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From the Executive Office

Thursday, November 21, 2013 - 09:56

AAS Journals in 2013

The Society’s scientific research journals — the Astronomical Journal (AJ) and the Astrophysical Journal (ApJ) are in good health, and our publications team continues to work together to guide the evolution of our journals in a changing scholarly communications environment. We are striving to improve our services for authors, especially with regard to the management of digital data by utilizing a publishing paradigm, but also as scholars are expected to be more accountable to funders and other agents of oversight. The political environment surrounding access policies (including Open Access) is more challenging now that mandates are going into effect, and we are obligated to devise compliance strategies for authors subject to those mandates.

Data in the Journals

The AAS journals have published data digitally for more than 20 years, starting with a CD-ROM series in the 1990s. Since 2001 we have actively produced well-structured and self-describing tabular data sets; we’ve published well over 7,000 in the last 13 years. Recently the editors have started asking authors for “the data behind the figures,” and in the last two years between 40 and 50 of those data sets have appeared as parts of articles. Our production team is working on improvements to the ways that the tracking of data sets is integrated through the review and production processes, to permit us to manage related and diverse data sets with flexible methods (allowing complex relationships) and to allow for considerably more growth.

As more data sets are published using more or less formal publishing techniques, the community expects those data sets to have attributes of other formal scholarly communications. In particular, people expect to be able to refer to (cite, link to) data sets as scholarly objects, and they expect to accrue some sort of credit for the publication of data. In the current online environment, both of those goals are reasonably well achieved with a system of persistent identifiers and the apparatus associated with them, much as the CrossRef infrastructure accomplishes these goals for articles. An initiative called DataCite was formed about four years ago, and it is maturing into a reliable infrastructure for citing data sets. The AAS is affiliated with DataCite, and in the coming year we intend to introduce mechanisms in our journal publishing systems to support DataCite identifiers.

Another expectation of the community is that formally published data sets will themselves persist in time. To accomplish this, a system of trusted digital repositories is needed for the long-term curation and preservation of data. This is an active area of development. A number of organizations, some large and some not so large, are trying various approaches for providing the services that are necessary to assure the digital longevity of data.

Public Access

Lately, a good deal of open-access (OA) advocacy has been predicated on providing “public access” to research results. In the last year two important efforts have been undertaken in the US and in the UK, and we have carefully monitored those activities.

In February 2013 Dr. John Holdren, the Director of the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), issued a memo to agency heads instructing them to “develop plans to make the published results of federally funded research freely available to the public within one year of publication.” Focus is divided between access to data and access to the published literature, but the instructions are fundamentally the same. In recent months several initiatives have arisen in response to the direction regarding access to the scientific literature. These efforts are intended to aid federal funding agencies in ensuring that articles that report on the results of federally funded research are publicly accessible according to the intentions of the US government. Based on the guidance in the OSTP memo, we believe the AAS journals already offer compliant publication platforms for US-funded researchers.

The Research Councils of the UK (RCUK) are responsible for investing public money in research in the UK. The RCUK acted last year on recommendations from the “Finch Group” — a study group chaired by Dame Janet Finch — to impose open-access requirements on the publications of researchers funded with UK public monies. That mandate went into effect on 1 April 2013, with strong emphasis on the RCUK’s preference for gold OA solutions, that is, those managed by journals, not by authors. In early September 2013, another report was issued by the UK government (a committee, not the Parliament) that strongly opposed the push for gold OA. In the wake of that report, several commentators observed that the RCUK policies as formulated will need to be re-examined. We will continue to monitor the developments. We believe that the existing policies of the AAS journals allow UK authors to be compliant with the April RCUK mandate via its green OA provisions.

