Open Access Workshop at the Fall DPS Meeting

At the 2009 DPS Meeting, I held a workshop on Open Access to the Planetary Sciences Literature. There weren't many people there (completely my fault for not doing more advertising for the workshop), but we did talk about the issues of Open Access in Planetary Sciences, particularly in relation to articles in Icarus, the DPS-endorsed journal.

I provided a brief overview of Copyright laws, and how Copyright isn't just one thing but a bundle of different individual rights, which can be licensed individually. Of course Copyright applies to scientists when we write a paper. If all authors are Civil Servants, then the article is in the Public Domain, otherwise, the author (or the non-civil servant authors) claims copyright on the work, and then transfers all the rights to the publisher via a copyright transfer agreement.

There are many good historic reasons for this. However, it seems a little wrong for a private corporation to hold exclusive rights to the documents that are the results of research work paid for by taxpayers—and that is basically the idea behind the open access movement. Now there are a whole lot of different ways to solve that particular problem, from just getting publishing companies to license back a few extra rights, all the way to allowing authors to retain their copyrights, and license specific rights to the publishers. Some examples of the former are how astronomy and physics journals allow their post-publication articles be posted to 3rd party sites like or how the National Institutes of Health require their grantees to enter into publication agreements that allow deposition of their articles to PubMed Central within 12 months of publication. Examples of the latter are 'Open Access' journals where the copyrights are held by the authors, but the articles are provided to the publisher—and everyone else—via a Creative Commons license.

So what can an author of an Icarus article do (DPS members—whom this workshop was given to primarily submit to Icarus)? Icarus requires a copyright transfer agreement, but does license specific rights back to the author. These rights include the right to "post a revised personal version of the text of the final journal article (to reflect changes made in the peer review process) on the author's personal or institutional Web site or server." This is sometimes referred to as self-archiving.

Self-archiving does NOT allow you to post the PDF created by the journal on your Web site. It does allow you to create your own document which can incorporate all the text edits and figures that are present in the published version, and you must add the citation to the published journal article. This self-made document (not the journal's PDF document) can be posted on your (or your institution's) Web site. You are also NOT allowed to post this self-made version (or the journal's PDF) on 3rd party sites.

This making of the self-made document takes some extra work, work that most people don't do (I may well be the only Planetary Scientist who has).

So we talked about things that perhaps the DPS, as a society, could try and convince Elsevier, Inc. (the publisher of Icarus) to do. Removing the create-your-own-final version requirement would be great, and just allow people to post the journal-produced (accurate, and with correct attribution and journal branding) PDF on their Web pages would be one thing. Allowing posting of the self-archived or actual journal-produced PDF to 3rd party servers would be good too.

We also talked about things that NASA (or SMD, or just ROSES) could do. The most straightforward thing would be for NASA (or SMD, or ROSES-funded grants) to adopt a policy similar to what the NIH has done. Namely to create a policy where the results of all NASA-funded research would have some sort of requirement to be deposited in a central server. The advantage here is that the NIH (another executive-branch agency) has already blazed this trail.

What about bigger than NASA? How about the federal government? There's currently a bill in congress this year called the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) that would essentially extend the NIH policy to all federal agencies with a budget of $100 million or more (that includes NASA).

So what can you do? Well, you can self-archive all of your existing papers (you've got electronic versions of the last thing you sent to the publisher, it should only be ten or twenty minutes of work to update that against the final version, stick in the figures, make a PDF, and stick it on your Web site). You can convince others to do so. You can send an e-mail to asking NASA to implement an NIH-like policy for the research they fund. Finally, you can contact your congressperson, and tell them to support FRPAA.


How have the biomedical

How have the biomedical journal responded to the NIH policy, now that it has been in place for nearly two years? Have they transferred more costs to authors? Have they gone belly up? In short, what has been the policy's effect on the publishing industry, and what would be the effect of NASA adopting a similar policy?

The biomedical publishing field seems okay

First off, not being in that field makes it difficult to really answer the question. And the NIH funds a lot of work that gets published in many, many journals, far more than in our field, so there are differences. However, I have heard that since this is an NIH policy, some journals have an 'open access' charge that does get charged to the authors, but since it is mandated by the NIH policy, those authors can—and do—specifically write that extra amount into their grant proposals, and it is funded. There are also specifically open access journals that serve the field, like the Public Library of Science (PLoS) journals, whose moderate, fixed, per-paper charge can also be easily listed in NIH grant proposals.

So to answer the question, yes the costs have been transferred to the authors, who transfer it to the funding agency, who mandated the policy. I do not believe that any publishers in that field have gone out of business solely due to the NIH policy. Naturally, the publishers don't like it (because it reduces their subscriptions), and are trying to back legislation that would completely eliminate the NIH policy, but there has been no resistance by the scientists, to my knowledge.