The American Astronomical Society (AAS) supports President Barack Obama's new policy on "open access," the idea that published results of taxpayer-funded research should be made freely available on the Internet rather than permanently restricted to journal subscribers or other paying customers. Central to the new policy is the recognition that publishers "provide valuable services, including the coordination of peer review, that are essential for ensuring the high quality and integrity of many scholarly publications. It is critical that these services continue to be made available."
The AAS is not only the premier professional association of astronomers in North America, but also the publisher of two of the field's leading research journals. Thus the Society's position might seem unusual, as publishing revenues can be substantial. But the AAS doesn't rely on journal proceeds to fund other Society activities, choosing instead to operate the journals in a strictly revenue-neutral mode, setting author charges and subscription fees to cover publishing expenses and to enable the long-term curation of journal content.
The policy proposed by the Obama administration recognizes the important role that publishers play and preserves the value of journal subscriptions for the maintenance of quality editing and peer review. This ensures that the AAS can operate its journals for the benefit of astronomy and closely related disciplines. "If the public is truly to benefit from the research they're paying for," says Chris Biemesderfer, Director of Publishing at the AAS, "they must have access to articles that have been fully subjected to all the quality assurances that guarantee good scholarship."
Last Friday, the head of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), John Holdren, directed federal agencies with more than $100 million in research-and-development (R&D) budgets to develop plans within the next six months to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication. The lion's share of U.S. research in astronomy, planetary science, and related fields is funded by NASA or the National Science Foundation, both of whose budgets exceed the $100 million minimum. Results from this research often appear in the Astrophysical Journal or the Astronomical Journal, both published by the AAS.
So why is the AAS supportive of open access? "Because we're already in compliance with the administration's new guidelines," says AAS Executive Officer Kevin B. Marvel. "Research articles from all AAS journals are available online, without charge, 12 months after their original date of publication, and they've been available that way for years."
Making content free after a certain amount of time is called "delayed open access." The AAS began distributing its journals online in the mid-1990s, before the Internet became a mass medium. Even in those early days, the AAS made some amount of older journal content available at no cost. As the Internet became more popular and it became clear that many people other than professional astronomers might benefit from access to AAS publications, the Society evolved toward a policy of delayed open access with a delay period of 12 months.
The AAS also makes its online journals available at no charge to public libraries in the United States with no delay period. This gives the taxpaying public free and immediate access to much more astronomy research than they could possibly hope to read about in the media.
"This is a win-win situation," says Marvel. "The administration's policy supports academic publishers even as it makes the results of taxpayer-funded research freely available to the public. This sensible approach will help the AAS continue to pursue its mission to enhance and share humanity's scientific understanding of the universe."
AAS Press Officer
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AAS Director of Publishing
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OSTP blog announcing the new open-access policy:
The American Astronomical Society (AAS), established in 1899 and based in Washington, DC, is the major organization of professional astronomers in North America. Its membership of about 7,500 individuals also includes physicists, mathematicians, geologists, engineers, and others whose research and educational interests lie within the broad spectrum of subjects now comprising contemporary astronomy. The mission of the AAS (http://www.aas.org) is to enhance and share humanity's scientific understanding of the universe. Among its many activities, the AAS publishes three of the leading peer-reviewed journals in the field: The Astrophysical Journal (http://apj.aas.org), The Astronomical Journal (http://aj.aas.org), and Astronomy Education Review (http://aer.aas.org).