A single, simple, direct question to publishers about the RWA

February 22, 2012

The current NIH public access policy requires self-archiving of accepted manuscripts in PubMed Central (“green open access”).

The Research Works Act (RWA) is a bill which intends to end the NIH policy and to make it illegal for government agencies to establish similar policies.

Private-sector publishers such as Elsevier have generally opposed mandates and supported the RWA, with this statement being typical [emphasis in original]:

The costs of publishing services need to be met and are in addition to the costs of doing the research. Publishers invest heavily to add value to research reports and draft manuscripts through the publishing process.
[...]
Elsevier is happy to work with any sustainable business model for publishing services. We are happy with models where funding is provided on the author-side or the user-side of the publishing process, or hybrids of the two. To be clear, we already publish through gold open access models in addition to our traditional subscription and transactional business models.
[...]
While green open access is not a business model, as it has no revenue stream, we are happy to work with this approach in combination with one or more sustainable business models (e.g. gold open access and/or subscriptions.
[...]
We oppose in principle the notion that governments should be able to dictate the terms by which products of private sector investments are distributed.

So my simple question is this: the statement seems to say that publishers would be happy for government departments to impose Gold OA mandates on the research that they fund — is that correct?

It seems to me that if the existing NIH mandate were replaced by one that said “if we fund your research, you must publish the results in a Gold OA journal”, that would resolve publishers’ issues, because the the government wouldn’t be saying anything at all about “products of private sector investment”.

Can publishers please comment?  (And anyone else who wants to, of course).

About these ads

19 Responses to “A single, simple, direct question to publishers about the RWA”


  1. Suggest you write directly to Alicia Wise – Elsevier. She has offered to answer questions

  2. Liz Smith (@lexemes) Says:

    Hi Mike. A simple direct answer for you.

    We don’t like mandates, and certainly don’t feel that they should be imposed, but publishers (including Elsevier) are comfortable with fully-funded gold oa where authors are free to choose where/how they publish.

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks, Liz, that’s helpful (and direct!)

    So: no mandates, no matter what they say.

    Does that mean that you feel government agencies should have no say in how the research they fund is published?

  4. Liz Smith (@lexemes) Says:

    To that I’ll just draw your attention to this clear and constructive statement by the International Association of Scientific, Technical, and Medical Publishers

    http://www.stm-assoc.org/publishers-support-sustainable-open-access/

    Thanks

  5. Mike Taylor Says:

    Thanks, Liz. It’s clear, but doesn’t say anything about mandates. The closest thing is “We believe that authors should be able to publish in the journal of their choice” — is that it? Are you interpreting this as meaning this since there exist journals with no Gold OA option, we can’t have a Gold OA mandate because it would preclude authors from choosing those journals?

  6. Scott H Says:

    Hey Mike- I suspect that the statement “We oppose in principle the notion that governments should be able to dictate the terms by which products of private sector investments are distributed.” refers to the investments the publishers make in the printing and distributing process – e.g., as the ones who have invested the money to publish journals, they resent that outside regulatory bodies tell their clients (authors) how they must publish their work.

    I think the attitude shows the usual hubris and lack of understanding of the market they serve, but I don’t think they much consider it relevant at all who funded the research – by the time the research gets to the submission phase it’s all pretty much the same from their point of view, except of course for the mandate that some of it can’t be published certain ways.


  7. [...] Well, that’s changed too. So now we know. Roads to open access that actually work are unacceptable to Elsevier. [...]


  8. Would also be very interested in whether researchers support a mandate, having been on the end of a good few confused and panicky queries about the NIH mandate (note: anecdote does not constitute evidence).

    It is possible to both recognise that funders wish to gain the maximum benefit from the work they fund, while also feeling that, in general, compulsion is a tricky road to walk.

    RSC is also a signatory to the STM Assoc piece, BTW. Gold OA in hybrid journals seems sustainable to us.

  9. Mike Taylor Says:

    Hi, Richard, thanks for dropping by! I’ve not forgotten that I still owe you a proper reply over on Bjoern Brembs’s blog, but other things have cropped up that have demanded my more immmediate attention. I will return to it when I can!

    “It is possible to both recognise that funders wish to gain the maximum benefit from the work they fund, while also feeling that, in general, compulsion is a tricky road to walk.”

