Q&A: Susan King on CHORUS proposal for public access to research
Publishers have proposed a system to meet White House OSTP requirements that articles reporting on federally funded research be made freely available
By Alison Bert, Editor-in-Chief Posted on 20 June 2013
Dr. Susan King is a member of the CHORUS Steering Committee, Senior VP of Journals Publishing Group of the American Chemical Society and chair of the Executive Council of the Association of American Publishers Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division. Her 20 years in publishing also include positions at John Wiley & Sons and Academic Press. She has a PhD in immunology from the University of Glasgow in Scotland, and she did her postdoc at St. George's Hospital Medical School in London before making the move to publishing.
In February, the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) released a memo directing each US funding agency with over $100 million in annual research expenditure to develop a plan to support public access to the results of research funded by the federal government, including results published in scholarly journals.
Elsevier supported this initiative as a "constructive plan toward open-access" that has "opened the door to what we believe will be constructive discussions with US federal funding agencies," in the words of Dr. Alicia Wise, Director of Universal Access for Elsevier.
Since then, many STM publishers, including Elsevier, worked together to come up with a plan they say will provide that access in the most effective and efficient manner while saving the government – and taxpayers – money. The proposal, called the ClearingHouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS) , is a framework for a public-private partnership to increase public access to peer-reviewed publications that report on federally-funded research.
More than 60 publishers, including Elsevier, are signatories.
The proposal is intended for wider discussion and participation, and those involved plan to adapt is as they get more feedback from stakeholders. Publishers are in discussions with OSTP, the funding agencies, universities and research library communities. They plan to develop the system architecture and technical specifications over the summer and complete the initial proof of concept by August 30.
Since the announcement of CHORUS earlier this month, there has been much discussion about it, pro and con, in the media and blogosphere, including questions raised by critics of the plan.
In this interview, Dr. Susan King, Chair of the CHORUS Steering Committee, talks about the proposal and how it would work.[divider]
Q: How would CHORUS fulfill the mission of the OSTP memo?
A: CHORUS would provide public access in the way outlined in the OSTP memo in a very cost-effective manner. The OSTP memo certainly recognizes the valued services publishers provide and the need to continue those services.
In fostering public-private partnerships with scientific journals relevant to the agency's research, as the memo specifies, I do think OSTP is recognizing that there are skills and expertise and infrastructure that the publishing sector can provide in ways that would not create a funding burden on the government to duplicate that effort and divert the agency's research funds from funding research. This is important because OSTP's memo also calls for identification of resources within the existing agency budget to implement the plan.
Likewise CHORUS positions publishers to do what we do well: to leverage those infrastructures we've already built to provide public access to the articles in context — in the journals in which they're published.
So in providing public access, what we're seeking to do with CHORUS is do it in a sustainable fashion for the publishers involved and at no cost for the agencies involved.
CHORUS will help institutions identify and discover articles reporting on federally funded research. Publishers already interact with those authors … and in minimizing the compliance costs to universities and agencies; we're allowing all involved to focus on their research missions rather than on developing and expanding redundant infrastructure.
At the end of the day, CHORUS seeks to protect the limited research funding that's available by eliminating the need for duplicating infrastructure.
Q: Can you talk more about this infrastructure?
A: A key thing (in meeting OSTP requirements) is to make sure articles that report on federally-funded research are easily identifiable. And that will require the publisher to capture that funding information from authors in a standardized and robust way. Some publishers already capture and tag funding information, and CHORUS – by using the recently launched FundRef initiative – will accelerate the number of publishers doing this in a standardized fashion.
One of the things we all realize is that's it's a struggle to identify which publishers are publishing articles that report on research funded by a particular agency. I know that the DOE (Department of Energy) put a great deal of effort into trying to understand where their grant recipients were publishing, and I think it was really challenging for them. This was one of the motivations for them to participate in the initial FundRef pilot with NSF (the National Science Foundation) and NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), who were in the pilot along with publishers.
