National Science Board Task Force on Data Policies Discusses Public Access

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Publication date: 
22 December 2010

As  part of a larger review of the federal government’s data policies, the National  Science Board heard from three speakers at a meeting earlier this month about  issues relating to public access to research results.  Reflecting other discussions on this matter,  there was consensus that increasing the public’s access to research results is  desirable, but a range of opinion on how best to accomplish it.

The  National Science Board established a Task Force on Data Policies under its  Committee on Strategy and Budget in early February.  Characterizing “the broad policy issues  surrounding the management of scientific and engineering research data” as  “critically important,” the Task Force was charged with “further defining the  issues and outlining possible options to make the use of data more effective in  meeting NSF’s [National Science Foundation] mission.”  The Task Force is chaired by Jose-Marie  Griffiths of Bryant University.  A  description of the Task Force activities, its members, a wide-ranging list of  “possible data policy issues,” and a schedule calling for the drafting of a  final report between February and May 2011 is available here

The  first speaker was John Vaughn, Executive Vice President of the American  Association of Universities.  Vaughn was  the chairman of the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable   which produced a report on public access to scholarly publications for the  House Science and Technology Committee.  The  committee hoped that this roundtable would be able to find consensus in the  issues surrounding public access despite what Vaughn characterized as decades  of conflict.  The Roundtable’s participants  were drawn from scientific publishers, librarians, library scientists, and the  academic community.  Among them was Fred  Dylla, the Executive Director and CEO of the American Institute of  Physics. 

Vaughn  summarized the recommendations of the 31-page final report by the Roundtable  that was issued in January.  The  Roundtable developed a set of five shared principles, eight recommendations,  and a core recommendation, which is as follows:

“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.”

Vaughn  explained that all but two of the eight Roundtable participants endorsed the  report.  Reaction from the wider  community was split.  Science Committee  Chairman Bart Gordon (D-TN) was pleased with the report, Vaughn told the Board.  He said that the Office of Science and  Technology Policy also reviewed questions surrounding public access.

Vaughn noted that there are notable examples where scientific  publications are contributing to the outstanding problems with data management  such as interoperability and archiving. He noted that many online journals  allow authors to embed data sets behind figures or tables or as appended  supplementary data. In addition, he observed that there are a class of journals  that are dedicated to publishing extended data sets.

In  concluding his presentation, Vaughn said the Board would be an ideal forum for continuing  the discussion of the issues and plan implementation on public access.

The  second presentation was by David Lipman of the National Library of  Medicine.  Lipman discussed the eleven  years of experience that the National Institutes of Health has had in developing  public access mechanisms.  A voluntary  effort initiated in 2005 as a result of a congressional directive had little  compliance.  In 2008, a mandatory  requirement was instituted that has resulted in a 70 percent compliance rate  involving 660 journals.  As a result of  this program, NIH knows how much it costs and how long it takes for there to be  public access to a research journal article.   Lipman was enthusiastic about the NIH program, telling the Board that  “publications are doing fine,” and later saying the NIH public access mandate had  “no major impact” on publishers.

The  third speaker was Bernard Schutz of the Max Planck Institute, who appeared via  a video link.  He discussed the Berlin  Declaration that defines and encourages an open access business model for  publications, which now has 294 institutional signatories.  He explained that the Max Planck Society has  “strong support for all forms of open access” because it increases the public  visibility of research and enables comprehensive searches.  Cooperation will be required to convert to  open access, Schutz told the Board, declaring that “science will not benefit if  prestige journals fail . . . they play a key role in science.”  Regarding the economics of a conversion to open  access, Schutz declared “funders will be the only source of money for paying  the article charges.”  Saying that  funding organizations can achieve public access by defining the need for it in  their policies, Schutz said “the ball is in the funders’ court.”  Concluding his presentation, he told the  Board, “NSF could make a big impact by deciding if open access was a public  good and by taking steps to foster it.”

Following  the presentation, Board members asked about the impacts open access would have on  scholarly journals and scientific journals, on funding organizations, and on  professional societies.  There was also  discussion about all of the costs involved in publishing an article, and  differences in opinion that researchers in various fields have about publishing  platforms.  In concluding the meeting,  committee chair Griffiths spoke of ideological, economic, behavioral, and other  factors surrounding public access, saying it was a “perfect time” to consider  the issues that were involved.