Making data more accessible

The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) recently announced a directive aimed to increase public access to federally funded research. The policy memorandum requires Federal agencies with greater than $100 million in R&D expenditures to create a plan for making the published results of their research freely available to the public within one year of publication.  The directive also directs the agencies to develop plans for managing and making digital data sets accessible.

The typical scientific life cycle involves a scientist developing a hypothesis, performing experiments to test that hypothesis, and disseminating the results to the scientific community through publication, presentations at conferences, and social networking and other public forums. However, a lot of science is inaccessible to the public because the majority of scientific journals and papers are only available through institutional and personal subscriptions. The goal of the OSTP policy is to make the results of federally funded research more accessible and useful, by way of making publications and data set publically accessible.

For scientific publications, the agencies must follow the following guidelines:

  • Public access to research articles (including the ability to read, download, and analyze digitally) within 12 months post-publication
  • Free, full public access to the research article metadata, in standard format

In effort to make scientific data sets more available, the memo also states that the agency plans should:

  • Maximize free public access while addressing privacy, confidentiality, and proprietary interests.
  • Acknowledge that not all data requires long-term archiving.
  • Require researchers to create data management plans.
  • Allow costs for data preservation and access in proposal budgets
  • Ensure evaluation of and compliance with data management plans
  • Promote data deposition into public repositories
  • Encourage public/private partnerships to ensure interoperability
  • Develop approaches for identification and attribution of datasets
  • Address data stewardship education
  • Assess long-term needs for repositories and infrastructure

Controversy

The memorandum has been endorsed by many researchers, publishers, librarians and open access advocates. The Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC) commented that the memo will “will accelerate scientific discovery, improve education, and empower entrepreneurs to translate research into commercial ventures and jobs.”

However, the directive has also sparked criticism and debate. Concerns have been raised about the administrative complexities and redundancy the flexibility of the directive may produce, which allows each agency to develop its on plan. Users may have to work with many different systems. Many stakeholders are calling on the OSTP to require consistency and interoperability between the agency plans.

While recommending a 12-month embargo period for publications, the directive states that this timeframe is negotiable based on disciplinary practices and needs. Concerns have been raised about the confusion this could create, especially for cross-disciplinary domains. Additionally, open access advocates are worried that for-profit publishers will use this flexibility to push for longer embargo periods, undercutting the potential benefits of the memorandum.

Even more problematic is how to pay for the development of new open access systems. The OSTP emphasized that no new money is available to fund the development or operation of the agency plans. Given the complexities described above, we seem to be in a holding pattern of new requirements that can be met in a multiplicity of ways but without a funding plan to help pay for their implementation, testing, or consolidation.

Federal agencies must submit their plans for meeting the directive requirements by August 22, 2013.

How does this affect the OHSU research community?

The memorandum’s requirements for data set management and accessibility will prioritize the need to improve data management practices within research laboratories.  By adopting data standards and structuring data for public consumption, data are more reusable and more easily shared. Biomedical research librarians and data specialists are well positioned to assist scientific researchers with this and can help or train researchers how to:

  • Apply metadata to data sets to aid in their identification via search mechanisms and the reuse of the data
  • Apply unique identifiers to ensure adequate “linkability” and reference in CVs, biosketchs, papers, etc.
  • Choose the best repository to publish your data
  • Develop data management plans

For further information, contact the OHSU Ontology development group (www.ohsu.edu/library/ontology) or talk to your local data specialist in the OHSU library (refer@ohsu.edu).

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