When publishers include FundRef data in their articles, it will allow linking of public-access versions of the full-text articles discoverable via CHORUS to related data, reports and content in repositories like PubMed Central, other agencies' repositories, institutional repositories, and the systems that federal agencies and the universities where those researchers work have in place to track the outcome and spend of federal grants.
Q: That's a lot of interfacing with other repositories. Is CHORUS going to be technically doable in the short amount of time you have? Some critics have said this may cost way more than you expect.
A: In terms of the interfacing requirements, publishers' platforms already interface with many repositories, PubMed Central being a prime example, and they also deposit (metadata and DOIs) with CrossRef.
Also, we would be leveraging the CrossRef infrastructure. There are already about 27,000 journals covered by CrossRef, so we're pretty confident that we can quickly get a high level of compliance with CHORUS — as high as if not higher than the level of compliance that PubMed Central has managed to achieve.
So I see this as really being an extension and a benefit of the distributed systems that publishers already have in place. I do not see it being that much of a challenge.
As for the cost, we are actively seeking feedback from agencies as to their requirements because that will help us in building a better proof of concept, which we are on board for delivering later this summer. We want to really make sure we understand what they're looking for and that CHORUS can deliver it, and that will give us a better idea of the costs involved.
But I do think that at least 80 percent of the required infrastructure already exists and is already interfacing with other platforms and services, so I do think this is doable. I think the number of publishers who have joined CHORUS quickly – our ranks are have grown to over 60 publishers, both large commercial houses and scholarly societies — speaks to the fact that publishers recognize that this is achievable and it's something they can conceive of doing.
Q: What's in it for publishers? Why are they willing to invest in CHORUS?
A: We recognize that readership of a journal declines when content in a journal is available from other sources. Phil Davis writes about this study in Scholarly Kitchen. So publishers are doing this to ensure that they have traffic coming to their sites, that their business models are sustainable, and that they're providing readers with public access to that article in the journal in which it was published.
It's about letting publishers do what they do well and providing public access to the articles in context.
Q: What is the advantage of people viewing content on the publisher's website as opposed to elsewhere, like on PubMed Central?
A: CHORUS is not an alternative to PubMed Central but complements it. It's about providing public access to an article in the context of the journal it's associated with — with related reading or artifacts that are associated with that article. More and more, I think we're seeing different media being used – for example video interviews with authors – to give further insight into an article.
Also, publishers are continually investing in technologies and formats that make their content richer and more searchable and interconnected with related articles and data. When people read an article on the publisher's website, they have access to these tools.
Q: Some people have suggested that this arrangement is a conflict of interest – which publishers stand to gain from if the system does not work optimally to provide free access to articles they would rather be charging for.
A: Well, first and foremost, the mission of scholarly publishers is to disseminate knowledge, so the advancement of public access definitely aligns with that mission.
Beyond that, authors are the lifeblood of any publisher. Regardless of their business model, whether it's gold open access or subscription-based, publishers want to attract authors, and having their articles be publically accessible will be a requirement for authors when they receive federal funding for their research. It behooves publishers to make these articles publically accessible because they want to carry on publishing articles by those authors.
Q: There is also the issue of PubMed Central. It's already there and working smoothly. So are publishers really saving the government, and taxpayers, money by creating their own solution?
A: Oh I think we are. There certainly are running costs in maintaining PubMed Central, in ingesting content in a wide array of formats from different publishers, and expanding that would further increase the costs. Working together, there are more cost-effective ways to tackle some of these shared challenges. PubMed Central and the NIH (National Institutes of Health) serve the life sciences. Other approaches may better suit other disciplines.
Q: What are some of the costs associated with PubMed Central?
A: There are two ways for authors who receive funding from the NIH to comply with their public access requirements. The first is the Gold Open Access approach, where publishers deposit the full text of the final published article in PubMed Central. The other way, which I think is more frequently used, certainly at ACS, is the deposit of accepted manuscripts into PubMed Central. PubMed Central then takes those accepted manuscripts and converts into XML to display them on PubMed Central.
