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Stanford responds to looming open-access directive



Victoria Stodden, Assistant Professor of Statistics, Columbia University, speaks at the afternoon panel discussion.

With the explosive growth in scientific publishing, access to scientific research papers and data has become an increasingly complex affair. Stanford's Forum on the Future of Scientific Publishing on June 27 brought together a diverse group of stakeholders to exchange information about open access to manuscripts and big data.

The Forum was held in response to the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) memorandum directing expanded public access to the results of government-funded research.  The February 2013 memo requires federal agencies sponsoring more than $100 million in annual research expenditures "to develop plans to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication... Such results include peer-reviewed publications and digital data." Furthermore, the memo states that data repositories could be maintained either by the federal government or “scholarly and professional associations, publishers and libraries.” The memo directed federal agencies to provide the OSTP with their draft policies by August 22.

As federal agencies scramble to comply with the deadline, Stanford opened the doors to key players in the publishing debate, including publishers, scientists, librarians, government policy makers, open access advocates, and university faculty and graduate students. Stanford University Dean of Research Office, Stanford University Libraries, Stanford’s School of Engineering, the American Physical Society, and the Stanford Photonics Research Center sponsored the event.

Myron Gutmann, Assistant Director at the National Science Foundation and Head of their Directorate for Social, Behavioral and Economic Sciences, said he believes that the directive will allow for a stream of change in the areas of research and data sharing. Science is increasingly integrated and international, he noted, with an opportunity for “research results that are more diverse, changing rapidly and more closely coupled.”

As a general rule, open access content means that articles are free to read online, but can also include access to the data associated with scientific research and include removing copyright restrictions on the reuse of that information. Those in attendance discussed the need for open access to research data to further scientific discovery, advocating that knowledge emerging from publicly-funded research should be made freely available.

There was little dispute that depositing scientific data in an open access repository enhances the visibility and accessibility of research.

Victoria Stodden, Assistant Professor of Statistics at Columbia University and Stanford alumna, spoke about the need for open access to big data and explained that the memo was largely important as it specifically addressed both access and preservation of data. She noted that she hoped that this new charge would help push scientific publishing toward data and code sharing.

Elizabeth Nolan, Deputy Director and Chief Publishing Officer of The Optical Society, noted the increase in open access journals – from 750 open-access journals in 2000 to over 9300 journals in 2013.

“But a lot of authors don’t know what [open access] is … how it impacts them,” Nolan said.

Looking forward – open access

Some publishers have opposed open-access efforts because of the potential revenue loss from libraries canceling journal subscriptions. However, key publishers who have already responded positively to the memorandum were in attendance, including Elsevier, The Optical Society and the American Physical Society.

Speaking for the open-access science industry was Michael Eisen, co-founder of the open-access publisher Public Library of Science. Eisen welcomed the new memorandum saying that it will do a lot of good, but he thought that it was too stringent. He was skeptical about the OSTP proposed guideline of a 12-month embargo period.

“Papers should be published when scientists think that they are ready to be,” Eisen argued.

Live audience polling reflected an interest in open access data sharing, along with mixed opinion of a 12 month embargo. While the audience of over 130 nearly unanimously agreed that a 12-month embargo period was too long, about half also thought that scholarly publications shouldn’t have an embargo at all.

Burgeoning questions still exist – who should own the copyright of derivative works from federally-funded data? Whose responsibility will it be to ensure long-term access to federally-funded data?

Gutmann believes that as government agencies set in motion plans for compliance, the full implication for open access will be something that will take time to fully understand.

The organizations involved in this event will be looking for ways to continue the dialog on this topic at Stanford in the future. In the meantime, information about the event, including presentations and videos, can be found at the event web site at

By Hannah Winkler

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