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Journal access

November 21, 2011

One of the issues for planetary scientists with affiliations outside of the large research universities continues to be lack of access to journals to which their institutions do not subscribe.  In talking with colleagues just last week, this issue came up for a scientist at a NASA Center – and this worries me, as we want all of our planetary science colleagues to have access to the journals that they require for their research.

Is this a problem for you?  Does last week’s letter to the community from Max Bernstein, or the original OSTP request, hint at any ideas for solving this problem, at least as far as NASA data and NASA grant-supported-publications are concerned?  I *think*that  the time for reaching a solution may be close, now that OSTP and NASA are interested in this issue — but for OSTP to take action, they will need to be convinced that this is a problem for NASA-funded researchers.  They are asking today for input from you — is this a problem for our community?  In what circumstances?  Would making these publications and/or digital data publicly available solve the problem or improve journal access significantly?

OSTP is asking.  Max Bernstein and NASA are encouraging you to answer them.  Will you act, by sending in responses to the RFIs on publications and digital data?

Dear Colleagues,

This is the letter from SARA, a short update for NASA scientists. Today I
want to tell you about two important requests for information released
recently that will allow you to set the direction for research publications
in the coming years. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy
(OSTP, an office of the President) recently released two requests for
information about increasing public access to results of federally funded
research, specifically, peer-reviewed publications and digital data
resulting from federally funded scientific research. The idea is that OSTP
is trying to assess what information should be accessible to the public,
when, and how. For example, peer reviewed publications from NIH funding are
available to the public in manuscript format a year after publication (via
PMC (, with links
back to the official journal version. There is no such public electronic
library for NASA (or any other Agency). Thus, access to articles depends on
the publisher. For example, articles published in some journals e.g., The
Astrophysical Journal (ApJ, become
available after a year, even to those who don’t have subscriptions. Those in
some other journals never become available to those who don’t have
subscriptions. Since publishing papers and generating data are the major
tangible products of the grants given by SMD we want to encourage our
grantees to know about and respond to these RFIs.

For your convenience I have created these tiny URLs:

Publications RFI:
Digital Data RFI:

For more information on this topic see the links at the SARA science matters
page at

Max Bernstein

To join the R&A update mailing list, please submit the form at

Additionally, if you have input that you would be comfortable sharing with the community before or concurrent with your submission to OSTP, please feel free to post it here (or email it to us privately with a request to post) so that your colleagues can also be made aware of where the problems lie, and perhaps sign on to your letter in support (if you wish).

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Ingrid Daubar permalink
    November 22, 2011 4:27 pm

    University of Arizona alumni can get online off-campus access to a good number of journals for $50/year + alumni dues (looks like those start at $50/year). It’s not free, but it’s much less than all those individual subscriptions! 😉 I skimmed the list of journals in the “limited database”, and it includes Icarus & Nature, but not JGR… so it might or might not be helpful. This would only help a subset of planetary scientists, but perhaps there are similar programs at other institutions.

  2. squawky permalink
    November 21, 2011 9:52 pm

    Have to second the use of colleagues for help – journal subscriptions are expensive, unfortunately, and as budgets get smaller these often get cut (we had to do a 20% reduction of our department journal subscriptions recently – surprised to see the costs of some). Luckily we get access to some titles(such as Icarus) as part of “bundles” from large publishers – but there are many others that we don’t have access to. There aren’t funds for more subscriptions, and interlibrary loan (another perk I’m lucky to have) takes time.

    We had briefly discussed this at one of the Women in Planetary Science breakfasts at LPSC (I think in a breakout group of women at teaching-focused universities) – and maybe a short follow-up on one of the email lists. But it never went further than that: this is not a problem that is easily solved, unfortunately.

    Would love to see a more open model – am happy to share PDFs when I can, but that doesn’t solve the problem (it probably makes it worse – suspect this is a violation of the terms of service, and I’m surprised the journals haven’t decided to lock PDFs to make them unreadable on non-authorized machines). Will definitely look into the planetary arxiv (and use it when I get the chance).

  3. November 21, 2011 1:45 pm

    I think in planetary the state of the journals is far worse than in astrophysics. While ApJ and AJ have moved to a model wherein papers are available for free to everyone 1 year post publication, I think that more a response to the astrophysics people being fairly good about posting their paper preprints to the arxiv server. I know my paper writing has leaned towards citing more articles from AJ and ApJ than anywhere else lately, because I just can’t access the other journals in unless someone posts the articles on their personal webpage.

    While I wish that Icarus could do something where articles became public after some period of time because I no longer have Icarus access (and the institution I have a loose affiliation with right now doesn’t have proper Icarus access either), I know that would also require changing the publishing model there and authors would no longer be able to submit their papers for free, they’d have to be charged page fees (and in turn would most likely need more grant money to cover those). However I seem to recall that there isn’t any prohibition against posting preprints from Icarus somewhere, so it would be nice if more planetary folks became acquainted with the arxiv server and posted papers to astro-ph.EP (the EP stands for Earth and Planetary Physics).

    • barbylon permalink*
      November 21, 2011 1:48 pm

      Great comment, arxiv has been a real game-changer for astronomy. I didn’t know a planetary one was up but I sure will use it. Thanks Erin!

      • November 21, 2011 2:02 pm

        We’ve actually had astro-ph.EP since the 2009 subdivision of astro-ph! It’s the category under which the extrasolar planets folks have posted their papers and where the planetary astronomy and dynamics people post as well. I think if we can get more planetary folks posting, we’ll be able to request additional subcategories from the folks.

  4. barbylon permalink*
    November 21, 2011 1:44 pm

    Possibly I was the person in question, but possibly not, as I know my colleagues have similar issues. Basically, it boils down to money. Our NASA center does not have a library, and does not allocate the money at the center level to support one or access to one. Historically, we have had astronomy and heliophysics science here, so there has been some institutional investment to have an electronic subscription to several of those journals that comes out of our grant overhead. When I arrived, as the only Planetary scientist, they weren’t about to raise overhead on everyone just to subscribe to “my” journals. I personally worked with the local University library and succeeded in gaining access to the electronic database services for everyone in our building, since we rent our building from the University. That was great for a while, but they ran into licensing restrictions, where their library/database access had to be restricted to University faculty/staff/students. I lost my library access last week. A possible solution is for me to become adjunct, but that only works for me personally, not for my postdocs, etc.

    My management is looking into several ways of getting library access, including possibly paying the University, but it’s not clear that licensing will work that way. I’ve also asked my colleagues at other NASA centers, bit it’s not clear that THEIR licensing restrictions allow it either. I have been seriously told by management that when I need a paper, I should email the author for a copy. Of course, this is laughable and fundamentally misunderstands the nature of research (as well as the nature of deadlines).

    So for now, I use Twitter and Facebook. I’m fortunate to have several librarian friends, as well as many colleagues with access to good libraries. I try to not ask anyone in particular, in the hopes that crowdsourcing my requests keeps me in good graces long enough to get my work done.

    I know that was long, and probably more information than anyone wanted, but I don’t see a way to respond to the RFIs because I don’t have a good idea for a solution. Publication charges on the front end are regressive and hurt the scientist without grants from publishing. We’ll all have to request higher publication charges in our proposals, whose selection rates are declining anyway. The NIH model of having open access sounds great, but there’s still an “embargo” where some content is by subscription-only to keep the journals in business. So some of us wouldn’t be able to keep up on cutting-edge developments or reference current papers, which would hurt in proposal and paper reviews.

    So I guess this turned out to be a long complainey comment. Sorry for that. It’s a Monday morning and raining 🙂

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