So we've got this redundant effort going on here. To a certain extent, PubMed Central is replicating that part of the publishing process. And indeed it's my understanding that authors are required to recheck the XML that NIH creates when they convert the accepted manuscripts. So there is both the cost for the conversion and the cost, if you will, of burdening the researcher to reproof that content.
Q: In your podcast for Scholarly Kitchen, you mentioned that agencies would be able to pull metadata from CHORUS with customized APIs they develop so they could link to their own platforms and repositories. Is that going to be a major effort for these agencies?
A: It's true, different agencies do have differences in their web presence for the general public. CHORUS is certainly willing to work with agencies to develop their shop front and to expand on any existing shop front.
Q: How are you going to work out the payment structure for CHORUS? There are obviously a lot of large publishers on board. Would small publishers pay less?
A: We're certainly in the early days of scoping out the organizational and operational structure of CHORUS. I do believe that we have now, with the launch of FundRef, 80 percent of infrastructure there, and indeed, participation in FundRef comes at no additional charge for a CrossRef partner.
You're right that there will be additional costs, and that is something that we will need to scope out as we move forward. There are good examples out there, obviously CrossRef and FundRef. ORCID is another example of a not-for-profit organizational solution that runs with support from publishers. So we're looking at existing successful models and seeing how they could apply to CHORUS.
Q: Where are you in talks with OSTP and the funding agencies?
A: We've had conversations with OSTP, but in terms of specifics, we certainly welcome more input from agencies. In terms of the discussions we've had, archiving and preservation is something that is a requirement of the OSTP memo. Here, CHORUS can also leverage existing infrastructure through the archiving and preservation solutions that libraries and academic institutions have developed, such as perhaps Portico and CLOCKSS.
So we're working on addressing this need. And certainly we welcome more feedback from the agencies in better understanding how we can refine CHORUS to meet their needs as they craft their plans to meet the OSTP requirements.
As we reach out and get more feedback from the stakeholders and agencies, I can see CHORUS developing and being refined further.
Q: You're obviously passionate about these plans. What's driving your passion?
A: Clearly the US is a major, major source of published research. Frankly it's one of the reasons I moved from the UK to work in the US. I was a publisher, and I wanted to go where the action was. The US represented the largest pool of authors and publishers, and so much of that content is authored by those that receive funding from the US government.
But clearly China is a major player now in R&D, so I do think it behooves us to make sure that the research funds that are available to us here in the US do go towards supporting research and not to building redundant infrastructure and systems, which may face challenges in getting to the level of compliance that we believe is easily attainable through CHORUS.
- CHORUS information from the Association of American Publishers: publishers.org/press/107/
- OSTP memo: whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/microsites/ostp/ostp_public_access_memo_2013.pdf
- Elsevier's response to the OSTP memo: elsevierconnect.com/white-house-ostp-memo-plots-course-for-open-access/
- The Scholarly Kitchen post on CHORUS: scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2013/06/04/joining-a-chorus-publishers-offer-the-ostp-a-proactive-modern-and-cost-saving-public-access-solution/
- The Scholarly Kitchen podcast of Susan King: scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2013/06/04/scholarly-kitchen-podcast-susan-king-on-chorus/
- Elsevier Connect article on FedRef: elsevierconnect.com/new-fundref-initiative-makes-rd-investments-more-transparent/
- Phil Davis's article about how PubMed Central reduces traffic on publishers' websites: scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2013/04/04/pubmed-central-reduces-publisher-traffic-study-shows/
Alison Bert (@AlisonBert) is Editor-in-Chief of Elsevier Connect. She joined Elsevier five years ago from the world of journalism, where she was a business reporter and blogger for The Journal News, a Gannett daily newspaper in New York. In the previous century, she was a classical guitarist on the music faculty of Syracuse University. She holds a doctorate in music from the University of Arizona, was a Fulbright scholar in Spain and performed in the 1986 international master class of Andrés Segovia.