D-Day: going on the offensive over public access

February 10, 2012

A few weeks ago, software developer and pioneering blogger Joel Spolsky made an important point about SOPA/PIPA which has stayed with me:

The internet seems to ignore legislation until somebody tries to take something away from us… then we carefully defend that one thing and never counter-attack. Then the other side says, “OK, compromise,” and gets half of what they want. That’s not the way to win… that’s the way to see a steady and continuous erosion of rights online.

The solution is to start lobbying for our own laws. It’s time to go on the offensive if we want to preserve what we’ve got.

And 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 democracy, the best outcome we could have hoped to achieve was maintaining the status quo: that all federally funded research can remain paywalled for a full year, and that much of it (that not funded via the NIH) can remain locked away forever.

Yesterday, that changed.   On 6 June 1944, the nature of World War II changed when the Allied forces landed in Normandy, and started to take the fight to the Germans rather than merely defending.  In the same way, yesterday’s announcement of the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) marks a transition in the fight for open access.  We are no longer limited to clinging on to what we had, by opposing the RWA.  We can push for the right and proper expansion of public access to federally funded research by supporting the FRPAA.

The FRPAA will do two things.

  • It will extend the NIH’s public access mandate to all other federal departments and agencies whose research budgets exceed $100 million per year.
  • It will also reduce the embargo period from 12 to 6 months.  In fact, section 4(b)(4) is even better than that: it says “free online public access to such final peer-reviewed manuscripts or published versions as soon as practicable, but not later than 6 months after publication in peer-reviewed journals”.

This isn’t the first time that the FRPAA has been proposed: it was proposed in 2006 and again in 2010, but without being signed into law either time.  But things are very different this time.  It’s taken a long while, but academia has woken up to how absurdly exploitative the current publishing system is — manifested most obviously in the growing boycott of more than 5000 scientists who will not write, review or edit for Elsevier journals.  Maybe more importantly, public access is now an issue that’s getting coverage in mainstream journalism, reflecting observations like this one:

@EndoMetabPub Andrew Miller
As a taxpayer, I don’t want or need access to academic STM literature, but I do want my doctor and nurse to have that access #rwa #oa

All around the world, in every sphere, people are catching on.  This isn’t just an issue of making academics’ lives easier.  It’s about making everyone’s lives better: patient groups, unaffiliated scholars working into their retirement, small businesses, GPs and dentists, enterprising schoolchildren, thinktanks. It’s about investing in science for the benefit of the world rather than for the benefit of Elsevier and Wiley shareholders.

Needless to say, the for-profit, non-open publishing corporations will issue the usual screed of misinformation about this bill.  We need to be ready both to counter individual misrepresentations and (maybe more important) to help people see the enormous positive benefits that open access brings.  (That was the focus I tried to bring to yesterday’s Independent article.)

For those of you who live in the US, there are other specific things you can do to help ensure that the FRPAA passes: see the Alliance for Taxpayer Access page.  Let congress know you support the bill!

Stop Press

Literally I as I was doing my final proof-read of this post, I was notified that my new piece is up at The Guardian (another of the UK’s broadsheet daily newspapers).  It takes a rather different approach to my other recent writings on open access, and I hope will reach a different audience.  Enjoy!

10 Responses to “D-Day: going on the offensive over public access”

  1. Matt Wedel Says:

    Let congress know you support the bill!


    Let’s not lose track of the facts that a version of this bill has failed to pass twice before, and that thanks to their insane profit margins Elsevier et al. probably have deep enough pockets to buy all the congressional opposition they’d need to kill this bill. Academic Spring is rolling and it’s nice to be on the offensive for a change, but thing about offensives is that you actually have to get off your butt and keep moving forward.

    So let’s do that.

  2. Mark Robinson Says:

    Wow for this new(ish) Bill and double-wow for the parable, Mike. It’s an excellent article and I think it was great idea to change tack a little instead of perhaps rehashing what you have already said so well.

    Regarding the Bill, I just hope that enough political clout can be marshalled to counteract the buckets of cash that Evilseer and the others will throw at this.

  3. […] Elsevier should repudiate the RWA and throw themselves behind the Federal Research Public Access Act. […]

  4. […] do I want Elsevier to do? I want it to do what Mike suggested–throw its support behind the FRPAA–and then restructure itself as an open-access publisher. That will probably mean saying […]

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

  6. […] of this is particularly disappointing because it is basically a manifesto for fighting against the Federal Research Public Access Act — the very thing that a publisher who is truly on the side of science would not do.  In […]

  7. […] So it was with something of a facepalm that, five minutes later, I saw Elsevier listed as one of the signatories on the Association of American Publishers’ letter campaigning against the FRPAA. […]

  8. […] Exactly what form this will take is not yet clear, but the signs seem to point to an FRPAA-like universal Green-OA mandate for all research funded by the […]

  9. […] all of us — American or not — have a chance to change this. No, I am not talking about the FRPAA, as important as that is. Independently from that, SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic […]

  10. […] all of us — American or not — have a chance to change this. No, I am not talking about the FRPAA, as important as that is. Independently from that, SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic […]

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