Particle physics goes public

by Angela Herring

Ever since CERN, the Euro­pean Orga­ni­za­tion for Nuclear Research in Switzer­land, opened its doors in 2008, researchers at its Large Hadron Col­lider have pushed for their results to be pub­licly acces­sible. The field of high-​​energy exper­i­mental physics is a bit of an anomaly in the sci­en­tific arena. It’s a rel­a­tively small community—about 15,000 sci­en­tists globally—and one that is acutely depen­dent on col­lab­o­ra­tion and sharing (about half of those sci­en­tists are spread across just the four LHC experiments).

Thus, the notion of open-​​access pub­li­ca­tion is deeply ingrained in the nature of the field. But until recently, main­taining that ethic has not been all that straight­for­ward. That’s because each CERN paper’s open-​​access pub­li­ca­tion had to be indi­vid­u­ally nego­ti­ated since most of the peer-​​reviewed jour­nals in which the arti­cles appear are not tra­di­tion­ally open. At a rate of about 7,000 arti­cles per year, this is not a trivial task.

North­eastern Uni­ver­sity physics pro­fessor George Alverson serves as the head of the pub­li­ca­tions office for one of the four LHC exper­i­ments and knows the chal­lenges of the piece­meal approach. “We have a very involved and rig­orous internal review process,” he said. “It’ll take a year or two from data to sub­mis­sion to the journal.”

So Alverson and his col­leagues rejoiced on Jan. 1 when a six-​​year project to stream­line the open-​​access pub­li­ca­tion of CERN results finally came to fruition. The new method is made pos­sible by Spon­soring Con­sor­tium for Open Access Pub­lishing in Par­ticle Physics, or SCOAP3, an inter­na­tional syn­di­cate of uni­ver­sity libraries including Northeastern’s Snell Library, funding agen­cies, and research institutions.

These orga­ni­za­tions have essen­tially traded their sub­scrip­tion fees to 10 of the most widely rep­re­sented jour­nals in the field for mem­ber­ship in the con­sor­tium. SCOAP3 uses those funds to help the jour­nals offset the cost of making all their high-​​energy physics papers open-​​access.

It’s a new model that holds great promise in an era of increasing focus on open-​​access sci­ence. “Funding agen­cies want to see public monies spent where the public can see the results,” Alverson said.

In 2009, the White House issued a trend­set­ting man­date that all research funded by the National Insti­tutes of Health be made avail­able to the public, fol­lowed in 2013 by sim­ilar instruc­tions for all agen­cies with R&D bud­gets in excess of $100 mil­lion. This would include the National Sci­ence Foun­da­tion and the Depart­ment Of Energy, fun­ders of the U.S. activity in high-​​energy physics.

If the model works for high-​​energy physics, it may be rel­e­vant for other fields as well, noted Hillary Cor­bett, the schol­arly com­mu­ni­ca­tion librarian and uni­ver­sity copy­right officer who helped usher for­ward Northeastern’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in SCOAP3. “The hope is that this will become a suc­cessful model for funding pub­lishing,” she said.

Such a shift could have a pro­found impact on the way sci­ence and research is done.

Originally posted in news@Northeastern on January 29, 2014.

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