Saturday, August 19, 2017

Does Trump's Reg Review threaten Public Access?

INSIDE PUBLIC ACCESS
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August 17, 2017

Does Reg Review threaten Public Access?

By David Wojick, Ph.D.

 Synopsis: The Administration's massive regulatory review efforts might threaten those Public Access repositories that lack a statutory mandate.

Executive Order 13771 -- "Reducing Regulation and Controlling Regulatory Costs" -- was quickly issued in February 2017. Regulatory review is a traditional Presidential gesture, but unlike previous "feel good" efforts, this one has big teeth. In fact it has two provisions that are so strong they might be illegal.

First there is the "2 for 1" rule, which is not about bargain prices. It says that a federal agency cannot issue a new rule unless it has repealed two existing rules. Two repeals for every one new rule. In this case a rule can be either a formal regulation or a guidance document, basically whatever orders people to do stuff. .

Then there is the regulatory budget rule. It has long been the case that every significant regulation comes with a cost estimate. Thus there is also an estimated total cost for all of an agency's existing (significant) regs. The budget rule basically says that new rules cannot increase this total, which is now the agency's regulatory cost budget.

The intended result is that in order for an agency to issue a new rule, which has a given cost, it will have to cut the cost of its existing rules by an equal amount. It can do this either by repealing existing rules or by revising them to reduce their cost.

These two provisions are each far more sweeping than anything done before. Taken together they could change the way regulatory agencies operate, in effect requiring constant prioritization. Not surprisingly, these rules have already been challenged in Court, especially the 2 for 1 rule. Here the primary argument is that the agencies have statutory obligations to issue regulations, which the President cannot block.

Our concern here is not with the litigation, but with what might happen to Public Access if these reg review rules become truly effective. The primary concern is that regulatory agencies need to issue new rules, so they will be looking for rules to cut or gut.

Each Public Access agency has Public Access rules. Some are called plans, others called policies, but all are rules as far as reg reform goes, because all tell researchers that they have to do something. (Note that the original OSTP memo is probably not a rule because it only directs federal agencies to do something.)

It is also the case that many of the Public Access agencies issue a lot of regulations. DOE, USDA, Commerce and EPA are big examples. Others are primarily science agencies like NSF and NASA. But even these agencies have rules that govern funding, including their Public Access rules. "Agency" is defined at the Department level so the giant NIH falls under HHS, which is also a big regulatory agency. Mind you all of this has to get worked out, along with myriad other details.

The Public Access rules do not cost much to comply with, so they are probably not likely targets for regulatory budget cuts. The big threat is the 2 for 1 rule.

Suppose an agency wants to issue an expensive rule. It first finds a big cost saving by repealing an existing rule. But then it needs a second rule to repeal to meet 2 for 1. Even worse, if it meets the budget rule by modifying an existing rule then it still needs to repeal two other rules. The size of these repealable rules does not matter, which probably makes small rules a better target. They are often easier to repeal. The Public Access rules meet this criterion.

In fact the agencies may well try to game the 2 for 1 rule by breaking guidances and regulations down into small pieces, then counting them separately. In the Public Access case this could mean counting the publication and data parts as two different rules. There is some guidance for reg review but the size issue is not addressed. Plus guidances are a lot easier to repeal than formal regulations.

PubMed Central is probably safe because it has a detailed statutory requirement. But most of the other Public Access repositories have little in the way of statutory support.

As far as I know, few 2 for 1 reg repeals have been announced and the relevant internal agency negotiations are still going on, out of sight. In fact one of the arguments against litigation is that nothing has happened yet.

Expect this issue to become very large, very fast, if significant proposed repeals begin to emerge. Most federal rules have strong, vocal supporters. Let's hope Public Access does too. It may need them.

__________________________________________________________________
Inside Public Access is published weekly. For subscription information:  http://insidepublicaccess.com/

We also do confidential consulting. 

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Beall-based Indian turmoil?

The following is adapted from the February 9 issue of my subscription newsletter: http://insidepublicaccess.com/. I think it is important enough to make OA.

Beall-based Indian turmoil?

