NIST Chooses PubMed To Help Comply With Public Access Policy

Earlier this month the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) released its open access policy for federally funded research results and research data (H/T GCN). This is to comply with the Office of Science and Technology directive from 2013 for all agencies with annual research budgets over $100 million.

The policy will be implemented in stages, starting with two of the agency’s journals, and then expanding to all intramural agency research by October of 2015.  By October 2016 the policy will be completely implemented, and any NIST-funded research articles will need to be deposited in the PubMed Central repository within 12 months of publication (fields can petition the agency for a longer or shorter embargo period).

Research data will be handled indirectly.  NIST has developed an enterprise data inventory to list NIST-funded research datasets.  The agency would not store those datasets, but provide sufficient metadata and other information to allow the public to access those datasets.  This is consistent with the approach favored by many of the agencies that have already released their open access plans.

Open Access Bills Stage A Return Engagement

For the fifth consecutive Congress bills have been introduced to extend open access to government-funded research results.  In the last month three bills have been introduced, resembling bills introduced in previous years.

For the 114th Congress there are House and Senate versions of the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR).  Essentially the same bills were introduced in the 113th Congress with the same sponsors and the same terms.  Previous editions of these two bills were under a different name – the Federal Research Public Access Act.  The bills are assigned to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee and the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, respectively.  The bills would require open access to federally funded research articles within six months of publication.

Another open access bill in this Congress is the latest edition of the Public Access to Public Science Act.  It too was introduced in the previous Congress, and has the same sponsors this time around.  Compared to the FASTR bills, this act covers a smaller set of agencies (those under the jurisdiction of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee), and hews closer to the requirements of the February 2013 Policy Memo from the Office of Science and Technology on open access.  Like the FASTR bills, this legislation requires open access for covered articles within six months of publication.

With nearly 10 years of legislative efforts to expand open access, I’m not optimistic that these bills will be much more successful than their predecessors.  A major difference in this Congress is that agency public access policies are in the process of final review and/or implementation.  (The difference in embargo periods between these bills and agency access policies is not likely a bill-killer, at least by itself.)  That might help get these bills out of committee, but I think it will take stronger effort by their legislative champions to get them to the President’s desk.

Then there’s the matter of open access to research data, which is not covered by these bills.  Baby steps, I suppose.

Chief Technology Officer Bill Back, Now With New Sponsor

When President Obama decided to have a Chief Technology Officer (CTO), the position is not permanent.  At the moment, should his successor opt not to appoint one, the CTO position would cease to exist.

Since 2009, there have been two bills introduced to put the CTO position into law.  The bills, had either passed, would have put into law the specific requirements of the position, and establish a separate office for the CTO.  While this would make the position last longer than a single presidential administration, it would also remove a flexibility with the position that is reflected in the backgrounds and portfolios of the three CTO’s appointed by the Obama Administration.

The bills essentially make the CTO position into the head of information technology purchasing and implementation in the government.  That’s an important function, but there already is a federal chief information officer.  Ideally, at least from where I type, the CTO would be on par with the President’s chief science adviser.  Focusing the position on information technology runs the risk of making the job the government’s tech support, instead of a position focused on how to utilize all kinds of technology to support the government and serve the public.

There is now a third bill attempting to formalize the CTO position.  While the first two were sponsored by Representative Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia), the latest bill is sponsored by Representative Barry Loudermilk (R-Georgia), and co-sponsored by members of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, where Loudermilk serves as chair of the Oversight Subcommittee.  The House Science Committee was not involved with the previous bills, which were considered by the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.  The newest bill has been referred to both committees for consideration

The latest bill makes the CTO position optional, but would require any CTO appointment to also serve as the Associate Director for Technology and Innovation at the Office of Science and Technology Policy.  (The first CTO in the Obama Administration, Aneesh Chopra, served in both positions.  His successors did not.)  The bill does focus the CTO position on information technology responsibilities, but it does think a bit more broadly than IT.  The CTO would also handle information exchange between the Congress, the Executive Branch, and the public; agency records transparency; and technological interoperability.

I appreciate the greater breadth of portfolio in this bill, but I’d rather not see the CTO subsumed by the OSTP.  An equal partner is more to my liking, but your mileage may vary.  I don’t expect this bill to have a better fate than its predecessors, but it’s certainly not to soon to see what President Obama’s successors might do about a CTO.  Where does your candidate stand on the issue?