    I’m not sure I buy the use of such an emotive word as “compulsion” for this. The bottom line is that funders give us money in exchange for services. Under such an arrangement, the person giving the money gets to say what the rules are, and if the recipient doesn’t like it then they don’t agree to the deal and make do without the money. If I go to work for a bank, there may be a requirement that I wear a suit and tie as a part of the responsibilities of employment, but I wouldn’t call that a “compulsion”. In the same way it seems to me that anyone who offers researchers money to do work that they love has every moral right to make whatever conditions they please.

  10. bill Says:

    When I sign agreements with subcontractors in the course of my work, I deliberately include clauses designed to get me the maximum value for my money — what will happen if deliverables aren’t met, for instance. Funder mandates are no more a form of “compulsion” or “goverment coercion” or “socialism” than value-for-money clauses in work contracts.

    What (the worst, Elsevier-type) publishers refuse to admit is that they have no legitimate part to play in the negotiation. How do you think I, or my subcontractors, would react if suddenly one of their suppliers wanted to veto parts of our contract? Hint: new supplier, stat.

  11. scurry1963 Says:

    Another great — and pointed — contribution to the debate, Mike.

    Which reminds me: did you ever get an answer to query about Elsevier’s terms and conditions on their OA licenses?


  12. Mike, I don’t disagree, just would like to know the ‘expectation realignment’ needed in academia. Contractual terms are good and clear when upfront and understood by all parties (NIH mandate didn’t seem to happen in quite that way); the legislative route to anything, I would suggest, is always a bloody awful solution.

    Don’t worry too much about a reply to the other thing, take an evening or two off ;-)

  13. Mike Taylor Says:

    scurry1963 asks: “did you ever get an answer to query about Elsevier’s terms and conditions on their OA licenses?”

    Sort of. But rather than bury it down here in a comment, I plan to blog it. Should be up within the next 24 hours or so.

  14. Mike Taylor Says:

    Richard Kidd says:

    I just would like to know the ‘expectation realignment’ needed in academia. Contractual terms are good and clear when upfront and understood by all parties (NIH mandate didn’t seem to happen in quite that way).

    Ah, well, there you have me. I’m not at all well up on the history here, and can’t comment on how things may gave been done in the past. What I can say is that if NIH grant money doesn’t now come with a very clear note saying “As a condition of accepting this grant, you commit that you will do X, Y and Z” then it jolly well should! And of course that should be made clear at the application stage, not just at acceptance.

    The legislative route to anything, I would suggest, is always a bloody awful solution.

    Hardly. The reductio ad absurdum here is that we are happy to have a legislative solution to the problem of murder (it’s illegal) so clearly there is place for a legislative route — we don’t leave potential murderers “free from government interference” to self-regulate. [And, no, before someone asks, I am not saying that barrier-based publishing are equivalent to murder.]

    So assuming you accept that legislation is the right solution to some problems, the question becomes: what is it about this problem specifically that makes you so sure that legislation would be “a bloody awful solution”?

    It doesn’t look that way to me at all. As FakeElsevier memorably expressed it, “Whether you acknowledge it or not, [publishers] are a effectively a government subcontractor, that takes tax-payer money to provide a distribution service for government-funded research”. That being the case, I’d have said that they are just as ripe for the government to impose conditions as any other subcontractor would be.

  15. scurry1963 Says:

    Thanks – no pressure from me. Look forward to reading it.


  16. On the legal side, I’m coming from an old fart’s view that we already have too much poor legistation already, written by people who aren’t involved in the issue they try to address, rather than the anarchist ‘you just need to learn to get along with the murdering community’ (though I have been perilously close to using CRASS drummer Penny Rimbaud’s autobiography as an example in the scholarly pubs argument; count yourselves lucky).

    Funding agencies writing contracts understand exactly what they want, specific to that agreement, and can put that down in writing. Can you see legislation doing that? I struggle to think of recent legislation which is both clear, effective and doesn’t have unintended consequences. Also relevant to the subject of the post, btw.

  17. Mike Taylor Says:

    So your point isn’t “the government has no right to draft legislation affecting research”, but “they’re just not very good at it”?


  18. More that the legislative process has many pressures acting on it which can often lead to unintended results; flaws in the process do not necessarily reflect lack of professionalism or malign intent of those enacting it.

  19. Mike Taylor Says:

    Well, if legislators are not draft legislation, who is?

    [I am trying sooo hard to avoid making a snarky comment to the effect that we should leave it to Elsevier, but it turns out I am just not classy enough to resist the low-hanging fruit :-) ]


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 411 other followers

%d bloggers like this: