The Open Science Debate: Part 1 (Ding Dong, the RWA is Dead!) 2012-03-08


“... I will be attending a colloquium on the future of scientific publishing this Thursday, sponsored by Stanford University Libraries, Highwire Press, and the Journal of Clinical Chemistry. In preparation, I have been doing a lot of research into the current debate over the role of traditional publishers, and models for what a future, more open publication system might look like... Part 1, in which I discuss the rise and fall of the controversial Research Works Act this winter. I end with a number of links for further reading about the controversy and resources which discuss the new models of scientific publishing which are being aired [use the link above for access] ... One doesn’t frequently have the opportunity to envision a mob of angry scientists, chanting slogans, lab coats a-flapping, brandishing acetylene torches and tuning forks, marching to storm the fortress of the status quo. However, this is precisely the image that has been conjured up in recent weeks (1) to describe the furious stream of blog posts, op-eds, and twitter streams emanating from the corner offices of labs across the country, denouncing prestigious journals and publishers as ‘enemies of science’ (2). The proximal cause of the all this agitation in the academy is a bill called the Research Works Act (3). In essence, the RWA proposes to roll back the NIH’s 2008 Public Access Policy, which mandates that the results of all NIH-funded research must be made available for free on the web within one year of publication (4)... Two of the main backers of the Research Works Act were international publishing giant Elsevier (which has made significant donations to both the bill’s sponsors (5)) and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) (6), who asserted that the NIH’s current policy amounts to government sponsored piracy, and violates the copyrights held by scientific journals and publishers. This is where the angry mob comes in. Sparked by a furious New York Times op-ed (7) by Michael Eisen, UC Berkeley evolutionary biologist and co-founder of the open access journal Public Library of Science (PLoS), outrage spread online, leaping from blog to blog and engulfing twitter in a haze of horrified hashtags (#openaccess!). [See bottom of this post for some of my favorites...] Scores expressed their disapproval of RWA, including researchers, librarians, and many AAP members, including prestigious university presses, Nature Publishing Group (NPG) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) (8). Nearly 8000 researchers have pledged to boycott Elsevier journals as a result of their support for RWA as well as a long history of controversial business practices (9). In early February, a group of lawmakers countered the RWA with their own legislation, the Federal Research Public Access Act (10)... Finally, as of last week, the Research Works Act could be pronounced officially ‘dead in committee’ (11). After Elsevier withdrew its support of the bill (though not of its aims) (12) on Monday, Reps Issa & Maloney declared that they would abandon further legislative action. Citing their satisfaction with the ‘robust, expansive debate...’ While less dramatic than the January 18 blackout by Google, Wikipedia, Reddit and other influential sites, which dealt a political drubbing to the SOPA and PIPA bills, the wired reaction to RWA seems to have been equally effective in halting this regressive action by the publishers... One of the most heatedly voiced grievances is accusation by researchers and research librarians that publishers engage in unfair, monopolistic pricing practices. Publishers control the flow of crucial scientific information, and so research libraries must buy their products, which sometimes leads the publishers to try to force more money out of them. In 2010, the University of California successfully boycotted NPG over a 400% price hike and other financial skulduggery (15). The international megapublisher Elsevier in particular is accused of price gouging and ‘bundling’ ... The frustration with these practices is compounded by the fact that many publishers make very high profits (Elsevier is estimated to take around 30% of its income as profit) (16, 17). Thus, publishers’ support for regressive policies such as the Research Works Act is simply the final straw in awakening scientists’ outrage... In addition to pure curiosity, one of the pervading motivations for embarking on a scientific career of long hours and low pay is idealism, the desire to make an important contribution to knowledge that will advance the state of humankind. Scientists are generally completely horrified at the idea that our work might be taken advantage of for profit... This outrage has been a boon to the Open Access Science movement (eg. 18)... The question is, exactly what model ought to replace the current system, and how can we make sure that change does not damage science more than it improves it?”



08/16/2012, 06:08

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Tags: oa.rwa oa.legislation oa.usa oa.mandates oa.npg oa.business_models oa.publishers oa.comment oa.mandates oa.usa oa.frpaa oa.legislation oa.rwa oa.nih oa.advocacy oa.signatures oa.petitions oa.boycotts oa.elsevier oa.copyright oa.societies oa.libraries oa.plos oa.aaas oa.social_media oa.aap oa.prices oa.u.california oa.policies oa.journals



Date tagged:

03/08/2012, 15:20

Date published:

03/08/2012, 17:02