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Tuesday, March 24, 2015 News

NSF Releases Incremental Plan for Public Access

Open Access   ·   Open Data

Last week, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released its plan to establish policies to ensure public access to articles and data resulting from its funded research, as required by the February 2013 White House directive.  The plan calls for researchers to deposit final accepted manuscripts (or published articles) into the Department of Energy’s “PAGES” repository – a dark archive – with public access to be provided via links to publisher’s websites.  All articles will be made available to the public no later than 12 months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

Notably, the NSF plan will extend to papers published in “juried conference proceedings,” as well as peer-reviewed journals, and the agency notes it intends to eventually include other types of NSF-supported grey literature and educational materials under the final policy.

The timing of deposit for articles is not yet specified, though many other agencies are using the date of acceptance in a journal as the trigger event for deposit. The NSF plan is calling for researchers to deposit articles in PDF/A format, but does not indicate if other structured markup formats (such as XML) required by many of the other agencies, will also be supported.

The NSF plan doesn’t elaborate on reuse rights for articles. However, since access to the majority of NSF-funded articles will be provided through proprietary publisher web sites, they will be subject to whatever copyright and related license terms are imposed by individual publishers. No indication of how the kinds of productive reuse (computation, text and data mining etc.) set out by the White House Directive will be facilitated by this arrangement.

The NSF plan specifically notes that the distributed nature of access across a wide number of publisher websites makes bulk downloading (a prerequisite for effective computation and mining) “inherently difficult.” The plan points out that investigators will be allowed to “follow the links to full-text and build a collection appropriate for analysis subject to the rights associated with the content,” in essence, continuing the status quo.

NSF indicates that it will provide a mechanism for stakeholders to petition the agency to change the required embargo period. Specifically, the plan notes that any such petitions should present “factually and statistically-based evidence that a change will more effectively promote the quality and sustainability of scholarly publications, while meeting the objectives of public access.”

NSF funded investigators will eventually be required to ensure that they report successful deposit of articles and juried conference reports as a part of the agencies annual and final grant reporting process., and compliance will be monitored by “Cognizant Program Officers.”

In terms of ensuring access to NSF-funded research data, the agency was an early leader in requiring investigators requesting funding to submit a Data Management Plan (DMP) outlining their plans for managing and providing access to research data, or else to provide a rationale why their research can not or need not be made available. The new NSF plan calls for this requirement to remain in place and does not outline any immediate significant changes to the current requirements – although it does indicate that the agency will continue to explore ways to refine and improve this process.

The NSF plan lays out an incremental approach. The agency indicates that a mechanism to support voluntary deposit of articles will be in place by the end of 2015, and that they expect to implement a mandatory system sometime in 2016.

The plan also indicates that the NSF is aware of other potential partners and solutions for ensuring effective public access, and may pursue future arrangements with them, initiating discussions “as early as FY16…”

While the NSF plan is clearly still a work in progress, the agency notes that an additional, 60-day opportunity for public comment will be presented to the community via the Federal Register – most likely in April.

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