By David Wojick, Ph.D.

Synopsis: New data sheds light on Indian researcher's use of low cost journals. The Indian Government's attack on these journals, based on Beall's list, could adversely affect the Indian university science community.
Three weeks ago we reported that an Indian agency was using a whitelist to ban the use of unlisted journals for the purpose of evaluating researcher performance. The Agency is the University Grants Commission (UGC), which apparently plays a major role in university based Indian science. I know little about this realm, but it seems to include setting the criteria for hiring and promotion, perhaps as well as granting PhD's. 
See http://cbseugcnetforum.in/jobs/ugc-notice-approved-list-journals-career-advancement-scheme-direct-recruitment-teachers/

The Commission staff says it started with the Scopus journal list, which probably rules out most of the Beall's list (BL) low cost OA journals, the dramatic growth of which we have been reporting on. This growth has been centered in India, on both the publisher and author sides. It may have been driven by earlier UGC criteria that make publication the major form of evaluation. If so then the UGC ban may well be a backlash to something the Commission itself engendered.
See https://journosdiary.com/2017/01/16/india-ugc-predatory-journals/.

A new research article provides important data on the use of BL articles by Indian researchers. It shows that these journals have come to play an important new role in Indian science. Thus the UGC ban could have serious consequences, if it is effective.
See http://www.currentscience.ac.in/Volumes/111/11/1759.pdf

The article is "India’s scientific publication in predatory journals: need for regulating quality of Indian science and education" G. S. Seethapathy, J. U. Santhosh Kumar and A. S. Hareesha in Current Science, December 10, 2016.

The title shows that the authors consider the widespread use of BL journals to be a bad thing. They do not distinguish actually predatory journals from simply low cost journals, just as Beall did not. (This is an error that is widespread.) In fact they do not mention cost.

What the data show, however, is very interesting. India, like the US, really has two tiers when it comes to doing research. The top tier is a small number of prestigious research universities, which get most of the grant money. In the second tier are the many lesser universities and colleges, which have lots of science faculty and graduates, but do relatively little funded research.

Simply put, it is the second tier faculty and grad students who are publishing hundreds of thousands of articles a year in the Beall's list journals. Moreover, the sample data show that the vast majority of these authors are paying the journal APCs out of their own pockets, not from grant or university funds.

The explosive growth of low cost BL journals makes perfect sense if there is great pressure on second tier researchers to publish. The characteristics of these journals fit the needs of the authors.

The BL journals publish less important research, often written in less than perfect English. Most of this probably could not get published in the rich journals. They provide rapid publication, often in weeks or a few months, while the rich journals often take a year or more. Even worse, the rich journals have high rejection rates, which lead to multiple lengthy submission times prior to eventual publication.

And most importantly the BL journal APCs are just a hundred dollars or so, compared to the thousands of dollars charged by the rich journals. All of this means the low cost BL journals are ideal for meeting second tier publication needs.

In fact one piece of data is astounding if correct. The article mentions that PhD candidates may need to publish one to three articles in order to graduate. To my knowledge no US PhD candidate is under this sort of pressure. The first article is usually mined from the thesis and submitted after getting the degree.

Given this situation, banning the use of BL journals for evaluation could seriously disrupt the world of second tier Indian science. If forced to submit to rich journals, many researchers probably could not get published. Those that could would face huge personal APC charges, typically thousands of dollars per article, amounting to potentially billions of dollars a year in publication charges. There would also be great delays, potentially years per promotion, compared to the present system, which is quite efficient.

This combination of rejection, delay and cost could wreak havoc with the present system of graduation and promotion. I see no evidence that the UGC has considered this adverse possibility. Most likely they have viewed the situation as others have, namely that BL journals are a bad thing. The benefits of rapid, low cost and tolerant publication have been lost in the widespread damning of so-called predatory journals.
 
Perhaps the second tier universities and colleges will simply ignore the UGC ban. Or they might relax the publication requirements. Or the UGC could expand the list to include the low cost journals that are presently publishing over a hundred thousand articles a year by Indian researchers. Recognizing the existing publishing system is the ideal solution.

