Nature Still Not Keen On U.S. Open Access Policies

Nature recently ran this editorial describing how U.K efforts in open access policies are doing three years after its government announced a push for so-called ‘gold’ open access for research results funded by the U.K. government.  This kind of open access would make a research article available for free immediately on publication.  The U.S. system is better characterized as a ‘green’ system, where free access is usually provided after an embargo and to a version of the article deposited in a repository.

The U.K. effort, like the U.S. effort, has had bumps along the road.  The first 16 months of the U.K. policy are covered in this review from the Research Councils U.K.  Released in late March, the report discusses the needs for effective evidence gathering in order to effectively measure compliance with and the impact of the policy.  This would allow for future discussion of how licences, embargos and other access considerations should affect the policy.  Additionally, there needs to be continued communication with stakeholders about the policy.  Confusion persists about what is expected in terms of compliance, data collection, and how to handle circumstances like collaborative work.

The Nature editorial staff is not keen on how the U.S. effort has unfolding, describing it as:

“[L]oitering with little intent, and mandating only delayed access to an author’s version of a peer-reviewed manuscript — a ‘green’ form of open access that ultimately benefits science less (see Nature 494, 401; 2013).”

Truly, the persistence of an embargo rankles many in the open access community.  The publisher-led CHORUS system is also not gold-friendly, and, at least to me, does not strike me as helpful in complying with the research data aspect of the U.S. Public Access Policy.  I would have liked to see the government push for a more uniform open access policy, one that does not maintain dependence on journal publishers that still resist opening access to research that they did not fund.  But I can’t deny that several agencies now have open access policies that didn’t before, and some of these policies follow the National Institutes of Health (NIH) policy and strike out on their own or intend to share the NIH repository.

But, as some in the U.K. remind me, open access is a journey, not a destination.


Australia Considering Tinkering With Its Census

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) arguing in favor of changing its census (H/T The Conversation).  Currently taken every five years (like Canada used to do), there is interest in changing that to every 10 years.  Unlike in Canada, where the head of Statistics Canada resigned over the change of the census from mandatory to voluntary, the ABS chief defended shifting the census.  David Kalisch has argued that the current census was a modest input into national statistics.

Given the challenges Canada has faced since it went to a voluntary survey, I understand, and share, the caution some have expressed in making significant changes to a data tool.  If the shift to every ten years is accompanied with more regular population surveys (much like in the United States), it is possible that Australia could strengthen its data gathering and analysis capabilities.  But the caution encouraged by Canadians should be well considered.  Cutting costs appears to be part of the motivation behind these changes.  I have a hard time reconciling that interest with increasing the number of surveys taken over time (a less frequent census plus more regular population surveys).  The people in Australia – policymakers, researchers, and other concerned citizens – need to hold the ABS to account and demand to see how the agency plans to maintain, if not increase, the value of the information it collects.  The Save Our Census campaign indicates that some are.

Will Science Policy Factor Into The UK Election?

On April 2 there will be a leader’s debate for the May 7 U.K. Parliamentary election (H/T Nature News).  While there was a joint appearance by the leaders of the two largest parties (the Conservatives and Labour) on March 26, the April 2 debate will have leaders from seven parties. Of the other debates currently scheduled, this event will have the most parties represented.  Leaders of the Liberal Democrats (coalition partner with the Conservatives in the current government), the Green Party, The U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), Plaid Cymru (a Welsh party), and the Scottish National Party (SNP) will join the Labour and Conservative leaders in the ITV studios.

This marks the second election in which party leaders will hold televised debates.  IN the 2010 campaign, there was a series of cross-party science debates where most of the policy discussions around science happened in the campaign.  However, in at least one debate involving party leaders, science questions did get some attention.

Nature recently compiled information on the likely science policies of three of the smaller parties: the UKIP, the SNP and the Greens.  The Campaign for Science and Engineering has published the responses it received from all seven parties represented in tomorrow’s debate, plus the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland.  Parties are expected to release campaign manifestos later this month, which should provide additional information.  Those particularly interested in research budgets in the U.K. may be most persuaded by the positions of the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

While science and technology issues get more attention from U.K. parties compared to the U.S., they are not dominant issues for any political party.  The increased profile of several smaller parties, and dissatisfaction with the current coalition government, suggest to me that another coalition government could emerge following the May 7 election (minority governments, like the Harper government in Canada, are rare in the U.K., and typically short-lived).  In that case, it is possible that science and/or technology issues could be key toward gaining the support from a party or parties to give a coalition a Parliamentary majority, but that’s a question nobody can answer until at least May 8.