White House Demo Day Announced

Earlier today the Chief Technology Officer, Megan Smith, announced the first White House Demo Day to take place later this year.

As described on the Demo Day website, the idea appears to be something like the White House Science Fair for entrepreneurs.  Put another way, successful entrepreneurs will come to talk about their ideas and how they managed their success.  The White House is particularly interested in hearing from entrepreneurs in underrepresented groups.  Nominees are being taken (scroll down) until this Friday, April 24.

(A 72-hour window for nominations may be a record short window of comment from this White House.  The cynical part of my analytical faculties makes me think that most of the entrepreneurs are already lined up, and this is just for show.  But I can’t prove that.)

The Demo Day announcement follows on last week’s Tech Meetup, an event where organizers of activities like maker fairs, coding camps, and other gatherings of local technology talent met at the White House to share best practices and discuss how to replicate their efforts in other places.

So It’s Now A National Maker Faire

I missed the buried lede in last week’s announcement by the White House of the “Week of Making.”  I assumed there was going to be a second White House Maker Faire during that week, when it states there will be a *National* Maker Faire.  At the moment the Faire’s most active web presence is on social media.  Its website currently is just an information subscription request.

The Faire will be held at the University of the District of Columbia.  The University is partnering with the District Government, the organizers of the DC Mini Maker Faire and Maker Media to put on the event.  Several government agencies are committed to attend the Faire, which will take place June 12-13 (the beginning of the Week of Making).

More information is forthcoming.  But with the Week of Making less than 2 months away, I wish the information would come sooner.

Journalists Still Frustrated At Access To U.S. Scientists

While it’s possible there is no level of access to government scientists that would satisfy journalists, the current levels of access – even in the U.S. – remain a matter of complaint.  The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), soon after releasing its latest report on agency media policies, has issued an early summary of how journalists currently feel about access to government scientists (H/T Government Executive).

Through its Center for Science and Democracy, the UCS worked with the Society for Professional Journalists in developing and conducting the survey.  It’s a follow-up to a 2011 survey conducted by the Columbia Journalism Review and ProPublica.  In the 2011 survey it was found that the Obama Administration had made marginal progress in making agency scientists accessible to journalists.  The 2015 survey suggests not much has changed.  Per the UCS:

  • Public information offices routinely require reporters to get their approval before interviewing employees.
  • Sometimes, when reporters ask to interview a specific subject matter expert, their request for an interview is routed to a different agency employee by the public information office.
  • It’s not unusual for reporters to have to make multiple requests for information and interviews when they go through the public information office to get access to a subject matter expert.
  • Despite reporters’ positive working relationships with public information officers, a majority feel that the public is not getting all the information it needs because of the barriers that agencies are imposing on journalists’ reporting practices.

Worth noting is that in many respects, science reporters compared favorably to other reporters, according to the Society for Professional Journalists.  From its conclusions:

“The analysis of the science writers’ survey compared with the earlier surveys of political and education reporters indicates the science agencies may be more open and less controlling than other types of government agencies – there may be more protection for scientists to speak openly as opposed to other people. Also, it appears a good number of science writers are better able to develop relationships with their subject matter expert sources than other types of reporters, thus mitigating the public information offices’ efforts at media control.”
So, while there may not be great access to government scientists and the relationships between science journalists and public information officers can be complicated, other fields may not have it so good.

The White House Is Doing The Maker Faire Again

This year I missed any early announcement about this year’s White House Maker Faire.  The 2015 White House Maker Faire will take place during the week of June 12-18, what the White House is calling a ‘Week of Making.‘  The announcement talks much more about last year’s Faire than this year’s week.

Perhaps that’s because the White House is looking for people and organizations to step up.  In line with last year’s call, the White House is looking for commitments to supporting Makers in a number of ways, including:

  • Creating hands-on learning opportunities for students to engage in STEM arts and design through making in and outside the classroom
  • Broadening participation in making for girls, young women and underrepresented minorities
  • Supporting the development of low-cost tools for prototyping
  • Developing capabilities that enable maker entrepreneurs to produce their products domestically and scale volume
  • Engaging makers in developing solutions to pressing local and global challenges

In order to be ready to announce new commitments during the June ‘Week of Making,’ The White House wants submissions by May 15.  If interested, please fill out the form at this webpage.