The funder identification problem

Stevan Harnad amsciforum at GMAIL.COM
Fri May 30 12:12:47 EDT 2014

On Thu, May 29, 2014 at 4:20 PM, David Wojick <dwojick at>

> * The core challenge in the US Public Access program is to precisely
> identify the funders of the research that leads to a given journal article.
> This sounds easy but it can be a difficult and complex process. The US
> Government is a vast and complex organization, with hundreds of different
> offices sponsoring research. Moreover, each office can be referred to in
> many different ways, creating a major name disambiguation problem in the
> funder data.*

To repeat:

It is not for *publishers* to do record-keeping for the government on the
articles they publish, dearly as publishers no doubt wish to hold onto this
further potential chain of control over research and researchers' work.

*Researchers' own institutions* are the natural ones to do this. As I wrote
in my previous posting on this very same issue:

All authors have institutions -- either a university or a research
institution. Those institutions have a huge stake in ensuring that their
researchers comply with their funder requirements (and they already review
all grant applications). Institutions are hence the ones in the position to
monitor their own researchers' journal article output, ensure that the
funder (if any) is specified in the repository metadata for each published
article, and, most important of all, ensure that the deposit is done within
the required time-frame (see BOAI recommendation above).

Repository deposits are time-stamped. Researchers can even be asked to
deposit the journal's acceptance letter (in closed access) alongside the
final refereed draft, for record-keeping and compliance monitoring
purposes. The institution can thereby systematically monitor and ensure
timely compliance with funder (and institutional) deposit mandates. (The
repository software and the Copy Request Button can then handle any
allowable publisher embargo periods in a simple, straightforward way --via
the Button till the embargo elapses, and then the deposit automatically
becomes OA.)

*CHORUS and FundRef are attacking this funder identification problem using
> a standardized menu of funder names and DOIs. The basic idea is that the
> submitting author will pick out the standard names of all the offices that
> contributed to the research that underlies the submitted article. Again
> this sounds simple but it is not, because building a comprehensive taxonomy
> of all possible funders is far from simple. *

Far from simple -- and far from necessary. Authors' own institutions are
the ones that are best positioned to stay abreast of the grants that their
researchers have received (in fact they already do so), and their
repositories can automatically record what resulting articles are published
and deposited, and when.

> *To begin with they have elected to build this menu to identify all the
> funders in the world, not just the US Federal funders. As a result the menu
> of funders already has six thousands names and it will probably have many
> thousands more before it stabilizes. The size of the funder list alone thus
> creates a big discovery problem, because many funders have similar names. *

Let's hope that while (all? some?) publishers are spending their time
constructing a mega-database of all their authors' potential funders
worldwide, institutions will do the much more simple and sensible thing of
constructing a database of all their own employees' funding. (Indeed, they
do it already; they need only pool this information in their IR metadata
(and their CRIS <>,
if they have one).

Let journal publishers just manage the peer review of the papers submitted
to them and stop trying to create a monopoly over everything else. The
research community is perfectly capable of doing its own record-keeping,
thank you very much!

*Then there is the hierarchy problem, especially within the vast US
> Government complex. Funding offices occur at many different scales, which
> are arranged within one another in the tree-like organization chart. For
> example in the US Energy Department there may be five or more layers of
> funding offices. Saying which layer should be named in the funding data for
> a given article is not simple. Moreover if offices in different layers are
> named for different articles, then the resulting data will have to somehow
> be aggregated by layer in order to be useful. To make matters worse there
> are also cross cutting programs that involve multiple offices. In short any
> taxonomy of US Federal funding offices is going to be a complex system, not
> a simple listing.*

Needless pseudo-complications. The researcher receives a grant. The grant
has an agency and number. That agency and number is one of the metadata
tags on all articles arising from that funding that are deposited in the IR.

*Given these complexities it may be better to have an editor name the
> funders based on the acknowledgements section of the article, rather than
> presenting the author with a complex taxonomy of possible funders. There
> seems to be some experimentation in this direction, but it is a labor
> intensive solution. The question is also whether the resulting data would
> be accurate enough for agency purposes; given that acknowledgement has been
> a relatively informal process. There is also the question of when to
> collect this funder data, given the labor involved. Should it be upon
> submission or after acceptance?"*

The above metadata are enough. Let those who wish to harvest it do so, and
do with it, as they will. Publishers have nothing to do with any of this.

And a reminder: We are talking about monitoring and ensuring compliance
with Green OA self-archiving mandates here.

How funders plan to handle billing and documentation for any Gold OA
publishing charges that they may be foolish enough to cover out of scarce
research money while the money for Fair-Gold OA is still locked into
subscription journals is not what we are discussing here (and certainly not
my concern.)

*Stevan Harnad*
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