We Can Do Better Than FRPAA

SPARC's greatest rhetorical achievement has been to establish the equivalence of support for FRPAA with support for Open Access.  If you're on the right side of the issue and believe that the public must have free access to at least the author's final version of peer reviewed published papers, then you must be in support of FRPAA.  If you question FRPAA then you must be in the pocket of the evil publishers, deviously trying to lock away the results of federally funded research from the deserving public.

But I'm troubled by FRPAA's willingness to make do with the author's final manuscript and with the scant lip service that it pays to interoperability, data-mining, and preservation.  I think its one size fits all approach doesn't reflect the actual diversity of approaches to the literature among disciplines, and that its unwillingness to engage in some level of compromise with the publishing community sets up an us/them framework that has already done considerable damage to the scholarly community and that makes enemies of people who, in fact, have much more aligned interests than is generally recognized.   Most worrisome of all, perhaps, the fact that FRPAA is presented as THE solution to public access gets in the way of productive discussion about how we might achieve a better path to open access.

The report from the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable, now two years old, still reflects the complexity of issues pretty well, and I'm encouraged by the fact that OSTP's RFI process clearly reflects those concerns.   Although the report doesn't specify a particular policy approach it does outline pretty well the issues that ought to be balanced in the development of such policies.

There have been a variety of ideas floated over the years that are worth looking at in developing a policy approach that improves on FRPAA's flaws, in particular the linking proposal that was made by a coalition of 57 not-for-profit publishers to NIH back in 2005/6, as well as Stuart Shieber's 2009 paper "Equity for Open-Access Publishing".

Elements that might be incorporated into such policies would include requiring that grantees publish in OA journals (whether fully OA or hybrid), that metadata be submitted to granting agencies to link back to the Version of Record, that standards for data-mining and interoperability be developed across all of the federal granting agencies, and that publishers either adopt robust preservation/archiving strategies on their own, or participate in "trusted" endeavors (however those turn out to be defined).

Policies along these lines would privilege the Version of Record, eliminate the embargo period, and emphasize the development of standards for interoperability.  They would provide a mechanism to encourage subscription publishers to develop fully OA business models, while injecting a level of market competition that could help to hold publication fees down.

They would also bump up against some issues of academic freedom by limiting where scientists could choose to publish, they would result in providing subsidies to commercial publishers for moving to OA, and they would not necessarily result in government controlled repositories like PubMed Central. 

So there's still plenty to argue about in the details.    But now is the time to have those arguments.  With the publishing industry already experimenting in numerous ways with OA business models, with many publishers on record opposing RWA, while stopping short of endorsing FRPAA, and with the OSTP folks sifting through all of the comments in response to the RFI, now is the time to move past the limitations of FRPAA and try to engage fully with all of the stakeholders to achieve immediate open access to the Version of Record.  Why in the world would we want to spend the next year engaging in a legislative fight that, even if it was won, wouldn't get us close to that?

 


RWA/FRPAA -- SPARC misses an opportunity

Along with much of the rest of libraryland I've been watching with great interest the flurry that followed the introduction of the "Reinvigorate SPARC Act".  Filed shortly before Christmas, it wasn't until the exuberant AAP press release started making the rounds in early January that...

What?  Oh.... Right.  Sorry -- I meant the "Research Works Act".  I got the title confused with the effect.

I was both depressed and astonished when I saw the SSP press release.  Just at the point when the OSTP RFI on access to peer reviewed publications promised at least the possibility of taking the discussion a step forward and getting past the simplistic arguments we've suffered for the last few years, this poorly written piece of inflammatory legislation could have no possible effect but to inflame the partisans.

And, of course, the predictable is what happened -- blog hysteria.  An assault on Open Access! Trying to shut down PubMed Central!  Evil Publishers!  Enemies of science!

But... as one waded through the muck of hyperbole and righteous outrage, one could begin to discern some occasional glimmers of discussion of real issues.  The fact that the research community was more engaged is certainly a positive -- even if much of that engagement is simplistic and riddled with error.  Still, you could find people raising substantive issues:  What is the appropriate role of the government?  What value do publishers add?  Would research progress reports be sufficient to address the public's right to research results and if not, why not?

That many publishers, including many members of AAP, came out against RWA gave me hope.  On my better days, I began to believe that as bone-headed as RWA is, maybe its introduction would actually do some good.

