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November 10, 2007

Washington Post Writes About Open Access

Rick Weiss, Open Access to Research Funded by U.S. at Issue, Washington Post, November 1, 2007. Excerpt by OA News Blog:

A long-simmering debate over whether the results of government-funded research should be made freely available to the public could take a big step toward resolution as members of a House and Senate conference committee meet today to finalize the 2008 Department of Health and Human Services appropriations bill.

At issue is whether scientists funded by the National Institutes of Health should be required to publish the results of their research solely in journals that promise to make the articles available free within a year after publication.

The idea is that consumers should not have to buy expensive scientific journal subscriptions -- or pricey per-page charges for nonsubscribers -- to see the results of research they have already paid for with their taxes.

Until now, repeated efforts to legislate such a mandate have failed under pressure from the well-heeled journal publishing industry and some nonprofit scientific societies whose educational activities are supported by the profits from journals that they publish.

But proponents -- including patient advocates, who want easy access to the latest biomedical findings, and cash-strapped libraries looking for ways to temper escalating subscription costs -- have parlayed their consumer-friendly "public access" message into legislative language that has made it into the Senate and House versions of the new HHS bill.

That has set the stage for a last-minute lobbying showdown.

"There's been loads of debate and discussion, and at last it's going forward," said Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, a Washington-based library group. She has been a persistent presence on Capitol Hill, making the case for open access....

Scientists assert that open access will speed innovation by making it easier for them to share and build on each other's findings.

"Congress recognizes that, in the Internet age, unimpeded access to publicly funded research results is essential for the advancement of science and public health," said NIH Director Elias A. Zerhouni....

Opponents say that the economics of the open-access model are still experimental and tenuous, and that some open-access journals are dependent on philanthropic foundation money to balance their books. They also contend that the approach raises copyright issues.

"I think there are some very serious questions to examine as to whether this is an unwarranted government intrusion into the private-sector publishing industry," said Allan R. Adler, vice president for legal and government affairs at the Association of American Publishers, which has organized efforts to quash the movement...

With both Senate and House appropriation committee chairmen in favor, the language requiring the change would normally be virtually assured, despite a recent negative White House pronouncement. But Hill watchers said that -- given President Bush's threat to veto the bill for budgetary reasons and the likelihood of a continuing resolution, which would not have the new language -- it is too soon for the open-access movement to publish a victory paper.

Comments by Peter Suber:

One correction: The policy would require deposit in an OA repository (PubMed Central), not submission to OA journals. It's about green OA, not gold OA. This correction applies to Rick Weiss, for example in his second paragraph, and to Allan Adler and the AAP, whose objection to the economics of OA journals is not relevant to a policy that focuses exclusively on OA archiving.

If Adler is thinking that that the NIH policy will force subscription journals to convert to OA, then he should connect the dots, explain his theory in more detail, and respond to the counterevidence from physics. I detail this counterevidence in an article in the September 2007 issue of SOAN (see esp. section 5).

Weiss says that opponents also cite copyright problems with the policy, though he doesn't elaborate. But the NIH provision of the bill concludes with these words: "...Provided, That the NIH shall implement the public access policy in a manner consistent with copyright law." What part of "consistent with copyright law" do these unnamed opponents not understand?

Adler also objects to "government intrusion into the private-sector publishing industry." Here's one way that I've responded to this objection in the past: "The complaint about 'government intrusion into the market' is disingenuous. Scientific research and publication are permeated by government spending and government policies... In the US, most scientific research is funded by taxpayers, most scientists work at public institutions and are paid by taxpayers, and most subscriptions to subscription-based journals are purchased by public institutions and paid for by taxpayers. If publishers really mean that government money and policymaking should keep out of this sector, then they should say so. But they know that they would go bankrupt under such a rule. What they really want is the present arrangement of government subsidies for the work they publish, government subsidies for their own subscription fees, and double-payments by taxpayers who want access."

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