The Association of American Publishers (AAP) has put forward its bid for a coalition of publishers to handle many of the requirements outlined in the recent Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memo requiring open access to federally funded research, in the form of the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS). The publishers are in discussions with OSTP, the funding agencies, universities and research library communities (as are other proposed solutions by other stakeholders, not yet announced). CHORUS plans to “work out the system architecture and technical specifications over the summer and have an initial proof of concept completed by August 30.”
Publishers have offered to cover the costs for implementing CHORUS, but Joseph W. Serene, Treasurer/Publisher of the American Physical Society (APS), doesn’t think that will be a heavy burden. He told LJ, “most of the things that are on [the memo’s list of requirements], we can provide at very little marginal expense.”
Metadata nonprofit CrossRef and its newly launched FundRef service, which ties published papers to the grants that fund them, would provide the infrastructure or “back-end”, Ed Pentz, Executive Director of CrossRef, told LJ. Given that the publishers were already planning to include FundRef information and participating in dark archives such as CLOCKSS, LOCKSS, and PORTICO, “making a version of the paper available to the public, that’s almost a software triviality,” Serene said. Similarly, building an integrated interface and APIs are tasks publishers have much experience with.
CHORUS is billed as a substantial savings of time and trouble for agencies, since it would build on publishers’ existing infrastructure. (A major concern of publishers, since as Serene told LJ, “Money they spend on this they’re not going to be spending on funding research. The APS is very concerned about the money available to fund research; even our commercial partners are concerned because that is ultimately what funds their business.”) Other advantages to publishers include minimizing their compliance costs and allowing them to track data about article usage.
Serene also pointed to preventing variant versions, tracking errata, and drawing readers’ eyes to the publishers’ platforms, where they may decide to take advantage of other resources, as motivations for APS’s participation.
As outlined, CHORUS does not yet address the data or text mining portions of the memo. On data, Serene said “that’s not what CHORUS is about, CHORUS is about the publication side, though we’re certainly open to the intersection of that as it becomes clearer.” Pentz told LJ that FundRef “is just for publications, but the same principle can apply to data sets. There’s definitely plans to replicate this for data as well.”
Text mining, however, Serene did view as within CHORUS’ purview and, indeed, mission: “That’s part of what’s going on with the project: to try and do this in an effective and properly controlled way,” he said.
However, others in the scholarly community have raised more sinister ideas as possible motivations. “Given that the AAP clearly thinks that public access policies are bad for their businesses, they would have a strong incentive to make their implementation of a public access policy as difficult to use and as functionless as possible in order to drive down usage and make the policies appear to be a failure,” PLOS co-founder Michael Eisen wrote.
The pseudonymous Library Loon speculated that the publishers are looking ahead to a less-OA-friendly moment to roll back the OSTP’s decision, while in the meantime minimizing its impact. “Infrastructure that publishers control is vastly easier to re-enclose,” the blogger said. “Re-enclosure of formerly open-access journals is a known, already-seen strategy… A slyer and less-easily-fought tactic, however, is what Eschenfelder and Benton call ‘soft technological protection measures.’ ‘Soft TPM’ in their parlance means deliberately heightening user annoyance, such penny-ante irritants as disabling printing and downloading, using lousy search algorithms, turning away web search engines, and so on. The aim, of course, is making the open-access materials a poorer substitute for what libraries buy.”
What would CHORUS mean for libraries?
The short answer is, no one knows yet what CHORUS would mean for libraries if adopted. Rebecca Kennison, director of Columbia University’s Center for Digital Research and Scholarship, told LJ: “In reply to the comments on the Scholarly Kitchen posting by Kent Anderson, Thane Kerner of Silverchair says that ‘several university and library organizations’ have been consulted by the CHORUS Steering Committee. Those organizations are not listed, so it is hard to know who were included in those initial discussions and what role they played. I think the comments in response to that posting concerning libraries raise interesting questions that remain (at least as of this [Wednesday] evening) unanswered by the CHORUS Steering Committee. It remains unclear what role, if any, CHORUS would see libraries playing in the solution they are proposing.”
Kennison also raised concerns that “CHORUS addresses well the publisher piece of the infrastructure, but ignores almost entirely the rest of the research ecosystem. A solution that takes into account the entire research life cycle would optimally provide possibilities for collective stakeholder collaborations that would include librarians, who understand well the needs and demands of controlled vocabularies, authority records, complex reporting systems, and so on, as well as Offices of Research (including sponsored projects administrators and compliance officers), PIs, departmental assistants, and others actively engaged daily in the research process.”
In addition to their traditional role, Kennison points out that libraries are increasingly publishers as well, and that their publications may not be a good fit for the CHORUS model. “The CHORUS workflow assumes all publishers operate like large publishers do, in particular that they all use online journal content management systems that generate structured XML that could be fed into FundRef, that they all produce full-text XML that could be deposited into Portico/LOCKSS, and that they are all members of CrossRef. Many societies that publish independently and many library-based publishing operations (a rapidly growing group) may not operate in this way and may not be able to do so…It seems less clear how such groups might participate in the proposed clearinghouse solution outside of the workflow outlined by CHORUS.”