And then came the re-introduction of FRPAA to make sure that doesn't happen.  Now, instead of discussing the real complexities of scholarly publishing, the real challenges and opportunities, we can have letter writing campaigns and sloganeering, pep rallies and resolutions and press releases.

And we can waste another year.

One might have hoped that SPARC would take advantage of the interest in these issues that the RWA has sparked among the research community, as well as the divisions it has revealed among members of the publisher community.  They could have tried to foster some discussion among those communities to see if we've learned anything from the last few years.  Maybe we could work together to craft new and better legislative proposals that would achieve open access in a way that resulted in greater buy-in from all stakeholders.

But instead of seizing the opportunity, SPARC apparently prefers to continue the adversarial combat that will have little effect other than shutting down creative discussion.  It's a shame.

There are alternatives.  The American Association of University Presses has issued a statement opposing both RWA and FRPAA and supporting the America COMPETES legislation that led to the recent OSTP RFI.  We have an opportunity to move forward.  Let's not blow it by getting bogged down in legislative trench warfare.

 

 


Sometimes you just need to talk....

It seemed as if the unstated subtext of most of the conferences & meetings I went to this spring was that the boundaries between publishers and librarians is getting increasingly porous.  Geoff Bilder made it explicit in his plenary session at the MLA meeting when he referred to a presentation that John Unsworth gave at the Society for Scholarly Publishing meeting several years ago titled, "Pubrarians and Liblishers: New Roles for Old Foes."   Increasingly, librarians are starting to move into the publishing space and publishers are worrying about things that used to be the exclusive domain of librarians.

Despite this, we're still too often talking past each other, or not talking at all.  We need more conversation.  Which is why one of the most enjoyable things I did was the SSP "Chat With A Librarian" roundtables.  Jean's done a good writeup of the event for the SSP website.  The room was packed and ninety minutes flew by.  We could easily have gone on longer.

Jean and I, along with Norm Frankel, will be using some of the feedback from that session to develop the Chicago Collaborative's "Libraries 101" modules, designed to present the broad array of library issues to people in publishing.  The evidence of the SSP session is that many people in publishing are very hungry for more information about how libraries really operate and what librarians really want.

Anything that can foster more conversation will help.  As those boundaries continue to become even more porous we're going to need the expertise of everybody involved in the scholarly communication chain more than ever.

 

 


Ask Questions

A couple of weeks from now (Friday, November 5th, at 9 in the morning, to be exact), I'll be hosting a conversation with Y.S. Chi and Kent Anderson at the Charleston Conference.  I've known each of them for some time, and they are among the most experienced, thoughtful, and inquisitive people in publishing. 

Y.S. is currently Vice-Chairman and CEO Science & Technology for Elsevier -- you know, that little outfit that produces ScienceDirect, Scopus, Embase, Engineering Village, etc.   Before Elsevier he held several president and CEO positions at Ingram Book Group and was CEO and President at Random house.

Kent is CEO & Publisher of the Journal of Bone & Joint Surgery.  He spent a decade with the New England Journal of Medicine, helping them move into the digital age, and before that ran periodicals for the American Academy of Pediatrics.  He's the editor-in-chief of The Scholarly Kitchen (which you ought to be reading daily).

These guys know a lot.  They spend most of their time trying to figure out where scholarly publishing is going.

I've told them I don't want prepared presentations.  We're going to hang out on the stage,  I'll ask them some questions to get things rolling, and then we'll turn it over to the audience. 

We're going to have fun.  What do you think I should ask them?

 


Hang Out With People in Publishing

A few days ago, I was harping on the need for librarians to spend more time hanging out with people in publishing, so it seems appropriate for me to point to the programme for the 2011 meeting of the Association of Subscription Agents, which will be held in London next February.  I've attended the meeting a couple of times as a speaker and have found it extremely worthwhile.   It's a small, relaxed meeting and as you can see from the list, they cover a broad range of topics.  These are people who are very concerned with figuring out where scholarly publishing is going, and what their various roles in it are, so the discussions can be very illuminating.  You get to engage in real conversation with people who have widely differing opinions about what needs to be done, but who all care passionately about getting it done right.   They even have a special rate for librarians!

