“Public Access” to Scientific Literature?
Use the link above to access the full text article published in The Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. The article opens as follows: “The public access debate began in the late 1990s as publishers moved their journals online, and subscription prices increased as more articles were published in response to the expansion of research support. Library budgets did not increase in parallel with research funding, resulting in library groups leading protests against the rising cost of journals and Elsevier's decision to bundle its journal collection into ‘The Big Deal...’ Society publishers responded to the debate by providing delayed free access starting in the early 2000s; they joined together to start the Washington DC Principles Coalition for Free Access to Science (http://www.dcprinciples.org). However, commercial publishers were less responsive to the calls for public access. Congress responded to advocates for public access by adding language to an appropriations bill that required authors to deposit all articles based on NIH-funded research into PubMed Central (PMC)... publishers worked to get their Congressional supporters to introduce legislation to block expansion of public access policies to other agencies and to resist efforts to change the embargo period. The goal was to block mandates that would dictate how publishers needed to operate their business. To protect publishers' efforts, the Research Works Act (RWA) was introduced in December 2011. Supported by the Association of American Publishers (AAP), Elsevier, and a number of other publishers... In February 2012, the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) was introduced. Supported by the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resource Coalition and the American Library Association, FRPAA would extend the NIH Public Access Policy to 11 government agencies with more than $100 million in extramural research funding and reduce the embargo period to 6 months... Whereas some publishers supported RWA, more than 75 have expressed their opposition to FRPAA (HR 4004, S 2096), just as they opposed similar legislation in 2006 and 2010. Their concern is that free access after 6 months would threaten the continued existence of many journals. As a scientist, I appreciate the potential of public access, even if it is delayed, to the research funded by the government. However, as a publisher, I am strongly opposed to the government mandating access without my consent or input. Government support of a scientist's research does not mean that the public has a right to the product created by the publisher. After all, the government subsidizes many things used and accessed by the public. One still has to pay for the loaf of bread, even though tax dollars are used to subsidize the farmer growing the wheat. The research is the raw grain, and the published research article is the loaf of bread—the manufactured product. We scientists appreciate the value of ready access to the scientific literature without having to worry about subscription barriers. But, the grounds used to justify free access to articles reporting on government-supported research are thin. The popular slogans revolve around the notion that the public has already paid for the research with their taxes, and they should not have to pay again to read the results. However, as the Executive Director of the American Physiological Society (APS), which self-publishes 14 scientific journals, I know that the taxpayer does not pay the publication costs. For our journals, those costs are primarily recovered through subscriptions, although APS and other society publishers also ask authors to pay page charges, which helps hold down the cost of subscriptions. Our subscribers include academic institutions, pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, hospitals and research institutes, government agencies, and individuals, both in the United States and abroad. In 2006, the Publishing Research Consortium (PRC) commissioned a study to gain insight into librarians' subscription or cancellation behavior (1). This study found that decisions are influenced by factors such as price, embargo period, article version, and reliability of access. With a 12-month access delay, assuming only 40% of a journal's content would be available for free, 44% of the librarians in the study said they would opt for free content to portions of the journal over a paid subscription. When more than 40% of a journal's manuscripts are available freely under open access (OA), the librarians expressed an even greater preference for the free option over journal subscriptions. The potential loss of a large number of institutional subscriptions is a major worry for subscription-based publishers. APS's anxiety over the NIH Public Access Policy can be explained by the PRC study. The Policy requires that NIH-funded articles be deposited in PMC and made freely available 12 months after publication via PMC, even as the same articles become freely accessible on the APS platform at HighWire Press (HW). A comparative analysis of full-text a