If not then Indian researchers and universities may be in for a period of serious and disruptive turmoil. We are talking about onerous new rules potentially affecting hundreds of thousands of researchers, presently publishing in low cost Beall's list journals. Where are they supposed to publish and at what cost? They cannot just suddenly switch to the rich journals.

Something has to give.



Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Tracking Trump

December 1, 2016

By David Wojick, Ph.D.
http://insidepublicaccess.com/

Synopsis: We begin the process of tracking the new Trump Administration (as well as Congress) with regard to the uncertain future of the US Public Access Program.

The transition team

To begin with, the Trump Administration has gotten off to a very slow start. The transition team did very little work prior to the election, which is unusual. Federal funding is available to both major candidates as soon as they are nominated. Romney's transition team spent a reported 8.9 million dollars before the election. The Trump team has spent very little.

The transition team has a lot to do. To begin with it is supposed to vet applicants and job holders for about 4,000 federal positions which are held "at the pleasure of the President." About 1,000 of these positions require Senate approval, so the vetting is not trivial.

There is a transition team for each Cabinet Department and the major non-Cabinet agencies, like EPA and the SEC. In addition to vetting applicants, the teams are supposed to meet with the senior civil servants of each Dept. and agency, to be briefed on how these huge and complex organizations actually operate. Something as small as Public Access may not be noticed.

Each team is also supposed to begin to formulate specific policies for their organization. Given how vague Trump as been on policy specifics, this may not be easy. Or it may mean that the teams have pretty broad latitude when it comes to specific agency policies. There seems to be little information as to who makes up each agency team, so their views on public access are unknown at this point.

Moreover, the head of the Energy Department transition team was recently replaced, which has to slow things down a bit. DOE has been a leader in developing the Public Access Program.

But in the long run the fate of Public Access is in the hands of the Department and Agency heads, and their deputies, not the transition team. Science related nominations have yet to even be announced.

The Science Advisor and OSTP

Then there is the issue of OSTP and the memo creating the Public Access Program. The Office of Science and Technology Policy is part of the Executive Office of the President. It is headed by the President's Science Advisor.

At one extreme the memo might simply be rescinded. President Obama issued a great many orders and executive memos, in direct defiance of the Republican led Congress. Many of these orders seem likely to be rescinded and Public Access might get caught in the wave and wiped out. Then too, Republicans tend to be pro-business and the publishers may well lobby against the Public Access Program.

On the other hand, a public access policy is relatively non-partisan, as well as being politically attractive. The new OSTP head might even decide to strengthen the program, especially because Trump is being labeled as anti-science by his opponents.

The OSTP situation is also quite fluid at this point. No Science Advisor has even been proposed at this point, that I know of. The vast majority of academic scientists are Democrats. The last Republican president took a year in office before nominating a Science Advisor, and he was a Democrat.

The American science community is watching this issue very closely, even though the Science Advisor and OSTP have very little actual authority. The Public Access Program is really something of an exception in this regard, but it is after all largely an administrative program. In the interim, OSTP has over a hundred employees so it will keep operating. So will the Public Access Program if the memo is not rescinded.

In fact the slower the Trump people are in taking over, the longer the Government will be run by civil servants who will favor the status quo. This will be true of all the Departments and Agencies. The worst case scenario would be if OSTP were eliminated altogether. There is some discussion of this, but it seems unlikely as a political strategy. It would be viewed as a direct attack on science and it has no upside.

On the other hand, given that their internal Public Access Programs are well established, the agencies could decide to continue them, absent the OSTP memo, or even OSTP.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Predatory versus low cost?


September 8, 2016

Predatory versus low cost?
 By David Wojick, Ph.D.


Synopsis: Low cost journals listed as predatory have taken off and are publishing a huge number of papers. The concept of "predatory journal" may incorrectly include a lot of legitimate low cost journals, masking a major change in scientific communication.

Last week we raised the issue of whether the the US Public Access agencies should screen the journals whose articles they post, as PubMed Central does. In discussing this issue with industry experts we discovered a recent report which presents some amazing, even revolutionary, numbers.

