Making the connections between funder and research

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Howard Ratner is executive director of CHOR Inc, the organisation behind the new CHORUS service in the USA. We ask him what CHORUS is about, what plans he has and his thoughts on open access in general

How does CHORUS work?

Researchers, research administrators, librarians and others have a lot on their plates and are going to be asked to do a lot more to comply with open-access mandates and funder requirements.

CHORUS uses what we have already to surface the best available version. For many gold open-access publishers it will be the version of record. For other publishers, it will be either the accepted author manuscript or version of record after an embargo period. In either case it will be hosted on the publisher’s site. The publisher site is the best place to steward an article – in context with tools and important information and keeping the scholarly record intact with the altmetrics accruing to the authors and publisher.  CHORUS provides funders with a database of links, similar to something like PubMed.

If agencies follow the CHORUS model it should make it so much easier for researchers. At the time that authors are in article submission mode, they are simply prompted to provide funder information. Alternatively, if authors put that information in their acknowledgments, the publishers can mine it.

CHORUS brings together many technological advances that the publishing industry has made over the past 25 years. If we get the FundRef ID [CrossRef’s identifier of funders] connected to the DOI it will be very powerful. Once you’ve got that, the rest of CrossRef’s metadata system takes over, feeding into the CHORUS system. It collects the information from the publishers so the researcher doesn’t need to do anything else.  This is good for funders, because they want high compliance, and CHORUS is also very cost effective and scalable, a matter of pennies per paper.

What has happened so far?

The US Department of Energy was the first department to announce that it is using CHORUS. We have been talking to five to 10 other agencies and have been developing dashboards for a number of them to show the potential of this system. The dashboards show metadata from all publishers that are a member of CrossRef and CHORUS.

CHORUS is not just tracking publically available publications but tracks all publications identified as reporting on US-funded research. For the first time ever, we are asking publishers to transparently declare via their website what their licence terms are. CHORUS does not specify what publishers have to state in their licences, just that they have to say it. We then audit their sites to check whether they live up to what they state. Right now, the auditing process is manual but we have developed a tool to help automate most of it. Our goal is that over time around 75 per cent will be done in an automated way with manual checks for the remainder.

Our dashboards also allow publishers to check on themselves. The links from the dashboards lead to DOIs, which publishers – and anyone else – can click on. It is about transparency.  I see potential for developing dashboards for institutions and other stakeholders

What about SHARE?

When I joined CHOR in July 2013 there was some tension between CHORUS and SHARE because the initiatives didn’t really understand each other and it was early days. When we sat down together we realised there is a lot of commonality.

One of SHARE’s roles is about notifying. There are really interesting research events happening on campuses that publishers aren’t naturally involved in. We potentially could link the SHARE notification service to the CHORUS dashboard and then we could link back to article. We are both trying not to duplicate each other’s work. Ultimately we want to create useful information for people.

Do you have international plans?

Our focus initially was getting our act together in the USA. Now is a good time to understand what is going on elsewhere. We are incorporated as CHOR, Inc. CHORUS, our first initiative, references our initial focus. We’ve left our infrastructure open in a way that allows further opportunities. We have had brief meetings with funders from the UK, the European Union, Australia and Canada. There are interesting things going on elsewhere too. For example, Brazil in particular is very active in the public access space and one of our earliest signatories was from Colombia. There is plenty to do. The international space is huge.

What next?

I’ve learnt a tremendous amount about US government agencies in the past year – and when you have learnt one, you have learnt only one. Each has their own nuances and they change more often than publishers do because administrations change. Over the next several months there will be more announcements from more agencies. We have come a long way in a short time.

We are also watching NISO closely. I am a big believer in standards but am an even bigger believer in implementation. I wanted to get CHORUS out there quickly in front of people so they could say what we need to change and do.

CHORUS is about public access that is sustainable and cost effective. It is about identification, compliance and preservation. How things should be accessible is not something that we get into. We let the arguments happen between the lobbying bodies. If asked a question I’ll provide them the data for them to do further analysis. The industry has moved from a position of “open access is controversial” to one of “open access is a business model”. It’s here to stay; it’s just a matter of working out how to make it work.

Interview by Siân Harris