MLA & AAHSL have issued a joint letter expressing some concerns about the Section 123 language in the House version of the America COMPETES reauthorization. Personally, I don't think they need to worry.Section 123 establishes an interagency public access committee that would be charged with "the responsibility to coordinate Federal science agency research and policies related to the dissemination and long term stewardship of the results of unclassified research, including digital data and peer-reviewed scholarly publications, supported wholly, or in part, by funding from the Federal science agencies."
The specific language that raised an eyebrow for the folks at MLA & AAHSL is the call for "uniform standards" for research data, etc., in order to insure interoperability, and to "maximize uniformity" with respect to the benefit and impact of such policies. The letter writers are concerned that this would "almost undoubtedly have an effect on the implementation of the NIH Public Access Policy and may result in the need to rework existing standards..."
Well, I guess that you could read it that way.
Section 123 follows closely from the recommendations that we made in the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable report. Although the Roundtable is not referenced in the legislation, it is referred to in the House Committee report, which says, "Due to the complexity and importance of this issue, the Committee urges the Public Access working group required under this section to give careful consideration to the Roundtable's report and to develop a balanced process for seeking advice from and collaborating with all parts of the non-Federal stakeholder community as it carries out its responsibilities..."I certainly don't speak for the other members of the Roundtable (an independent minded group of individuals, to be sure), nor for whoever drafted the Section 123 language, but in our discussions we returned again and again to the issue of interoperability. While we felt strongly that, on the one hand, agencies needed some flexibility in developing and adapting their policies to meet the specific needs of the disciplines that they support, we were also alarmed at the notion of completely independent and uncoordinated efforts and the prospect of multiple repositories that couldn't interact with each other in any effective way. Hence the calls for standards and "maximum uniformity".
We refer to the NIH Public Access Policy and to PMC in several places, taking those as given. Implicit in the report is the notion that the PMC standards must be one of the basic building blocks of establishing standards that can be applied across any and all repositories. Any move that would reduce the effectiveness of what has already been established in PMC would be a significant step backwards. So I was surprised at the concern expressed in the MLA/AAHSL letter. We just never looked at it that way.
Still, given what has been involved in the development of PMC, both before and after the implementation of the NIH Public Access Policy, I can see where there might be some nervousness. The MLA/AAHSL letter recommends some language that could be added to Section 123 that would mitigate that nervousness, and something like that would certainly still be in keeping with the spirit of the report.
One of the flaws of FRPAA in its current incarnation is that it lacks any call for coordination among the agencies. Because it is so narrowly focused on the public access issue, it lacks assurances for the kinds of interoperability that is absolutely essential if we are going to reap all of the potential benefits from applying large scale computing (text and data mining) across multidisciplinary repositories.
Important as public access is, it musn't be viewed in a vacuum, or as the supreme social good. At this critical moment in history, we need to be sure that we are paying as much attention to preservation & archiving, interoperability, and stewardship of the Version of Record (VoR) as we are to maximum availability. As we found in our Roundtable discussions, this does make the development of policy more complex, but it is worth taking the time and making the effort.