Do your bit to oppose the evil Research Works Act
January 9, 2012
Most of you will know that the major US science-funding agencies require the work they fund (from the public purse) to be made available as open-access to the public that funded it. And it’s hard for me to imagine anyone sees that requirement as anything other than straightforwardly just.
But you may not know about the Research Works Act, a truly vile piece of legislation being proposed by two Elsevier-funded shills in the US Congress, which would make it illegal for funding bodies to impose this perfectly natural requirement. It may not be surprising that a corporation as predatory as Elsevier wants legal protection for its exploitative business model of stealing publicly funded research; but it shocked me to find that this preposterous Act ever got out of committee (unlike two earlier failed attempts to overturn open-access mandates).
The good news is that there is something we can do. The Office of Science Technology and Policy (OSTP) has issued a Request For Information — basically, it wants your opinion — on public access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications resulting from federally funded research. You can read about this in (too much) detail here, but the bottom line is that you should email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org, before the extended deadline of 12th January.
Here is what I just sent:
From: Mike Taylor <email@example.com>
Date: 9 January 2012 11:26
Subject: RFI: Public Access to Peer-Reviewed Scholarly Publications Resulting From Federally Funded Research
Dear Science and Technology Policy Office,
Thank you for extending the deadline for comments on Public Access to Peer-Reviewed Scholarly Publications Resulting From Federally Funded Research. The Research Works Act has only very recently come to the notice of scientists, and it is because of this extraordinary proposal that it is now apparent to us that we need to reaffirm what we thought was settled: that OF COURSE scientific work funded by the public should be freely accessible to the public. I do not understand how this can even be a matter for discussion. The public pays: the public should benefit in every way possible.
The language in the RWA is highly misleading, attributing to publishers far more input into the scientific process than they really have. The truth is that scientists (often funded by public money) provide the underlying research, the writing and the figure preparation that result in a manuscript submitted for publication. Other scientists then provide the editorial services and (contra publishers’ claims, as can be easily verified) the peer review. Publishers’ contributions are limited essentially to typesetting, the provision of web hosting, and sometimes a very limited amount of compensation for senior editors only (usually not the handling editors who actually deal with authors’ works). The notion that such a minor contribution should suffice to hand publishers, rather than the public, the right to determine how, where and under what regime the resulting works are disseminated, is ludicrous. It would be laughable if it were not so iniquitous.
Dr. Michael P. Taylor
Department of Earth Sciences
University of Bristol
Bristol BS8 1RJ
Much more about the Research Works Act here, here, here, here, and all over the Internet. Please, do your bit today: send your comments to the OSTP. Don’t let Elsevier and their cartel steal publicly funded science.
Matt here. Emailing the OSTP takes all of 5 minutes and you should do it right away if you haven’t yet. They ARE listening; in my initial message I mentioned that the profits from a handful of the big commercial publishers could fund all scholarly publishing worldwide, and cited this post. Within 19 minutes I received a personal response from someone in the OSTP, saying, “Thank you Mathew. Would you be so kind as to submit your linked evidence in the body of an email to ease processing and ensure it is fully considered?”
So I did. If you’d like the same ammo, see the post linked above and especially updates and comments, and this post on the insane profit margins of the big commercial publishers (hat tip to Mike). You should also include Peter Murray-Rust’s argument that open access saves lives, outlined in this post and more briefly in this comment.
As long as I have your ear, I am curious at the absence of leverage being brought to bear on the politicians to sponsored the Research Works Act: Representatives Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).
Issa is a corporate lackey and social policy atavism of the first order, and as long as the publishers keep the campaign funds flowing he’s unlikely to budge–unless his followers start asking why he is sponsoring legislation that would allow a mostly-foreign-based publishing industry to monopolize the results of US-funded research. Maybe someone should. Issa’s webpage is here; in a crowning irony, the big banner at the top currently says, “keep the web #OPEN”.
Carolyn Maloney is a Democrat from New York, she ought to know better. Like Issa, according to her Facebook page Maloney has maxed out on friends and isn’t accepting any more. Not surprisingly, things are dead silent there, and mostly just dead. Fortunately you can reach her at her official House of Representatives webpage. Maloney sponsored the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act; since she cares about health care, it would be worthwhile to point out that open access saves lives. One of the rotating photos on Maloney’s webpage shows her touring a small business incubator, so it would also be a good idea to emphasize the plight of the scholarly poor.
Two things: obviously comments from these politicians’ constituents will carry the most weight, so if you’re in their districts, please take the time to write to them. That said, if you’re a US citizen you are in the legislative footprint of these people, and you should let them know what you think. And if the RWA passes the repercussions would be global, so don’t stay quiet just because you’re outside the US.
Second, if you do write to either politician, please be respectful, on point, and brief. Sure, they may be craven corporate shill morons, but you won’t do our cause any favors by pointing that out in those terms. Don’t soft-pedal the immorality of the proposed legislation, but don’t be a name-calling abusive jerk, either. That’s what blogs are for ;-).