08:51 PM

Public Access Plans from AHRQ, NASA and the USDA Risk Harm to Scholarly Communication

We believe there is a better way to provide public access to scholarly works, and AAP and our member companies stand ready to collaborate with any agency interested in designing a public access program that safeguards the sustainability of scholarly and peer-reviewed communication.
Tom Allen, President & CEO of AAP

Publishers welcome the opportunity to engage further to help agencies apply evidence and leverage existing infrastructure as directed in White House memo

Washington, DC; February 13, 2015 — The plans released recently by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ), NASA and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on free access to private sector articles reporting on federally funded research fall short of advancing sustainable public access. While AAP supports efforts to expand public access to research information, these plans require unnecessary government spending that wastes taxpayer money and will ultimately harm publishers’ ability to advance science and scholarship. AAP is pleased that all three agencies recognize innovative private sector solutions and stands ready to work with federal agencies to refine their policies to address the potential harm from aspects of each agency’s approach.

Tom Allen, President and CEO, AAP said:

“While publishers support efforts to promote access to articles reporting on research funded by federal agencies, we are concerned with the impact that these policies will have for the future of scientific communication. While the government funds the research that contributes to the publications, the publishers invest in the editorial, technological and financial resources to produce and preserve the scholarly record for the generations to come. To help ensure a future where peer review and quality editorial content are still assured by journals, there needs to be a thoughtful policy that reflects this economic reality.

We believe there is a better way to provide public access to scholarly works, and AAP and our member companies stand ready to collaborate with any agency interested in designing a public access program that safeguards the sustainability of scholarly and peer-reviewed communication. We urge the other federal agencies responding to the OSTP directive to ensure that their unique access policies are based on data rather than politics or precedent.”

Duplicative systems waste taxpayer money:

The AHRQ and NASA plans call for an expanded use of the PubMed Central (PMC) repository, which duplicates infrastructure that already exists in the publishing industry, while the USDA plans to further develop and roll-out its PubAg repository system. None of these solutions are consistent with the goals in the Obama Administration’s directive to collaborate with publishers and develop new public-private partnerships.

Since no additional funds are allocated to enable public access, taxpayer money will instead be diverted from the programs and research that are at the core of each agency’s mission. At a time when research funding has been cut and taxpayers want government to stop redundancy, CHORUS (Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States) offers a collaborative approach to expanding access. In 2013 CHORUS was formed as an independent, not-for-profit service to provide public access solutions for all federal agencies at little-or-no cost to the government.

Agencies default to 12-month embargo:

Each of the policies reflexively sets an embargo period at 12 months without citing any evidence, contrary to the Obama Administration’s directive that agencies’ individual policies be based on data and facts. The 2013 memo, which applies to all agencies developing plans in response to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), directs such agencies to “improve program performance by applying existing evidence … generating new knowledge…and using innovation to devise new approaches to program delivery … given current fiscal challenges."

Independent data available to the agencies includes the first comprehensive study of journal usage, released in December 2013. It analyzed data from more than 2,800 journals in various disciplines and documented that journal article usage varies widely within and across disciplines. The quantitative study confirmed that different disciplines have different journal usage patterns and, therefore, need different policies.

While a 12-month embargo may be acceptable for many journals publishing health-related articles, the existing evidence suggests that other disciplines require longer embargo periods for sustainability and that one-size-fits-all is not appropriate for all journals or areas of study. The agency plans do not address the disparities in journal usage nor cite any fact-finding or evidence of their own to support their policies.

Collaboration is essential to a sustainable solution:

In a world awash in information, publishers provide the assured quality and trusted research upon which innovation is built. As members of the research community, AAP and our members welcome the opportunity to collaborate with any government agency on how to best manage public access in a sustainable way. We applaud the language in the plans acknowledging the importance of collaboration and urge the agencies to engage with the publishing community.


The Association of American Publishers (AAP) represents about four hundred member organizations including major commercial, digital learning and education and professional publishers alongside independents, non-profits, university presses and scholarly societies. We represent the industry’s priorities on policy, legislative and regulatory issues regionally, nationally and worldwide. These include the protection of intellectual property rights and worldwide copyright enforcement, digital and new technology issues, funding for education and libraries, tax and trade, censorship and literacy. Find us online at www.publishers.org or on twitter at @AmericanPublish.