Is The U.K. Following the Harper Government’s Science Communication Lead?

A change to the U.K. Civil Service Law may dramatically restrict the ability of U.K. government scientists to communicate with the media (H/T ScienceInsider).  The language would require all media contacts to be approved in advance by the appropriate Minister.  The specific language:

“All contacts with the media should be authorised by the relevant Minister unless a specific delegation or dispensation has been agreed which may be for blocks of posts or areas of activities.”

Certainly scientific communication could be handled under a dispensation, but there was none offered when the change was announced.  On Friday three U.K. science organisations (the Science Media Centre, the Association of British Science Writers, and Stempra) wrote Francis Maude, Minister for the Cabinet Office, for clarification.  In this letter the organisations note that many participants in quasi-governmental bodies have to sign on to the Civil Service Code, so the new language may affect more than government employees.  (Advisory bodies to government would not be affected, as their communications are covered in the Ministerial Code.)

Similar concerns emerged over how the change in the law affects whistleblower protections.  Minister Maude had indicated to a trade union representative that whistleblower protections would not be affected.  That union has petitioned the government to reverse the change.

Given the changes in communication practices in Canada where its government scientist are concerned (referenced in the letter to Maude), I can understand the skepticism about the impacts of this change.  Given the May election in the U.K., I would not be surprised if this became an issue in some quarters of the British electorate.  I don’t think it will swing Parliament to one party or the other, but depending on the local constituency, it may swing a seat or two.

Russia Plans To Take Its ISS Toys And Leave…Later Than Expected

Part of the dustup between the U.S. and Russia over the latter’s activities in Crimea last year involved the two countries cooperation in space.  While activities on the International Space Station (ISS) have continued, other cooperative efforts in space have slowed, if not stopped.

However, operations at the ISS have continued with little incident, and the latest expedition will launch for the station later this month.  But some may be concerned about the recent announcement that the Russians plan to disengage from the ISS and use the modules they contributed to construct their own station.

That sounds a bit more drastic than it is.  Last year the Russians were talking about breaking off the ISS partnership in 2020, while the U.S. announced its intention to continue station activities until at least 2024.  The U.S. may be interested in continuing operations until 2028, but the future of the ISS will be at least a little longer than expected.

As for Russia taking its components and building its own station, it is arguably preferable to what would be the likely alternative – deorbiting those segments to burn up in the atmosphere.  As the country wants to continue having a permanent presence in space, and may be economically constrained from creating a lot of new components, this recycling is understandable.

What’s not clear, at least to me, is what the U.S. might do should Russia follow through with this plan to remove its segments.  A cursory glance at the ISS components suggests that what would remain of the ISS includes the functional components necessary to operate on its own.  But I doubt it could be as simple as disconnecting the two elements of the ISS and tugging each to a new orbital spot.  At least there will be 10 years or so to figure this out.

New EU Policy Support Facility Will Focus On National Research and Innovation Systems

Earlier this week the European Commission announced that a Policy Support Facility will assist European Union member states in reviewing and reforming their national innovation and research systems (H/T ScienceInsider).  The Policy Support Facility is one of several programs intended to boost science and technology capacity in member states, all as part of Horizon 2020.  The Facility will have a budget endowment of up to 20 million Euros until 2020.

Bulgaria is the first member state to take advantage of the Policy Support Facility.  It will have several senior experts and researchers conduct a “Peer Review of Bulgaria” and provide advice in three areas: public funding of research, science careers, and knowledge transfer from academia to business.

Hungary has expressed interested in using the Policy Support Facility, and the Commission will support a country peer review for it later in the year.  Other countries have expressed interest in working with the Facility as well.

International Network For Government Science Advice Ready To Work

Sir Peter Gluckman, Chief Science Adviser to the Prime Minister of New Zealand, has been at the AAAS Annual Meeting in San Jose, California.  Following his activities there, I found out about the International Network for Government Science Advice (INGSA).  The network can be traced back to the international science advice conference held last August in Auckland, New Zealand.

The focus of the INGSA is to serve as a forum for sharing and discussing research and experience in providing science advice to governments.  It is part of the International Council of Science, and the secretariat is presently hosted with Sir Peter in Auckland.  The INGSA’s Network Development Group reflects a diversity of countries and a mix of academic and practitioner experience.

Expect INGSA to leverage other international meetings for opportunities to convene side gatherings.  It would also develop its own events as it sees fit, with a follow up to the 2014 conference presumably on a list of future activities.