News blog

US Department of Energy frees up access to research

The US Department of Energy (DOE) has revealed today how papers from research it funds will become free to read, making it the first federal agency to respond to new standards for open access and data-sharing ordered by the White House 18 months ago.

The plans mean the DOE will be releasing up to 30,000 papers annually from behind paywalls, although the directive from the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) says that papers need not be made free until a year after publication. The plans come a week after the DOE’s announcement that its researchers should openly share the data from papers they publish.

Open-access advocates have welcomed the plan but say that it is vague and disappointing on some key points. For example, it seems that ‘free’ manuscripts may not be legally open to bulk downloading, re-distribution and re-use for creative purposes such as text mining, even though the OSTP directive had hinted otherwise.

“The DOE’s plan takes steps towards achieving the goals of the directive, but falls short in some key areas,” says Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) in Washington DC. “We don’t want to end up in a ‘read-only’ world of US science articles,” she adds.

Decentralized access

Much of the debate following the White House order had centred on whether agencies would create online stores of their free papers, or would link out to free papers elsewhere. The US National Institutes of Health (NIH), the only other federal agency with a public-access policy, had created the popular PubMed Central (PMC), a store of free-to-read manuscripts. But publishers argued this repository was taking away their online hits, and instead launched their own effort, called CHORUS, by which they proposed to make the final published version (or ‘version of record’) of US government-funded papers free at their own websites.

The DOE has decided not to copy the NIH, but is instead linking out to free papers from a centralized web-portal called PAGES, which goes live today. The agency wants two versions of a paper to be freely accessible; it is working with CHORUS so that the version of record will be free on publishers’ websites, but it also wants its researchers to archive copies of accepted manuscripts in online repositories. Exactly when the DOE’s researchers will have to upload their manuscripts online isn’t immediately clear, however.

The DOE will link out to these papers from its PAGES portal 12 months after publication, says Brian Hitson, from the agency’s Office of Scientific and Technical Information, with the aim of linking to the publisher’s version of record when it is available. The agency will also gather the accepted manuscripts together to create a ‘dark archive’  that it can release should publishers’ websites or repositories go down. Hitson said that the agency didn’t yet know whether it might place sanctions on researchers who didn’t comply with its manuscript archiving policy, as the NIH is beginning to do.

Roilings over ‘re-use’

Open-access advocates said the agency is ducking one of the most contentious and poorly-defined issues in the OSTP directive: while the papers will be free to read, the DOE is not making them open to re-use beyond existing ‘fair use’ policies in US copyright law. Under the DOE’s plans it isn’t clear whether the public can legally download ‘free’ manuscripts in bulk, redistribute them online, translate or content-mine their text, or otherwise mash up the text to create new works.

For some open-access advocates that is disappointing, because the OSTP directive called on agencies to “maximize the potential for…creative reuse to enhance value to all stakeholders”, says Peter Suber, director of the Harvard Office for Scholarly Communication in Cambridge, Massachusetts. That key phrase had even seemed to go beyond the NIH’s public-access policy since most papers at PubMed Central are not available to bulk download and text mine. Suber and others had hoped that the call for ‘creative re-use’ might lead federal agencies to announce open-licensing standards of the kind supported by the UK Wellcome Trust.

While the DOE doesn’t have legal authority to impose open-licensing standards on the publisher’s final version of a paper, it does have the right to redistribute DOE researchers’ accepted manuscripts for “federal purposes”, under what is called a Federal Purpose License. According to Suber, the DOE also has the right to authorize anyone else to do so.

But Hitson says: “DOE is not proposing that ‘federal purposes’ include giving the public broad authority to mass redistribute accepted manuscripts.” He adds that the White House directive instructed agencies to balance the services of publishers with the need for broad public access. “Rather than issue a blanket reuse license that may be subject to misinterpretation or even misuse, the [US] doctrine of ‘fair use’ gives the public substantial benefits in harmony with OSTP guidance,” he says.

Meanwhile, publishers say that the final version of papers made free on their websites will be available to read, download (individually) and analyse, just as the White House had required. The ability to text mine papers is also built into CHORUS, says Susan King, a member of its steering committee. SPARC’s Joseph says that she is nevertheless worried that “terms and conditions of use may be restricted” for articles on publishers’ websites.

Last week, the DOE also announced that from 1 October, researchers applying for funding will have to include a plan detailing how they will manage their data. All research data displayed in publications should be “open, machine-readable, and digitally accessible to the public at the time of publication”, the agency says; while “the underlying digital research data used to generate the displayed data should be made as accessible as possible to the public”. The other federal agencies have yet to make their plans public, but all have been submitted in draft form to the OSTP.


  1. Report this comment

    Stevan Harnad said:

    The Importance of Requiring Institutional Deposit Immediately Upon Acceptance for Publication
    A peer-reviewed journal article is either accessible to all its potential users or it is not accessible to all its potential users — only to those at subscribing institutions.

    Open Access (OA) is intended to make articles accessible (online) to all their potential users, not just to subscribers.

    OA comes in two forms:

    Gratis OA is when an article is accessible to all its potential users.

    Libre OA is when an article is accessible to all its potential users and all users have certain re-use rights, such as text-mining by machine, and re-publication.

    For individual researchers and for the general public the most important and urgent form of OA is Gratis OA.

    The reason Gratis OA is so important is because otherwise the research is inaccessible except to subscribers: OA maximizes research uptake, usage, applications, impact and progress.

    The reason Gratis OA is so urgent is that lost research access means lost research impact and progress. The downloads and citations of papers made OA later never catch up with those of papers made OA immediately:

    Gentil-Beccot, A., Mele, S., & Brooks, T. C. (2010). “Citing and reading behaviours in high-energy physics”: Scientometrics, 84(2), 345-355.

    The moment when a peer-reviewed is ready to be made OA is the moment when the final, peer-reviewed draft is accepted for pubication.

    Sometimes there can be delays of months before the pubisher’s version of record (VOR) is published.

    And some (a minority) of publishers have imposed embargoes of up to 12 months on authors making their articles OA.

    The delay from acceptance to publication, and the delay from publication till the end of any OA embargo all mean lost research access, uptake, usage and progress.

    DOE and OSTI have been mandated to adopt a policy that ensures that OA is provided to federally funded research — by 12 months after the date of publication at the very latest.

    This is not a mandate to adopt a policy that ensures that OA is provided at the very latest possible date.

    Yet that is what DOE has done — no doubt under the influence of publishers.

    The interests of research and hence of the public that funds it are that research should be made OA as soon as possible.

    The interests of (some of) the publishing industry are that it should be made OA as late as possible.

    The DOA has adopted a policy that serves the interests of the publishing industry rather than those of research, researchers and the tax-paying public.

    What I am saying is not that the permissible OA embargo needs to be reduced (though that would be very welcome and beneficial too!).

    What I am saying is that even within the constraints of a permissible OA embargo of 12 months at the very latest, there is a simple way to make the DOE policy much more powerful and effective, guaranteeing much more and earlier access.

    All that has to be done is to make immediate deposit of the author’s final, peer-reviewed draft, in the author’s institutional repository, mandatory immediately upon acceptance.

    Not just the metadata: the full final draft.

    If the author wishes to comply with a publisher OA embargo, the deposit need not be made OA immediately.

    Institutional repositories have an automated copy-request Button with which a user can request a single copy for research purposes, and the author can comply with the request, with just one click each.

    This is not OA, but it is almost-OA, and it is all that is needed to maximize research access, usage and progress during any permissible OA embargo.

    And besides maximizing access during any permissible OA embargo, requiring immediate institutional deposit also mobilizes institutions to monitor and ensure timely compliance with the funding agency’s requirement.

    The metadata for the deposit can be exported to the PAGES portal immediately, and then the portal, too (like google and google scholar), can immediately begin referring users back to the Button at the institution so the author can provide almost-OA with a single click until the end of any embargo.

    There is no need twhatsoever to wait either for the publisher’s VOR, nor for the end of the publisher’s embargo, nor for Libre OA re-use rights: those can come when they come.

    But immediate institutional deposit needs to be mandated immediately.

    Otherwise the DOE is needlessly squandering months and months of potential research uptake, usage and progress for federally funded research.

    Please harmonize the DOE OA policy with the corresponding EU OA policy, as well as the HEFCE OA policy in the UK, the FRS OA policy in Belgium, and a growing number of institutional OA policies the world over.

Comments are closed.