 

 


Searching for common ground: public access and the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable

 As soon as I sent the draft of my editorial about the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable around to the other roundtable members for review, Fred began referring to it as my "how I spent my summer vacation" essay.  That's pretty accurate.  When Susan Starr, the editor of the Journal of the Medical Library Association, asked me last March if I'd be interested in writing an editorial for the October issue, I knew immediately what I wanted to write about.  The report itself is the important thing, and I didn't see any need to repeat the substance of it, but I thought it might be useful to describe my perceptions of how the Roundtable came about, and what I think it achieved.  I'm grateful to Susan for giving me the chance to do that.

At the most basic level, the goal of open access is to eliminate subscription barriers (there's much more to the various "flavors" of open access, of course, but that's the fundamental thing).  What I try to emphasize in the editorial is that across the broad spectrum of the scholarly communication community, there isn't any significant opposition to that goal.  But how we get there, and how we craft policy in such a way as to maximize the benefits and minimize the negative unintended consequences is very complex and requires carefully balancing among a number of competing priorities.  The Roundtable report attempts to describe that complexity and that balancing act in ways that we hope will be useful to policy makers.

Jim O'Donnell (another roundtable member) and I will be hosting a session on the report and its relationship to FRPAA at the Charleston Conference in a few weeks.   I'm hoping for a lively discussion.

 


Breaking Down the Mental Models

It hasn't been my geographic region for fifteen years, but every year I pay my own way to the MCMLA conference.  My history with the chapter is deep.  I go principally for the people, but every year I'm reminded what a great job they do with content.  Last year, the keynote was the amazing T.R. ReidThis year it kicked off with the tag team of Lorri Zipperer and Paul Uhlig.

 Lorri is well known for her work on patient safety, and this was the point of the presentation, as reflected in the title,  New Possibilities: The Catalytic Role of Librarians as Front Line Partners for Transforming Clinical Care.  But unlike other work I've come across over the years that discusses a more active clinical role for librarians, Lorri and Paul focused on the cultural barriers to this kind of collaboration, and emphasized the kinds of interactions that need to happen if it is to be successful.  I'd woken up that morning thinking about how I might respond to Marcus's comments to my previous post and it seemed to me that the challenges to effective librarian/physician interactions paralleled quite clearly those affecting librarians and publishers.

 They emphasized the ways in which we get trapped by our mental models.   This is not just librarians, of course; it affects all professions.  So we end up having warped views of those we interact with who are not part of our own tribe.  Lorri told the story of talking to someone not long out of library school and recommending that she read some of Atul Gawande's books.  The librarian responded, "I'd never read anything by a surgeon!"  Lorri told her she was in the wrong business.  An extreme example, perhaps, but reflective of how too many librarians think of physicians.

Paul put it succinctly:  "We are who we are because of the way we interact, who we talk with...  We create our realities in our mutual interactions."

So it is with librarians and publishers.  As librarians we create mental models of publishers that puts us in opposition to them.  Marcus says, "The traditional publishing model ... really should be at risk."  I scarcely know a person in publishing who doesn't agree with that -- but the tone of Marcus's comment reflects the notion, prevalent among librarians, that publishers are trying to defend and protect a traditional publishing model.  Surely it's the case that there are some who are trying to hang in there, hoping for retirement before it all collapses around them -- just as there are librarians who still think their job is to build & manage collections and worry about how to get people into the library.  But most of the people I talk with in publishing are trying just as vigorously as smart librarians to figure out how to transform their organizations so that they remain vibrant and fruitful in the digital age.

Marcus asks, "How can we credibly align the interests of publishers and librarians?" and in an email message to me he suggests that "the interests of the two groups are on a collision course..."  I think many librarians feel that way, but it has become very clear to me, through my work with the Chicago Collaborative and the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable, as well as so many of the numerous other conversations and interactions that I've had with publishers over the past decade that our interests are aligned in many more ways than they are in opposition.  But you'd never know that if the only conversations that you ever have are with somebody who is trying to get you to pay a price that's higher than what you want to pay. 

