Well, yesterday was insane.

In the morning, we had the UK House of Lords report on its inquiry into open access: fearful, compromised, regressive, and representing the latest stage in the inexorable defanging of RCUK’s policy.

I happened to be going out yesterday evening; when I left the house it had been the worst day for open access in recent memory. Then when I got back three hours later it was to the news the the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) had responded to the #OAMonday petition, issuing a memorandum that greatly increases access to US government-funded research.

So it’s one step back in the UK, two steps forward in America. With my nationalist hat on, it’s a shame to see Britain so cravenly abandon its position of leadership in the worldwide move to open access. But I can’t really care too much about that. Progress towards open access is not a zero-sum game: when America wins, we all win. And when we in the UK win — as we surely win — everyone will benefit from that, too.

I won’t go into details — there’s no need to, as Peter Suber has done a fantastically detailed job of explaining what the new policy does and doesn’t include, and how it resembles and differs from the still very important FASTR legislation. Get yourself over there are read up on the details.

Then crack open a bottle a wine and celebrate. This policy isn’t perfect, no, and there is still a lot of work to do. But it represents significant progress. O happy day.


Publishers versus libraries

February 16, 2013

A couple of years ago, Matt wrote about the conflict between authors and publishers. Yesterday, two offical statements about the FASTR bill showed us with devastating clarity that publishers are opposed to libraries, too.

FASTR, the Fair Access to Science and Technology Research act, wants to extend the NIH’s open-access policy to all other US Government departments with research budgets exceeding $100M, and to reduce the embargo period on new papers to six months, down from the current twelve.

I won’t insult the intelligence of long-time readers by explaining yet again why this would be a good thing for research, medicine, engineering, industry, education, and indeed everyone and everything except barrier-based publishers. Because for the purposes of this particular post it doesn’t matter what’s actually in the act.

All you need to know is in the two statements: one issued by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and one from the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL). AAP is against the FASTR bill, and ACRL is for it. For our present purposes, it doesn’t matter what their various reasons are. All we need to know is that publishers want the opposite of what libraries want.

It’s time to abandon the comforting but laughable fiction that barrier-based publishers are our friends, our colleagues or our partners. They’re not. They’re our enemies. Hard words, but true ones. In the immortal words of Tom Holtz, “Sorry if that makes some people feel bad, but I’m not in the ‘make people feel good business’; I’m a scientist.”

“But Mike”, you say. “Not all the publishers that are members of the AAP agree with its stance.” That is good news, Fictional Interlocutor. I greatly look forward to seeing them break ranks, one by one, to repudiate the AAP’s antediluvian and anti-science stance. Bring it on, Good Guy Publishers. I will be delighted to give credit just as soon as some is due.

Update (later the same day)

Great to see this letter in support of FASTR signed by ten important organisations: The American Library Association, Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries, Association of College & Research Libraries, Association of Research Libraries, Creative Commons, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Greater Western Library Alliance, Public Knowledge, Public Library of Science and SPARC.


Wire skull

Big news yesterday. Identical bills were introduced into the US House of Representatives and Senate that, if passed, will make federally-funded research freely available within six months of publication. Here’s the exact wording, from the press release on Mike Doyle’s (D-PA) website:

The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR) would require federal agencies with annual extramural research budgets of $100 million or more to provide the public with online access to research manuscripts stemming from funded research no later than six months after publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

As Peter Suber explains here and here, FASTR is a stronger version of FRPAA, the Federal Research Public Access Act, which has been introduced in Congress three times before (2006, 2009, and 2012) but never come up for a vote. However, momentum for open access is gathering, both on the supply side with progressive new outlets like eLife and PeerJ, and on the demand side of, well, citizens demanding access to the research they’ve already paid for, and legislators increasingly agreeing with them. So FASTR  has a real shot at getting to a vote, and if voted on, could well pass. Which would be awesome, because we all need access.

Raptor skull in cardboard

I am especially happy that FASTR has bipartisan sponsorship in both houses of Congress. The sponsoring representatives in the House are Mike Doyle (D-PA), Kevin Yoder (R-KS), and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA). The identical Senate bill was introduced by John Cornyn (R-TX) and Ron Wyden (D-OR). So we’ve got Democrats from deeply blue states and Republicans from deeply red states, which is awesome and totally appropriate, 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 it’s nicely symmetrical that politicians from both sides of the aisle have come together to sponsor that bill’s near-opposite.

What can you do? If you live in the US, contact your legislators and tell them to support FASTR! It takes almost no time at all and it makes a big difference. This afternoon I called all five of the sponsoring legislators to thank them, and I called my representative and both California senators to encourage them to support the bill, and all told it took just a little over half an hour. If you skipped the thank yous and just got in touch with the legislators who represent you, it could be done in 15 minutes, and you’ve probably wasted more time than that today daydreaming about dinosaurs. Here’s what you’ll need.

Encourage your legislators:

Thank the bills’ sponsors:

This is big. This matters. Send an email, pick up the phone, make a difference.

Rexy skeleton

I didn’t have any really motivational “contact your legislators!” artwork so the photos in this post are of papier mache dinosaurs–all stinkin’ theropods, I’m afraid–that I’m building with my son. More to come on that soon, but in the meantime, check this out and give it a whirl–after you contact your legislators!

The Three Machesketeers