In considering public access, it’s worth mentioning again that in mid-2012 we made our online journals available at no charge to public libraries in the US. The program is intended to enable the accessibility of the Society’s journals to the taxpaying public in the United States. Public libraries with an interest in our journals must register, and we make a nominal attempt to verify that the request is from a bona fide public library. Only a small number of libraries have applied, probably because our delayed-open-access policy makes it largely unnecessary. The AAS regards this effort as one more mechanism the Society provides to enhance and share humanity’s scientific understanding of the universe.

Author Accountability

In the wake of all the attention to “transparency,” in government and otherwise, it’s not surprising that expectations about transparency in scientific research and its reporting are being raised. There is a host of initiatives that have started over the last five years that address various aspects of accountability in research, and the journals are an important place where interrelationships can be brought together. These initiatives include ORCID for researcher (author) identification, FundRef for tracking awards related to research publications, and even CrossCheck for detecting instances of potential plagiarism.

For several years it has been apparent that the capability to automatically disambiguate authors would have benefits for scholarship, and various schemes have been proposed to uniquely identify individuals. ORCID, which stands for Open Researcher and Contributor ID, was formed in 2009 to address this problem comprehensively. Over 300 organizations are participating, including academic institutions, publishers, scholarly societies, and others. It is anticipated that most tracking of a researcher's formal activities — proposing for grants, utilizing community facilities, publishing articles and data sets, etc. — will be coordinated using ORCID as the unifying identifier. We believe it is a worthy objective, and the AAS joined as a founding sponsor in February 2011. You can sign up for an ORCID identifier at

The purpose of FundRef is to allow researchers, publishers, and funding agencies to track the published research that results from specific funding bodies by collecting data from authors during manuscript submission. The main development for FundRef comes from the core group of publishers that created CrossRef for reliable article identification. The pilot phase of FundRef concluded successfully in early 2013, and the system is now being deployed operationally as a cross-industry initiative. We are assessing the most effective ways to implement FundRef within the AAS journals' production, and we hope to provide the capabilities in 2014.

In the wake of Dr. Holdren’s February 2013 memo, a group of organizations involved in FundRef proposed a public-private initiative called CHORUS (Clearinghouse for Open Research in the US) to provide a means for the agencies to comply with public-access mandates, mostly the language from the America COMPETES reauthorization. The project leverages the efforts of FundRef and CrossRef. The basic idea is to utilize the FundRef architecture to identify articles that have been federally funded, and then add mechanisms for the publishers of those articles to assert how their (authoritative and already extant) repository satisfies the open/public-access requirements of the US government. The solution takes advantage of systems that already exist or are fairly well developed at this point, and since the OSTP memo specifically says there is no new money for this effort, it can be implemented for very modest investment on the government side of the partnership. This way agencies don’t have to divert money from research activities to build redundant infrastructure. The AAS is an endorsing partner of CHORUS.

In addition to ensuring that proper citations and acknowledgements of support are integrated into scholarly communications, there is also growing concern that scientists conduct themselves responsibly. The AAS maintains ethics policies — a general one and one specific to the journals — as a reminder to the community about these expectations. One of the important elements in our journals ethics policy is the call for the submission of original work when new articles are submitted. This requirement for originality extends to the language in the paper, which must not replicate wording used elsewhere. With the availability of software tools such as CrossCheck, it now is standard practice to check the language of submitted manuscripts against that of other work. The AAS journals are making use of this capability to check all submitted manuscripts for problems with replicated text. When difficulties occur, which rarely happens, editors will contact authors and seek ways to remedy the difficulty. The best practice, however, remains ensuring that your submitted manuscript does not contain text reproduced from other sources.

AAS Journals in 2014

The AAS journals will remain excellent and in demand in 2014 as we make enhancements that will improve authors’ capabilities to report their research innovatively, that will allow researchers to draw connections among scholarly resources more effectively, and that will permit greater transparency for all stakeholders. The Society is enormously grateful for your involvement with our journals — as authors, as referees, as editors, as Councilors and Publications Board members, and especially as engaged researchers in the astronomical community.

Christopher Biemesderfer
Director of Publishing
American Astronomical Society
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