I'm a library director, so it's my job to worry about money and the health of my organization -- but of course, that's not ALL I worry about.  Publishers worry about research fraud, professional ethics, the development of young scholars, preservation and archiving, using new technologies to enhance communication, and developing better discovery and analysis tools to further the impact of research.  And, yes, they worry about how to get the scholarly literature into the hands of those who can benefit from it the most, which is why all of the major commerical STM publishers are experimenting with at least some kind of an open access or public access option.   The Roundtable's core recommendation is:  "Each federal research funding agency should expeditiously but carefully develop and implement an explicit public access policy that brings about free public access to the results of the research that it funds as soon as possible after those results have been published in a peer‐reviewed journal."  Every publisher in the room agreed with that -- the core disagreements had to do with how much government intervention is advisable and necessary.

I don't expect to agree on all issues with my colleagues in publishing.  For heaven's sake, Lynn and I just celebrated our 15th wedding anniversary -- I know about having disagreements with people that you care about.  

Lorri and Paul made a very compelling case for how much can be improved for patients when the people involved in patient care -- including the patients themselves -- are part of a broad conversation that exists in an atmosphere of trust.  They also pointed out that creating that atmosphere is something that takes time, patience, hard work and a willingness to listen and to challenge one's own mental models.  Those of us who care about the future of scholarly communication can achieve a great deal as well, but we have to have that same willingness.

 

 


Chicago Collaborative Rules of Engagement

It occurred to me while Liz and I were meeting with our Elsevier reps the other day that part of the reason that my perspective on publishers and publishing is so different from so many of my colleagues is that while I spend far more time with publishers than most librarians, almost none of that time is spent with sales & marketing people.   When Steven Bell, who writes prolifically about library matters had the opportunity to spend some extended time with publisher representatives, the encounter surprised him.  But, as he says, "My interaction with scholarly publishers has consisted primarily of short conversations at library conference booths."  This really has to change.

The Chicago Collaborative (CC) was designed to foster the kinds of conversations that can surprise both librarians and publishers when we sit down to talk about the issues that we have in common and quit thinking of each other primarily as buyers and sellers.  And in the five meetings that we've had so far, it's been extremely successful at that.  At the end of each day there's been a palpably giddy sense in the room.  We're all learning so much and there is a growing sense of how much we can accomplish when we work together, rather than being at odds.

But up to now, the library community has been represented exclusively by members of the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries (AAHSL).  (All of us are members of MLA and some of us are members of ALA or come from ARL institutions, but with the CC we're there as AAHSL reps.)  I've been pretty insistent all along that eventually this needs to expand.  The issues that we're trying to address are of concern to all librarians, not just those with a biomedical focus.

All the same, we all feel protective of our fledgling unorganization.  The adversarial approach that has been adopted by the OA advocacy groups has generated a great deal of mistrust in the community.  Too many librarians have an image of publishers as mercenary fat cats determined to "lock-up" scholarship, and too many publishers have come to believe that librarians would just as soon put them all out of business.  But when the CC meets, we have to put those notions aside, and work with each other in good faith, as people who are fundamentally dedicated to improving scholarly communication for everyone.

So we've drafted what we're calling the Rules of Engagement -- a set of principles that govern how we approach our discussions.  The rules refer to the Chatham House Rule (which I learned about when I joined the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable) and are designed to establish a baseline for candid conversations based on the idea that we are not there to push specific agendas, but to learn from each other and to work with each other.

It's a tall order -- we're trying to change the nature of the conversation that librarians and publishers and editors and scholars have.  But I remind myself that the CC is only a little over two years old and I think we're making progress.  I'm impatient because I feel that we (and by "we" I mean all of those in the scholarly communication community who care about making the most of the opportunities the digital age presents us) have wasted far too much time. 

Open access week is coming up.  Here's what I wish librarians would do -- if you really care about advancing the openness of scholarship, make a commitment to go to at least one publishers conference or meeting in the next year.  Introduce yourself to somebody other than your sales rep.  Go have a cup of coffee or a drink.  Ask them about what they see as the future of scholarly publishing.  And then listen.


Taxpayers and Peer Review

One of the most effective soundbites in the public access debates around FRPAA is that taxpayers ought to have ready, easy and immediate access to the results of the research that they’ve paid for.   Seems to be obviously true.

It quickly gets muddy, however, because most people who follow the OA orthodoxy intend it to mean that taxpayers ought to have ready, easy and immediate access to the peer-reviewed articles reporting the results of that research.  After all, the argument goes, they’ve already paid for it, and the subscription system forces them to pay twice! When publishers object that what’s been paid for is the doing of the research, but that taxpayers have not actually paid for the peer review and publication of those articles, they are typically shouted down with the claim that since all of the key elements of peer review and publication are either done for free or are simple anyway, the publishers really don’t add any value and so have no claim to compensation.

