Open Access Gets Some Mainstream Attention

Almost four weeks ago I noted the once-a-Congress introduction of legislation to roll back the National Institutes of Health (NIH) public access policy, where research funded by NIH dollars is deposited in an online data repository once it’s accepted for publication (this must happen within 12 months of publication).  The bill, H.R. 3699, is called the Research Works Act.  Since previous legislation in federal open access policy – both for and against – rarely goes anywhere, I figured the same would happen with this bill.  Those who follow the issues would note it, dust off the arguments from the last time this happened, bandy them about, and wait for nothing to happen.

This time is different, effective last week.

For a bill introduced in mid-December, when most attention, and even most technology-oriented attention, was focused on other bills and other priorities, the conventional path is usually one of obscurity for all but those focused on open access and/or scholarly publishing.  However, when The New York Times feels it deserves the attention of an invited op-ed, a bill has found a broader audience.  The editorial caps a week of increasing dissemination of the Act, why people don’t want the NIH policy rolled back, and general frustration.  Michael Eisen, UC-Berkeley biologist and author of the op-ed, seems to have sparked much of the broader press interest.  Besides the big science-oriented outlets (which have covered similar bills before, but as far as I can tell, not to this extent), The Atlantic took notice, as has WIRED, and the founder of the O’Reilly technology publishing entity engaged the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Darrell Issa, over Twitter on the matter.

So, what could this mean?  It’s not clear to me.  As I noted, the previous bills never got out of committee.  While this bill is simpler, and in a different committee (House Oversight and Government Reform rather than House Judiciary), it would be reasonable to assume that the current fuss is going to keep this bill on the back burner.  There is a more organized advocacy (members of the American Association of Publishers are being targeted over this bill), perhaps in part because of recent grassroots actions on Internet related legislation.  Rep. Issa, who has seen online tools used to great effect in fighting the Stop Online Piracy Act, may well see the Research Works Act done in through the same kinds of tools.

Yes, there is some irony to be found in Rep. Issa taking apparently contradictory stances – closed scientific publishing versus an open Internet.  But sometimes the nagging inconsistencies we find in others conflict with our rules for living, not theirs.

Legislatively, I think this bill stands a good chance of following its predecessors to nowhere.  In terms of advocacy, things may change.  If scientific societies that are part of the American Association of Publishers get any significant heat (Eisen has called for researchers to resign from societies that support the bill), there may be a chance in not seeing another bill like this in the next Congress.  But that seems a big if.


3 thoughts on “Open Access Gets Some Mainstream Attention

  1. See:
    “Research Works Act H.R.3699:
    The Private Publishing Tail Trying To Wag The Public Research Dog, Yet Again”


    The US Research Works Act (H.R.3699): “No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that — (1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or (2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.”

    Translation and Comments:

    “If public tax money is used to fund research, that research becomes “private research” once a publisher “adds value” to it by managing the peer review.”

    [Comment: Researchers do the peer review for the publisher for free, just as researchers give their papers to the publisher for free, together with the exclusive right to sell subscriptions to it, on-paper and online, seeking and receiving no fee or royalty in return].

    “Since that public research has thereby been transformed into “private research,” and the publisher’s property, the government that funded it with public tax money should not be allowed to require the funded author to make it accessible for free online for those users who cannot afford subscription access.”

    [Comment: The author’s sole purpose in doing and publishing the research, without seeking any fee or royalties, is so that all potential users can access, use and build upon it, in further research and applications, to the benefit of the public that funded it; this is also the sole purpose for which public tax money is used to fund research.]”

    H.R. 3699 misunderstands the secondary, service role that peer-reviewed research journal publishing plays in US research and development and its (public) funding.

    It is a huge miscalculation to weigh the potential gains or losses from providing or not providing open access to publicly funded research in terms of gains or losses to the publishing industry: Lost or delayed research progress mean losses to the growth and productivity of both basic research and the vast R&D industry in all fields, and hence losses to the US economy as a whole.

    What needs to be done about public access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications resulting from federally funded research?

    The minimum policy is for all US federal funders to mandate (require), as a condition for receiving public funding for research, that: (i) the fundee’s revised, accepted refereed final draft of (ii) all refereed journal articles resulting from the funded research must be (iii) deposited immediately upon acceptance for publication (iv) in the fundee’’s institutional repository, with (v) access to the deposit made free for all (OA) immediately (no OA embargo) wherever possible (over 60% of journals already endorse immediate gratis OA self-archiving), and at the latest after a 6-month embargo on OA.

    It is the above policy that H.R.3699 is attempting to make illegal…

  2. Pingback: The Latest Open Access Legislative Dance Can Begin « Pasco Phronesis

  3. Pingback: This Year’s Anti-Open Access Bill is Dead; Though The Manner of Its Death is Interesting « Pasco Phronesis

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