The report is Shen and Bjork, "‘Predatory’ open access: a longitudinal study of article volumes and market characteristics," BMC, 2015. What they did was study a sample of the roughly 11,000 journals on Beall's list of so-called predatory journals, and then they project the results to the entire list. This is crude, so the results are admittedly rough estimates and we will treat them that way by rounding them off a lot.

Here are the stunning numbers. First, the number of articles published in 2014 is over 400,000. This is an enormous number of articles. Second, the number published in 2010 was just over 50,000, so the growth has been explosive. So has the growth in the number of active journals over this short period, going from 2000 to 8000. And if the reported growth has continued there should be well over half a million articles published this year alone.

I think this is actually good news, masked by a colossal conceptual confusion.

Specifically, the so-called "predatory" net is actually capturing a lot of simple low cost journals. Note that they classify about 11,000 journals as predatory. Last I knew there were an estimated 30,000 indexed journals. So they are classifying roughly one third to one quarter that number of journals as predatory. Not likely. The total number of published articles may be as high as two million so the rough fraction is the same, one third to one quarter. Are we to believe that this many articles are somehow being published fraudulently? Surely not.

The key datum is the average APC of less than $200. Here is what I think is happening. The developing countries, especially China and India, are pouring a lot into research, hence generating a lot of articles. (Last I knew China was overtaking the US as the leading generator of scientific articles.) In pace with this we are seeing the rapid growth of the low budget APC journal, to serve the low budget researcher market. This makes economic sense and there is nothing predatory about it.

On the contrary, many OA advocates see the end state as one of very low APCs. Well here it is, in part anyway. The thing is that a $150 APC journal cannot look like a $1500 journal, which is very fancy. Back when Beall's list first gained prominence I studied it closely. My conclusion was that it was picking up low budget journals per se, the predatory ones being just a small fraction. My favorite example is a journal that seems to have been classified as predatory just because the mailing address was an apartment, not an office (in Montreal).

These numbers suggest that I was right. If so then what we are seeing is actually part of the globalization of science, which I consider a good thing. Poor researchers publishing in low cost journals.

My point is that if these journals are publishing on the order of half a million articles a year then they are not predatory. They are an extensive and fast growing new literature. And if they are not being indexed then that in itself is a major access problem.

To be clear, I am not claiming that there are no fraudulent journals. If fact I am sure there are. I just do not think that fraudulent journals can publish such a huge amount. My conjecture is that low cost journals have been wrongly classified as fraudulent.

As for peer review, it may be too expensive for this low cost business model. For that matter I have never been impressed by peer review. It is not a necessary condition for a scholarly literature. Perhaps it is a luxury.

What we seem to have here is a rapidly emerging new world of scholarship, which we know little about. I assume it is mostly science and thus it should be properly indexed and made accessible. This includes posting the relevant articles via the Public Access Program. These journals should not be screened out.


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Inside Public Access is published weekly. For subscription information:  http://insidepublicaccess.com/. Single issues may be purchased separately. 

Monday, August 22, 2016

CHORUS meets Japan

By David Wojick, Ph.D.
(davidwojick@insidepublicaccess.com)

Synopsis: CHOR, Inc., which operates CHORUS, has signed a Letter of Agreement with the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST), for a six-month Pilot project to explore developing a CHORUS-like system for JST funded articles. This is a major step toward making CHORUS functionality global.

 The CHOR, Inc press release describes the project this way:

"CHOR and JST will work together to explore ways to improve the monitoring of public accessibility of content reporting on JST-funded research. Our collaboration will improve Japanese funder information in the Crossref Open Funder Registry, enable linking via metadata (based on Crossref funding data) from the Chiba University institutional repository to published articles reporting on JST-funded research on CHOR publisher members' sites, and develop a customized Dashboard and Search Portal (including ORCID IDs, links to datasets, and more)." 

CHOR declined to elaborate on this project, saying wait until we have some results, but research provides some useful background.

The key issue is repositories. Japan has no national OA policy but they do have a national institutional repository policy. There is a national system of repositories, mostly run by university libraries. There are 196 Japanese repositories listed in OpenDOAR.

