With a White House directive supporting it and legislation pending at the federal and state levels, the fight to expand open access to taxpayer-funded research is rapidly gaining momentum. But it's not over yet. Major journal publishers are working hard to stop—or at least dilute—open access. That's because it's a threat to the traditional publishing business model, which depends on taking the results of research (i.e., articles) and then selling it back to the scientists and their institutions at a massive profit.
The publishing coalition's leading tactic is a deceptive proposal called the Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States, or "CHORUS." According to the publishers, CHORUS would create a set of platforms, housed by the publishers themselves, that would help users easily find and access journal articles resulting from federal funding, facilitate article preservation, and "allow text and data mining tools to be applied across publishers' platforms 'under protocols that protect both the user and the source content.'" In essence, the proposal encourages the agencies and legislators to just let the publishers handle open access. After all, they're the experts, right?
Wrong. Most traditional academic publishers are experts at just that: traditional models that depend on limited access. Forgive the cliché, but putting them in charge is like letting the fox guard the hen house.
With props to SPARC, which has been battling for open access since 1997, here's the reality:
- CHORUS is all about control: publishers preserve their place as the sole point of access to research, and, by extension, they exert a veto right on innovation and new forms of access;
- CHORUS is cumbersome: The National Institutes of Health (NIH) already houses a wealth of research in its PubMed Central database, which allows easy full-text searching and is interoperable with other publicly-funded databases. Rather than leveraging this existing structure, the publishers want to build their own. Again, it's all about control. While the program promises to allow text and mining tools to apply across publishers' various platforms, those platforms vary widely. Thus, in practice, implementing such tool will be difficult.
- CHORUS forgets about data: Policies such as the White House directive call for open access to articles and data. CHORUS conveniently forgets to provide for linking articles to data.
- CHORUS is not "free": Publishers claim CHORUS will be a "no-cost" solution. But that's just hiding the ball. Publishers receive most of their revenue from subscription fees, which are paid by universities—including many public universities. Publishers will doubtless pass the cost of building CHORUS onto subscribers.
We hope that agencies and legislators who are considering how to implement open access are not fooled by CHORUS. It's time for real open access. Here's how you can help.