And yet, there doesn’t seem to be any outcry at the notion of paying PLoS (or any other publication-fee based OA publisher) a considerable sum of (usually) taxpayer money to perform those same tasks.  If it’s double-dipping to pay Wiley-Blackwell a subscription fee to get access to the peer-reviewed published articles, why isn’t it double-dipping to pay PLoS or Biomed Central?  Aren’t we still making the taxpayer pay twice?

This is no criticism of PLoS – I’m just looking for some consistency in how we judge these things.  PLoS has proven that a publication-fee based top notch journal can be successfully produced in certain well-funded disciplines.  And I’ve always been persuaded by the logic that says that since peer-reviewed publication is just the final step of a research project, it ought to be funded in the same way that all the rest of the costs of the project are.  That’s the justification for using grant funds to pay the fee.  And that explicitly makes the case that whatever it is that the taxpayers have paid for in doing the research, they have NOT paid for the peer review and publication.

But this also points to the weirdly ambiguous way in which we think about peer review and how it gets done and what its real value is.  It’s not hard to find bloggers and commenters who castigate publishers and repeat, ad nauseum, the refrain that publishers add next to nothing because most editors and peer reviewers are volunteers and who really needs that copyediting stuff anyway.  Do they feel the same way about the PLoS publication fee?  After all, PLoS makes a big deal about their vast network of peer reviewers – they have to rely on a tremendous amount of expert volunteer labor to make PLoS One the largest STM journal in the world (in terms of number of papers published).  And yet, the fact remains that even the $2,900/article fee that they charge for the flagship journals isn’t sufficient for them to break even on those journals alone.   So what are they paying for?

The same sort of sloppy thinking pervades discussions of the place of peer review in the NIH Public Access Policy.  On the one hand, it’s apparent that peer review is tremendously valued – NIH doesn’t want any papers deposited unless they’ve been peer reviewed.  And the expectation is that it is the publishers that perform that task.  So the Policy requires that publishers perform what is clearly considered to be an essential service – but then says there isn’t any need to compensate the publishers for that service, because it’s all done by volunteer labor anyway and isn’t nearly the kind of value-add that the publishers claim it is.

You can’t have it both ways.

NIH could have set up their own peer review mechanism.  After all, if the labor is all volunteer, and the publishers don’t really add anything of value to the process, why deal with them at all?  How hard can it be?  Indeed, in the original E-Biomed proposal that Varmus floated over a decade ago, he envisioned a peer review mechanism at NIH that would enable investigators to send their papers directly, without going through journals.  By the time E-Biomed had morphed into Pubmed Central, that idea had been dropped.  But it could be revived. 

Or, we could decide that the public’s need for access to the results of the research that they’ve paid for could be met by providing access to the progress reports and final reports that grantees have to submit to the funding agency.  Would that be enough?

But the proponents of open access clearly believe that it is not enough.  They want public access to the peer reviewed results of federally-funded research.  And they want that peer review to be facilitated by the publishers.  And they grind their teeth over having to pay a subscription fee to some publishers to fund that peer review process, but they happily pay a publication fee to OA publishers.

It’s the open access result that justifies paying the fee, not the fact that “taxpayers have already paid for it”.  If it’s not legitimate to pay a subscription fee to a publisher in order for them to handle peer review and publication, then it shouldn’t be legitimate to pay a publication fee, if the argument is that the taxpayers have already paid for it.

A logical argument could be:  In order to provide public access to the peer reviewed results of federally-funded research, taxpayers should pay an additional sum in order for those results to be published open access.  (Stuart Shieber’s “Equity for Open Access Journal Publishing” is a quite elegant proposal along these lines that should have gotten more attention and discussion than it did.)   You could argue that this is a more effective way of providing taxpayer funds for the peer review & publication processes, because then all taxpayers have access, rather than just those who can get through the subscription hurdles.  As an added benefit, you’d be insuring that the version that the public gets access to is the final, stewarded, version-of-record. 

But then you’d have to give up shouting indignantly that under the current system “the taxpayer is forced to pay twice!”  And what fun would that be?


MLA/AAHSL & America COMPETES

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.