Pilot participants include Chiba University, one of the largest national universities in Japan. Chiba's sizable repository is called CURATOR, with about 90,000 items, of which about 25,000 journal articles.


Here is Chiba's description of the repository:

"CURATOR (Chiba University's Repository for Access to Outcomes from Research) captures, preserves and makes publicly available intellectual digital materials from research activities on Chiba University campuses, including peer-reviewed articles, theses, preprints, statistical and experimental data, course materials and softwares. CURATOR is intended to function as the portal for the outcomes from Chiba University's research activities."

JST is a relatively small funding agency, with a budget around 136 billion yen or about 1.36 billion dollars. Of this about 50% is specifically for basic research, which is where most journal articles come from.

Significantly, JST does have an OA policy. In fact they issued it in April 2013, just two months after the OSTP memo establishing the US policy. Not surprisingly, it mandates repository deposit. It is pretty emphatic about honoring publisher consent, except that it also says that the embargo period should be less than 12 months.

The English version seems a bit strained. Here is the relevant OA mandate text:

"Using the institutional repositories that are promoted by the national policy as a basis, JST will implement this open accessibility only with the explicit consent of the journal the researcher has published in and within the embargo time period of the institutional repository, and will clearly state the above in the application guidelines**. Moreover, it will also be possible to implement open accessibility by publishing papers in open access journals. While respecting the freedom of publication of researchers and making use of the system of institutional repositories, JST aims to make the results of research funded by JST free to view in full on the internet as soon as possible after publication.

While coordinating with the relevant agencies, JST will implement the following measures in relation to making research results freely accessible:
- JST will take steps to reduce the workload on researchers involved in gaining the consent of the journal in which they have published and submitting to the institutional repository.
- As standardization of academic information is important to open accessibility, JST will promote
international Digital Object Identifier (DOI) number assignment as well as using the Japan Link Centre.
-  Although the repositories of institutions will be used in general, in cases of institutions without one JST will consider setting up and operating its own repository.
Since the JST-managed 'J-STAGE' has an open access function, JST will also be able to prepare a platform of open access journals to academic societies.
** The embargo period is supposed to be less than 1 year, and the paper contents to be made public should be as per Author's final document and so on."
 
Presumably what the pilot will try to demonstrate is that the publishers can identify articles from Chiba authors reporting on research funded by JST. The press release mentions improving Japanese funder information in the Crossref Open Funder Registry and this will be essential for success. This is all very small scale, as a pilot should be, but with great potential. To begin with it could expand to the entire repository system. What is pioneering here is the CHORUS concept, which is providing the article to the user via the publisher rather than the repository. 

Beyond that there is the prospect of a National OA Standard for Japan, which might include CHOR functionality. There are rumors to the effect that a national standard may be in the works, which may be the impetus for this project. JST actually has a mission to further scientific and technical communication.

Then there is what may be the ultimate challenge. This is to extend the CHOR-Crossref system to Japanese language content, of which there is a great deal. Most of the CURATOR content is in Japanese and there are many Japanese language journals. The Japanese are world leaders in computer technology so they may well want to take this giant step. More information on some of Japan's OA technology initiatives can be found here.

In this context I would like to point to a past project of my own that helps to solve the multi-language problem. It is the WorldWideScience.org portal, which I helped the Energy Department's Office of Scientific and Technical Information (OSTI) develop. OSTI hosts this international gateway to approximately 100 national science collections from more than 70 participating nations. Multilingual translation capabilities are available for ten languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. In particular, a search query entered in one language is translated into all the available languages, for searching those language collections. The results are then translated back into the user's language. This was my idea. More information is available at WorldWideScience.org.


__________________________________________________________________
Inside Public Access is published weekly. For subscription information:  http://insidepublicaccess.com/

Saturday, September 6, 2014

DOE says OA publishers must join CHORUS

Here is an article that I recently wrote for my newsletter "Inside Public Access."

DOE says OA publishers must join CHORUS
From Inside Public Access A weekly newsletter
September 2, 2014

 By David Wojick, Ph.D.

