Saturday, February 23, 2013

The White House promotes open access to research results

I received an e-mail from the White House yesterday. No, it wasn't Michelle Obama chatting about Pac-12 Men's Basketball (her brother coaches the Oregon State team). It was from John Holdren, Assistant to the President for Science and Technology and Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. I had signed a "We the People" petition advocating: "Require free access over the Internet to scientific journal articles arising from taxpayer-funded research." The petition and Holdren's reply are posted here.

Holdren has posted a memorandum requiring federal agencies that fund research (e.g., NSF, NEH, NIH) to come up with policies and procedures to make the results of that research publicly available without charge. The memorandum deals with access to journal articles as well as data archiving and the availability of basic data from federally-funded research.

This is a big step forward for open access, and I am encouraged at the twin foci of journal articles and data archiving. The Society for American Archaeology is doing various things to work toward open access for publications and data, including the upcoming launch of a new open access journal, Advances in Archaeological Practice, edited by Chris Dore.

Where are your data stored? If you died tomorrow, would your data be available to others? Are they in an online repository such as tDAR? If not, you should be working toward this goal; I am.


HungoPavi said...

Hi Mike. That's great news but isn't tDAR part of the Open Access problem? tDAR was and is funded by the Mellon Foundation which is also part of the dreaded JStor that has caused all these problems. tDAR is no different and it too has a business model that eventually will out price all of our archaeological data. We need to think long term on this issue but locking data and information on an organisation that wants to treat data like a bank is bad news in my opinion despite its initial appeal.

Michael E. Smith said...

The professional and financial issues for tDAR are not the same as for scholarly journals. I've asked Frank McManamon to provide a guest post on tDAR, and that should be ready before long. Here are just a few differences between the journal and data-archiving issues.

First, journals right now have content that can easily be made available, but they refuse to do so. Scholars work for free (doing research, writing it up, reviewing manuscripts), only to have commercial publishers make a profit while keeping our research hidden from public view. tDAR is about making otherwise unavailable data accessible, not about profiting by keeping data restricted.

Second, tDAR is not a for-profit organization. As with any big enterprise the start-up costs are high. But tDAR is not just a place where you throw a bunch of files for preservation. tDAR is working on data standardization, search procedures, and other methods that will greatly enhance the value of the final data from archaeological projects. Thus tDAR is adding considerable value to the material that is posted there. In comparison, journals right now only add limited value--peer review--to the publication process.

In the long term, the issues surrounding publication and data storage will probably become closely related. But right now I see these as very different situations. Maybe other readers who know more about this can chime in.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mike

I think we need to really think more long-term about this. While I appreciate making the distinction between the "journal world" and pure "data", I see tDAR as being another extension of the privatization of archaeological data, analysis and all of our works. With President Obama's new directive Federal Agencies need to ensure some sort of open access to all their federally funded data. Which probably accounts for 98% of all archaeological research in this country.

tDAR sells itself as providing access to unavailable data. In truth most of the data stored at tDAR should and is in fact duplicated in State Historic Preservation Offices, institutional libraries etc. While some institutions and SHPO's may be ill-equipped to handle old data files or any digital data, I think in time they will be in a better position to handle these things. The advantages to researchers are a given. We just need to demand this from our legislators. Arguments to the contrary will point out that with shirking budgets of government (and all the bundled bad politics that go with that) as one of the main reason to turn to outside entities like tDAR. That to me is not really the solution. We need to ask ourselves what are we really giving up and to whom?

tDAR's pricing model is geared toward charging the depositor which is OK and you might say the prices seem reasonable today that is for large firms or institutions. They are not however reasonable for an individual researcher as 100 MB and 10 files which would seem to me to be almost a given with archaeological research are around $400 an upload. Who is to say that these prices will stay this way either? Who is to say that policies may change over time and someday users would be charged too? If an individual user is not charged then perhaps institutions and libraries may be in the works. I am of course speculating here but if we base the behavior of JStor as a model then the same may hold true for tDAR.

Just because this is a not-for profit entity does not ensure that prices will be kept low either. JStor is also a not-for-profit entity. In my opinion its a shame to push all of this onto an non-governmental entity whose future is not entirely clear. I for one am highly skeptical. Not to completely tear-down tDAR, if people want to store their materials there they should be allowed freely to do so but let's not allow tDAR to monopolize the situation when in fact this is something all of our Federal and State agencies should be doing and can do at a much lower cost and with proven longevity.