NSF releases its public access plan

On March 18, a long-awaited announcement came from the National Science Foundation on its plan for making the results of NSF-funded research more accessible to the general public. NSF released a 31-page report which presents in some detail how the agency is responding to the directive given to all major US funding agencies two years ago by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Almost every scientific society, especially those engaged in scholarly publishing, is keenly interested in how the OSTP directive will play out in enacted agency policies.

At its base, the report outlines NSF plans to require that all funded authors provide free access to articles and data related to federally funded research after a delay. (NSF has chosen an embargo period of 12 months to start from, subject to petition from stakeholders). In its many details, the report suggests that a distributed system may best help NSF serve the disparate disciplines it funds.


Recall that the OSTP directive mandated funding agencies to develop tangible plans for making scholarly publications and data resulting from agency funding available to the public after some reasonable period, and that scholarly publishers responded by developing one possible public access solution—CHORUS—to assist US federal agencies in meeting the OSTP requirements. Two years after its formation, CHORUS is tracking over 74,000 articles tagged to US agency funding, and (following embargo requirements) publisher members of CHORUS are already making 24,000 of these manuscripts free to read by the public in the context of the associated journal’s online platform.

The development of the CHORUS project took many months, and the process was guided by helpful discussions with many of the US federal agencies. Two agencies, DOE and NSF, have been particularly helpful in communicating their needs and how they might be addressed by an offering like CHORUS, which takes full advantage of existing infrastructure in the publishing community and is working with all stakeholders—agencies, authors, their research institutions—to minimize the cost and burden of putting new systems in place.

My CHORUS colleagues were pleased when DOE announced its public access plan last August, and we noted that they planned to use CHORUS as a means of linking out to journal articles from its new public access portal called PAGES. Our partnership with DOE remains very productive and mutually beneficial as CHORUS matures and the DOE public access plan moves into its first year of implementation, starting with agency grants that were initiated last October.

The linkage between the DOE and CHORUS efforts in public access is symbiotic, as both PAGES and CHORUS are distributed systems relying on shared identification data (metadata) from the CrossRef organization. This identification data becomes available to the public as soon as a journal article is published, with links to the best available version of the articles on the publisher sites.

NSF has devoted a considerable effort to developing their public access plan and the associated implementation timeline that initiates with grants starting in January 2016. It is a mark of achievement for CHORUS that, after such deliberation, NSF decided to use an NSF-branded version of DOE’s PAGES interface, supported by CHORUS infrastructure, to enable public access:

 “In the initial implementation, NSF will work with DOE to enable NSF-funded investigators to make their articles (either the final accepted version or the version of record) publicly available in a repository that meets the criteria set forth in the OSTP memorandum of February 22, 2013.”

Specifically, the agency plan notes it will be exploring partnerships with organizations such as CHORUS that will allow the agency to minimize:

“unnecessary duplication of submission and the associated burden of on the awardees and investigators, or the risk of [linkage] to multiple and inconsistent versions.

My colleagues at CHORUS welcome these discussions and the opportunity to work closely with NSF, as we have valued our two-year collaboration with DOE during their development of the PAGES public access system. As noted in the quote above, the ultimate goal is to minimize the disruption to researchers and the research communication system.

Shortly after the NSF plan’s public unveiling last week, I was asked to comment on the plan by Jocelyn Kaiser, a reporter from the news department at Science magazine. See the Science website to read the article, “NSF Unveils Plan to Make Scientific Papers Free.”