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, before the extended deadline of 12th January.

Here is what I just sent:

From: Mike Taylor <>
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
Research Associate
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 ;-).

43 Responses to “Do your bit to oppose the evil Research Works Act”

  1. Thanks, Mike, I bet 90% of people didn’t even know about this sh*t!

  2. Andrea Cau Says:

    Thank you, Mike.

    Perhaps my question is stupid, but is the opinion/email of a non-US citizen relevant for the OSTP, being it an US organ?

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    Andrea Cau understandably asks:

    Perhaps my question is stupid, but is the opinion/email of a non-US citizen relevant for the OSTP, being it an US organ?

    I wondered that, too: the RFI page doesn’t seem be forthcoming on the subject. I concluded that it certainly couldn’t hurt to send something, and could well help. I know that other UK-based scientists, such as Cameron Neylon, have sent submissions, too.

  4. I’ve been told that it was worth sending in a submission, in part because volume matters and in part because an international perspective has some weight. Personal responses from overseas probably won’t get as much traction as personal ones from the US but I think it is sill worth while.



  5. […] as Mike Taylor points out, time is running out in the fight against the worst anti-OpenAccess legislation attempt. Speak out […]

  6. dmaas Says:

    I left my address out.

  7. This is what the RFIs state, who should reply: “non-Federal stakeholders, including the public, universities, nonprofit and for-profit publishers, libraries, federally funded and non-federally funded research scientists, and other organizations and institutions with a stake in long-term preservation and access to the results of federally funded research,”
    This does not mention US citizens or even US-based scientists. I’m sure they’ll sort out which opinions they’ll give more weight than others.
    And Cameron’s correct, the numbers count: we need to overwhelm the OSTP with our side – after all, few of the publishers are US-based.

  8. Matt Wedel Says:

    few of the publishers are US-based.

    An excellent point. It’s very tempting to read–and paint–this as an attempt by mostly-foreign publishers to monopolize the results of US-funded research. We probably can’t get the board of Elsevier waterboarded, but maybe we could get some of the isolationist/protectionist crowd on our side.

  9. Awesome: “do you want to see your tax-dollars go to Holland”?

  10. Mike Taylor Says:

    By the way, anyone who wonders why the likes of Elsevier, Springer, Wiley and Informa are prepared to stoop to such depths to retain their current business model should check out The enormous profits of STM scholarly publishers, which I have only just seen. Bottom line: those publishers are making, respectively, profits of 36%, 33.9%, 42% and 32.4% of turnover. Scandalous.

  11. David Marjanović Says:

    Why hasn’t anybody mentioned this on the DML yet??? I’m only learning about it now, because it’s in the tweet at the very bottom of Darren’s tweet feed on his blog right now! A few minutes or hours later, and I still wouldn’t know about it!

    Perhaps my question is stupid, but is the opinion/email of a non-US citizen relevant for the OSTP, being it an US organ?

    I’ll write to them and explain why my opinion as a non-US citizen is relevant. Two points that haven’t been mentioned above:
    — having such a law would make the US look ridiculously evil to the rest of the world (except North Korea);
    — science simply isn’t localized (except to “outside North Korea”).

  12. David Marjanović Says:

    A few minutes or hours later, and I still wouldn’t know about it!

    That’s of course nonsense, because Darren has also added it to the bottom of the latest Tet Zoo post. *slinks away in shame* Still, if nobody will post it to the DML within the next few hours or explains why it shouldn’t be, I’ll post it there myself.

  13. Mike Taylor Says:


    Please DO post it to the DML. And the VRTPALEO list too, if you’re on it.

    Also, if you finally start your long-promised blog, then a copy of your message to the OSTP would be an excellent first post.

  14. Michael Richmond Says:

    So, I sent a short letter addressing my concerns about the Research Works Act to the address provided in the article above. I received a response which stated in part:

    “The RFI we have out now does not directly address the Research Works Act and thus your comments could be considered not relevant to the discussion even though the RFI deals with issues related to public access to scientific publications. ”

    I guess one shouldn’t mention the Research Works Act in one’s response to the RFI.


  15. Mike Taylor Says:

    I also got a message asking me to recast my comments. I did so, in a way that mentioned the RWA (really, one can hardly pretend it’s not relevant) but which talks about the issues in more general terms. That one was more acceptable, it seems. If you have the time, please do the same.

