Curtain opens for CHORUS dress rehearsal

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4 November 2013

CHORUS logoThe October 4 issue of Science magazine dedicated its cover story and a special section to “Communication in Science,” with a particular emphasis on how the important business of peer-reviewed scholarly publications is evolving under the pressure for wider access to both publications and data, particularly when researchers are supported by public funding. The issue appeared just as publishers from around the world gathered for the annual Frankfurt Book Fair, a major industry event and the chosen venue for the official launch of the publishing community’s broad-based solution for providing such access: CHORUS.

The Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States (CHORUS) is a collaboration initiated by a group of scholarly publishers from the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the American Association of Publishers. As announced at Frankfurt, CHORUS has formally incorporated as a nonprofit organization to provide public access to articles that report on federally funded research.

At the Frankfurt Book Fair, CHORUS organizers formally introduced and demonstrated the CHORUS pilot project, developed with the help of seven participating publishers (including AIP, APS, IEEE, ACS, OUP, Wiley, and Elsevier) and the CrossRef organization. CrossRef provides essential services to the international publishing and library communities. Briefly, CHORUS provides public access to publications that are identified as reporting on federally funded research through CrossRef's new FundRef service, which went live this past May. Anyone interested in a particular article (that can be identified through a sort by funding agency, subject matter, or any other standard search term) is directed to a free, public, full-text version of the article residing on the publisher's platform, which hosts and permanently stewards the chosen article.

The CHORUS collaboration invites all interested parties to learn more about the project at www.chorusaccess.org and to view and investigate the pilot demonstrations at http://search.chorusaccess.org and http://dashboard.chorusaccess.org/usdoe/#.

The pilot will run through the end of the year; essential feedback will be evaluated and folded into the development of a full production system in 2014. The publishing community is developing CHORUS as a public service to all stakeholders: funding agencies, the academic community, and the interested public. It is being offered to the government agencies at no cost, allowing them to maintain their focus on funding research and research management. Publishers are willing to shoulder the cost of CHORUS because it relies largely on existing infrastructure built up by the publishing industry through years of collaboration. The largest and most well known of these collaborations is CrossRef, an initiative designed precisely for promoting standards for identifying and interlinking scholarly publications. The CrossRef database comprises more than 63 million online publications and related objects, contributed by more than 4300 publishers and directly linked to more than 2000 libraries.

Why are publishers willing to underwrite the additional costs required to develop CHORUS? Because it is the most pragmatic and least costly public access solution that can be widely adopted. CHORUS provides free access to content that is produced and supported via two basic publishing models: author-paid and (usually library-paid) traditional subscriptions. With the former, a publication's costs are paid upfront by the author or the author's sponsor, and full access is granted upon publication to all; CHORUS will provide links to this content. With the latter, CHORUS will grant full access after an embargo period imposed by the funding agencies. With proper design, the embargoes are long enough for publishers to recover publication costs and for libraries to refrain from cancelling their subscriptions. Controversy persists about the length of such embargo periods. Since 2008, the NIH has imposed a 12-month embargo for NIH-funded research works, largely biomedical in nature. However, the publishing community has argued that biomedicine is a well-funded, fast-moving field of scholarship; other fields cannot conform easily to a single embargo period.

This mixed economic model, author-paid instant open access and library-paid embargoed access, is the grand economic bargain that must be in place for CHORUS or any other public access solution to be sustainable.

CHORUS organizers are giving a full array of briefings to US funding agencies, publishers, library associations, and research administrators to promote the initiative. We aim to demonstrate that CHORUS and other proposed access solutions (such as the university-led SHARE proposal) have common elements such as universal identifiers and demonstrated methods of long-term preservation of electronic documents. We invite all interested parties to explore the CHORUS pilot demonstration and send us your feedback.

In the interest of full disclosure, I note that I have devoted a significant fraction of my time to the CHORUS project since the groundwork was laid in February. I perform this commitment because I sincerely believe that the project will solve the public access issue, and allow each segment of the scholarly research triangle—funders, researchers, and publishers—to concentrate on the crux of their business.