In a victory for science, and those who favor open access for the easy dissemination of scientific results to the public and scientists around the world, Elsevier has withdrawn support for the Research Works Act.
I think credit has to go to Tim Gowers calling for and Michael Eisen spreading the word on the boycott and getting Elsevier’s attention. Eisen initially brought our attention to the bill which would have allowed Elsevier to break with the growing tendency towards putting science payed for with tax dollars into open access databases. The Research Works Act would allow them to erect pay walls on publicly-funded research and it was out of line with where science publishing has been going for the last decade. By calling attention to it and pushing back against Elsevier, the publisher that seemed to be largely behind the new legislation, Gowers and Eisen appear to have effectively killed support for this bill. If congress gets the message hopefully it will sink into oblivion.
We have to be vigilant for future efforts to restrict open access such as this bill. After the public spends millions on individual research projects, scientists spend years making discoveries, and peer reviewers donate their time to critique and improve the presentation of the data in the manuscripts, it’s exceedingly arrogant that publishers feel they own those results for decades just because they came in at the end as the publisher. While publishing is a capitalist enterprise and they should make money, their compensation should be proportionate to the effort and investment they put into the manuscript. The reality is, their contribution is vanishingly small compared to the efforts of scientists and costs to taxpayers. With the expansion of online databases, the decreasing costs of distribution of information, and the role of the internet in science communication, they can no longer justify their strangle hold on scientific results for decades after initial publication.