which case less than 20% is not provided.

But mandates is what this is all about…

ST: “Do you have an answer to the posting made by Danny Jones yesterday?”

I wasn’t going to reply to that posting, which essentially says “mandated OA deposit of articles is too much of a burden: just make progress reports and final reports OA instead” — but since you ask:

From: Danny Jones [DJ] on Liblicense-l
Date: Tue, 17 Jan 2012 21:46:43 -0600

DJ: “I am very interested in seeing (specifically in my case) NIH-funded final reports made publicly available.”

Fine, and welcome. But, as I said, no substitute for access to refereed journal articles, for researchers.

DJ: “I recommend going a step further to require the annual progress reports to be also made publicly available along with data collected with federally funded grants.”

Both welcome (though making the data public raises some sticky issues about the researcher’s right to mine his own data first).

But, as I said, no substitute for access to refereed journal articles, for researchers.

DJ: “Before I retired on January 6, 2012 as director of the library at Texas Biomedical Research Institute, I was responsible for monitoring compliance with the NIH Public Access Policy by our mostly NIH-funded investigators. TxBiomed scientists are generally supportive of the policy, but it isn’t always easy to be in compliance [with the NIH Public Access Policy] for a variety of reasons.”

Indeed, because the policy is non-optimal, for a number of reasons. See: “Public Access to Federally Funded Research (Harnad Response to US OSTP RFI)

The main bugs are (1) central deposit instead of institutional deposit (and central harvesting) and (2) the publisher deposit option.

DJ: “And complying represents an added regulatory burden for investigators who often have moved on to other investigations when an article finally gets published.”

The keystrokes to publish-or-perish are the burden. The few extra keystrokes to deposit the final draft are a piece of cake — it just has to be made part of the author’s routine work-flow. Incomparably tinier than doing the progress reports or final report.

DJ: “NIH grants may require several years of work before a final report is submitted, and during this time investigators may publish articles reporting results of their funded investigations, which results will also be included in their annual progress reports.”

More important, the articles will be accessible to subscribers as soon as they are published. OA is about making sure they are accessible to nonsubscribers too.

DJ: “Waiting for final reports to be submitted to NIH may actually delay access to NIH-funded research results,”

Not for those who have access to the published articles.

And, as I said, neither progress reports nor final reports can substitute for access to refereed journal articles, for researchers.

DJ: “As these reports are required by NIH already, it does not represent an added burden to investigators (they are already doing it), and the burden rests directly where it should be, with the funded investigator.”

If depositing a report is no added burden, depositing an article isn’t either. (It just needs to be mandated, like publish-or-perish, progress reports, and final reports.)

DJ: “with the NIH Public Access Policy, final approval of manuscripts deposited into the NIH Manuscript Submission System is the responsibility of the corresponding author, who is not necessarily the NIH-funded author.”

All co-authors see final drafts of their articles: The fundees should deposit that.

DJ: “The NIH Public Access Policy should be repealed in my opinion. It is an unnecessary added burden for NIH-funded authors and compliance is not as simple as some suggest it is.”

As great a burden as publish-or-perish, progress reports, or final reports? (Should those be repealed too?)

DJ: “And the punitive nature in which investigators are required to comply by threat of consideration against future funding from NIH does not result in great enthusiasm for government regulations.”

Why is this “punitive” with article deposit and not punitive with publish-or-perish, progress reports, or final reports?

DJ: “The progress reports and the final reports are already part of the established responsibility of NIH-funded investigators, and making them publicly available will provide the public with full information about the research that the government is paying for.”

If the “extra burden” argument had been valid, neither publish-or-perish, progress reports, nor final reports would have been part of researchers’ established work-flow.

And, no, progress reports and final reports are not what the government is paying for: the refereed research articles are.

And there is no longer any reason whatsoever in the online era for restricting access to refereed research only to users at institutions that can afford to subscribe to the journal in which they are published.

That’s not what research is funded for.

DJ: “While this approach does not address the contents of published journal articles, having access to the investigators’ reports of federally funded research may in fact eliminate the need for access to journal articles that acknowledge federally funded research grants.”

Substitute grant final reports for refereed research articles?

DJ: “Finally, not only should the reports be publicly available, but all data generated as a result of federal funding should also be publicly available.”

Easier said than done (because of the first-exploitation rights problem).

But wouldn’t it be too much of a burden for the poor researcher…? ;>)

Stevan Harnad