  16. David Marjanović Says:

    I just posted it to the DML. Unfortunately, I’m not on vrtpaleo — I never joined for fear it would eat my entire day up.

    if you finally start your long-promised blog

    Can’t before February. :-(

  17. steve cohen Says:

    The NY Times published an op-ed article by Michael Eisen (assoc. prof of molecular and cell biology at UC-Berkeley and founder of Public Library of Science) today which was very critical of RWA, raising many of the objections your post and comments highlight.

    This link to the op-ed has been shortened.

  18. 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…

  19. […] that is enough for them fund Representative Caroline Maloney’s $8500 bribe to co-sponsor the evil Research Works Act, out of their profits […]

  20. […] threat is the Research Works Act (RWA), by which scholarly publishers like Elsevier (with its 36% profits as a proportion of […]

  21. […] Dr. Mike Taylor (University of Bristol, Bristol, England, United Kingdom) of SV-POW! (see here and here) to oppose another US bill, HR 6399, the Research Works Act, which attempts to overturn […]

  22. […] Although I’m on record of being no fan of the tabloids, there’s no doubt that they are hugely influential.  So it has to be good news to find that in the last few hours, both Nature and Science have publicly come out against the Research Works Act. […]

  23. […] the editor of the New York Times in response to Michael Eisen’s recent piece in that paper on the RWA.  The letter says some good things, but then right in the middle we have this: Mr. Eisen […]

  24. […] to have written so much about publishing politics recently, and so little about sauropod vertebrae!  That stuff is […]

  25. […] reason, that is enough for them fund Representative Caroline Maloney’s $8500 bribe to co-sponsor the evil Research Works Act, out of their profits […]

  26. […] tended to be very critical of Elsevier on these pages [peer review, economics, PLoS clone, RWA, profits].  I’ve sometimes wondered whether that’s really fair: after all, Elsevier […]

  27. […] written plenty about the Research Works Act, both on this blog and in The Guardian.  Those writings have mostly focussed on the practical implications of the […]

  28. […] to them for creating awareness. The sinister implications of the RWA are well documented around the web, so I’ll just provide the short […]

  29. […] that have drawn up sharply against it, such as Mike Taylor’s articles about it at SV-POW! (here, here, and here). I tend to be pretty liberterian in regards to the actions of businesses, […]

  30. […] a computer (or tablet, smart phone, etc.) and an internet connection. Things like SOPA and PIPA and RWA and paywalls and RIAA lawsuits against filesharing sites and Elsevier lawsuits against libraries […]

  31. […] of course the same thing applies to the RWA.  It’s bothered me that even with all the outcry against that self-serving perversion of […]

  32. […] scientific publishing.  What we’re seeing is a spontaneous response — catalysed by the Research Works Act, yes, but not caused by it.  The roots run much deeper.  The discontent being expressed now is […]

  33. […] were only successful because the word spread.  That is now the challenge for us as we hope to see the RWA defeated and the FRPAA […]

  34. […] just received this notification that Issa and Maloney have pulled the Research Works Act, presumably in response to Elsevier’s withdrawal of support.  So far, what’s at that […]

  35. […] had most of the day now to digest the news that Elsevier have withdrawn their support of the Research Works Act; and a few hours to get used to the idea that the Act itself is now dead.  I’ve had some […]

  36. […] has been written about the Research Works Act [you could do a lot worse than read Saurodpod Mike on the subject], academic publishing and the relationship between the scientists who […]

  37. […] now.  Comments can be from anyone — individuals or groups, British or overseas — like the recent OSTP Request For Information in the States which we have to assume was influential in the defeat of the […]

  38. […] one is surely a no-brainer.  Elsevier’s support for the RWA, both financial and rhetorical, catalysed a level of fury among researchers that’s like […]

  39. […] because this issue really does cut across party lines. And, hell, last year Elsevier managed to hire bipartisan sponsorship for their toxic–in more ways than one–and rapidly-killed Research Works Act, so […]

  40. […] funded research. It was a triumph for common sense, an explicit repudiation of the mindset behind the Research Works Act, and an affirmation for the ongoing FASTR […]

  41. […] journals: Much has been written about the Research Works Act [you could do a lot worse than read Saurodpod Mike on the subject], academic publishing and the relationship between the scientists […]

  42. Jim Says:

    Why do scientists provide their services to Elsevier et al. for free or at all? I mean peer review and sitting on their magazines’ boards and any other similar services. Why don’t we ask these scientists and pressure them to quit and refuse anything to do with the publishers that want to promote such acts?

  43. Mike Taylor Says:


    Why indeed? That remains the great question.

    In the mean time, you may want to sign the Cost of Knowledge declaration: “I plan to refrain from: publishing / refereeing / editorial work”.

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