Synopsis: The US Energy Department says that if publishers want PAGES based public access for their OA articles they must join CHORUS to get it. This is ironic, as the OA community has been generally negative about CHORUS. Non-CHORUS publishers may want to ask DOE to reconsider this policy. However a limited form of immediate public access may be available for those publishers who do not join CHORUS. (Note: for background information see http://insidepublicaccess.com/issues/IPA_2014-08-13_DOE_confusions.pdf)

How PAGES works

This picture is a bit complicated so bear with me. The US Energy Department (DOE) funds several billion dollars in research every year. DOE will make the journal articles based on this research publicly accessible via the PAGES system, which presently operates in beta mode. PAGES also includes a lot of human activity and document processing.

The PAGES system uses a tiered approach to provide what DOE calls the "best available version" of each article. The highest priority is given to the version of record posted on the publisher's website. Second highest goes to an accepted manuscript housed in a repository. This may also include an accepted manuscript posted on the publisher's website, but whether it does or not has yet to be determined. The lowest priority, or fallback position, is for DOE to post an accepted manuscript itself.

How DOE gets the links to the off site articles on the websites and in the repositories is important here. For every article, at least one author is supposed to report the event of publication and supply certain metadata for that article, as well as the accepted manuscript. (Technically, every author that used DOE funding probably has to do this.)
This metadata may include a DOI for the published article, on the publisher's website, even when that article is behind a pay wall. DOE will make this metadata available immediately, even though it may not make the article itself available until the end of the embargo period.

The role of CHORUS in PAGES

CHORUS is going to supply DOE with links to the funding related articles on the websites of its publisher members. As part of joining CHORUS, each member publisher agrees to make all articles related to US federal funding open no later than after the federal embargo period ends. However, some articles may become open sooner and PAGES will provide access to them at this earlier date. Thus all CHORUS based OA articles will be made immediately accessible via PAGES.

Note that being PAGES accessible involves more than merely having a DOI link posted in the PAGES metadata. It means, among other things, being indexed by PAGES and thus included in the PAGES search system.

OA publishers who are not in CHORUS

The question thus arises as to what happens to DOE funding related OA articles on the websites of publishers who are not members of CHORUS? The VoR is immediately available for public access, as far as the publisher is concerned. According to DOE these articles will not be made fully PAGES available immediately. Their availability will be limited to the fact that each will have a DOI listed in the article's metadata, just as though it were behind a pay wall.

It appears, moreover, that the fact that such articles are not behind pay walls will not be indicated in the metadata. Thus there is a big difference between being available via a metadata link and being fully PAGES available. Full PAGES availability includes a lot of discovery that a metadata link simply does not provide.

CHORUS is required for immediate PAGES access

In short, the only way an OA publisher can get their articles made fully PAGES available upon publication is by joining CHORUS. This requirement does not seem to be spelled out anywhere in the DOE Public Access plan.

Here is what the DOE plan says about CHORUS: "The publishing community is developing a multi-publisher portal, the Clearinghouse for Open Research of the United States (CHORUS), to provide access to journal articles resulting from government funding. Such an activity offers considerable economies in the integration of article metadata and links for publishers who want to participate in DOE’s public access efforts. PAGES, however, can operate successfully independent of CHORUS." (Page 8)

The last sentence above says that PAGES can operate successfully without CHORUS. It appears however that OA publishers wanting PAGES access cannot operate successfully without CHORUS. This is nowhere mentioned in the DOE plan, but it appears to be a major requirement. The key is that there is nothing in the plan about publishers submitting links to their articles, other than via CHORUS. In effect this omission makes the rule in question.

Moreover, DOE has confirmed this interpretation. In our correspondence, DOE summed up their policy with this statement: "At this time, DOE's engagement with the publishing community is through CHORUS."

The CHORUS membership requirement does make sense from an administrative standpoint. Former OSTI director Walt Warnick points out that CHORUS saves DOE the considerable effort of dealing with each publisher independently, one at a time. This effort is a significant cost for PubMed Central.

However, OA publishers may not be thrilled with having to join CHORUS in order to get immediate, full PAGES access for their articles. There is also the question as to whether DOE can show this sort of favoritism. The DOE quotation above suggests that the present situation may change in the future. Perhaps the non-CHORUS publishers will raise this issue with DOE.

Conclusions

That only CHORUS members will get immediate, full PAGES access for OA articles is a surprising policy, and a questionable one on DOE's part. This DOE policy seems not to have been disclosed but it should be deeply discussed before it becomes final. CHORUS is a great idea but that may not justify making CHORUS membership a requirement for full PAGES access.

__________________________________________________________________
Inside Public Access is published weekly. For subscription information:  http://insidepublicaccess.com/. Single issues may be purchased separately.

We also do confidential consulting.

For more information contact David Wojick
davidwojick@insidepublicaccess.com
(540) 358-1080

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Engineer Tackles Regulatory Confusion

ENR (Engineering News Record) cover story
April 3, 1980

Inside title:
Logician shears woolly regulations
Blueprints untangle complex rules

Several times a week, David E. Wojick drives from his Revolutionary War-era estate in Orange, Va., to the nations's capital to work on a revolution of his own in a field he dubs "regulation engineering." Armed with a technique for simplifying complex issues, Wojick says he can make regulations systematic, coherent and efficient. According to clients, Wojick's four-year-old consulting firm has scored victories with dozens of major regulations — both in critiquing them for industry and in rewriting them for government agencies.

Regulation writing should be a design science based on principles of efficiency, not a political process, contends Wojick, a professional engineer with a doctorate in logic and the philosophy of science. "A regulation is every bit as complex as a major structure. It requires the same care in construction. No one would let a committee of lawyers design an office building or a nuclear power plant, but the regulatory programs for all things are designed by committees of lawyers," Wojick says. "As a result, regulations read like insurance policies, and regulatory programs proceed like lawsuits."

Wojick says the 90,000 pages of government regulations now in force are among the most complex structures ever fabricated. "Today a 100-page regulation is small, 500 pages is not unusual, and the 10,000 pages of federal income tax regulations are a wonder of the world," he says. Because regulation writing is dominated by lawyers, regulations today are powerful and respond to popular concerns, but, Wojick claims, they are generally costly and incoherent.

Counting kinds of Confusion

Wojick's firm, Adams & Wojick Associates, has developed a matrix identifying 126 kinds of confusion in regulations. It first classifies six aspects common to any law or regulation — concepts, rules, procedures, text, structure and logic. Then it lists 21 kinds of faults, such as being ambiguous, overly complex, or ineffective. The matrix yields 126 combinations. Typical examples Wojick cites are an Environmental Protection Agency regulation with more than 3,000 exceptions and nuclear power plant quality assurance regulations that have ambiguous rules and vague procedures.

"We've been successful," Wojick says, "because everybody sees the problem, but nobody's been able to put a finger on it." When Wojick goes to an agency and says a regulation is confusing for three or five specific reasons, he says, the common reaction he gets from officials is, "You're right."

The foundation of Wojick's ability to pinpoint these problems is a technique that applies the idea of a blueprint — a visual picture of a structure — to the structure of an idea. He discovered that through the blueprints, any discussion or piece of text can be broken down and all the individual ideas can be laid out so the relationships become visible.

The development of the technique springs from the unusual combination of engineering and logic in Wojick's background. Shortly after he graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1964 with a B.S. in civil engineering, Wojick went to work designing dams for the Pittsburgh district of the Corps of Engineers. His exposure there to environmental controversies, watching people "getting lost in complex issues," stirred a longstanding interest in reasoning. He began studying logic and philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh.

Wojick left the Corps in 1970 to work on his dissertation and began teaching at Carnegie Mellon University, where he helped found a Department of Engineering and Public Policy. At Carnegie, he was influenced by the research on human problem solving done by his colleague, Herbert A. Simon, who in 1978 won the Nobel Prize in economics.

Mapping the structure of ideas.

Wojick realized that all issues have a basic underlying structure, one that can be mapped out like an engineering drawing. Using existing theories of conceptual analysis, Wojick "atomized" issues (and later texts) into basic elements. His discovery, he explains, "was that the ideas are held together by unspoken questions. What point is this sentence making? What point is it responding to?"

He was surprised to find that the thousands of pieces of a complex issue fit together in a simple scheme with a logical pattern. Because the kind of hierarchical structure developed is called a "tree" in mathematics, Wojick calls the structures "issue trees". His first practical application, in 1975, was an analysis of the interaction between environmental, energy and economic issues for the Pennsylvania governor's science advisory committee.

A year later, Wojick left the university to devote full time to issue analysis, going into business with his wife and partner, Diane W. Adams. As chief executive officer, Adams manages the finances of the firm and now oversees billings of more than $500,000 a year. She navigated the group's recent move to a 176-acre estate in Virginia, reputed to be the birthplace of President Zachary Taylor. Adams says they chose the property, which includes a house built in 1790, offices and a horse farm for its hour-and-a-half proximity to Washington, D.C.

Devil in the details.

A third key member of the seven-person firm is John E. DeFazio, a chemical engineer who now handles a lot of the analytical work while Wojick hits Washington looking for complicated issues that involve a lot of money. Not all prospective clients can afford the firm's services, because "it takes several person-months to tree out a major regulation," Wojick says. "On the other hand, that's why the process is so powerful. It has the same power that detailed drawings give in constructing a building. We can make hundreds, sometimes thousands, of improvements."

The firm's early jobs included writing compliance manuals on regulations for industry. It wrote a quality assurance manual for Levinson Steel Co., Pittsburgh, for example, setting up the structural steel fabricator's working program for compliance with Nuclear Regulatory Commission standards on nuclear power plant fabrication. Alvin Stein, Levinson's quality assurance director, calls Wojick a "wizard" because the program set up in 1976 in "untested waters" is still working successfully. And it has been flexible enough to allow the company to satisfy the differing regulatory interpretations of different designers.

Next, Wojick landed jobs critiquing regulations for industry. PPG Industries, Inc., Pittsburgh, hired the firm to do a coherence analysis of EPA's proposed premanufacturing regulations under the Toxic Substances Control Act. "The goal of the law is to prevent chemical catastrophes," Wojick explains, "but EPA takes the meat-ax approach of trying to find out everything there is to know about all the chemicals in existence, and then they're going to sort through and find the problems." "We suggest techniques for identifying lines to follow that are most likely to be fruitful," says Wojick. The analysis also found parts of the regulations so unreadable that most accepted scales of readability could not measure them.

Teaching regulators logic.

EPA acknowledged the value of the critique by hiring Wojick to teach EPA regulators how to write logically coherent regs. The firm is also negotiating a contract to rewrite EPA's dredge and fill permit regulations. Wojick has already rewritten regulations for the Water Resources Council. WRC first hired the firm to critique its proposed rules for evaluating the costs and benefits of water projects, then asked the firm for a complete rewrite. DeFazio says, "We threw away 70% of the text, and the other 30% we completely restructured -- all without losing any of the basic ideas." They pared down the roughly 350-page draft to about 80 pages. The firm also rewrote the Council's principles and standards for planning water resource projects.

Adams & Wojick is working with the Department of Commerce and the Office of Management and Budget on a study of information collection burdens. Regulators have a tendency to treat information collection as if it were free, Wojick says, but its costs mount up. "We're working on a computer search program that uses key words like 'document' and 'record' to spot these hidden burdens -- the molasses in the system."

In Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations, for example, Wojick finds that many added costs of compliance are hidden in inspectors' manuals and other appendixes. OSHA has regulations for worker exposure to more than 500 chemicals, he says, and the regulations say only that exposure levels must stay under certain numbers of parts per million. "The costly record-keeping requirements are in the attachments," he says.

The key to the firm's approach, Wojick says, is that "we're not institutional players. If you're locked into the system, you can't jump on people and make noise. I'm free to offend anybody, and I do." Wojick will tear apart regulations for industry or work for the government writing them. "We're not for one side or the other, we think they're all making mistakes. Our interest is clarity and sound design," he says.


Regulations writing is just the beginning for Wojick. In the future, he says, "We want to design laws for Congress."