Effect Measure

The federal Open Access bill

Even Republican jerks like Texas’s Senator John (“I never met a surge I didn’t like”) Cornyn can get it right sometimes. Law of Averages? I don’t know, but I certainly approve of his promise to re-introduce the Federal Research Public Access Act (S.2695) which would require tax-payer funded research to be freely available within 6 months of publication — in other words, Open Access for federally funded research. Even more amazing, the bill is co-sponsored by Independent (as in “really a Republican”) Senator, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut (as in, “I never met a surge I didn’t like”). Maybe he was fooled into thinking this was a good idea because it was sponsored by a far right Republican. Whatever the reason, I approve (of this). I also expect it to be opposed by some “liberal” Dems. The political world is sometimes more like a parallel universe.

Whatever. I certainly can’t disagree with this:

“When it’s the taxpayers that are underwriting projects in the federal government, they deserve to access the very things they’re paying for,” said Cornyn spokesman Brian Walsh. “This research is funded by American taxpayers and conducted by researchers funded by public institutions. But it’s not widely available.” (Wired)

The big for profit publishers and some big time scientific societies like the American Chemical Society have hired sleaze-ball PR firm Delzenhall Resources to push nonsense like, “public access equals government censorship” and “paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles”:

They warn that government interference will harm science.

“Our core message is that we believe in the integrity of the peer-review system and the investments in it,” said Brian Crawford, chairman of the executive council of the Professional and Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers. “It’s inappropriate for the government (to interfere).”

Publishers argue that mandatory open access could cripple the respected peer-review system which is maintained, they say, by hefty subscription and advertising fees. While reviewers often aren’t paid, finding and tracking them is expensive.

To which, the proper, reasoned response, is, “Bullshit.” Many Open Access journals are stringently peer reviewed (I am associated with one). More to the point, peer reviewers and most Editors in Chief are paid nothing — nada, zero, zip. The authors are paid nothing. What the publishers used to do was supply the essential step: printing and distribution. Now we have the internet.

There’s still a role for subscription supported journals. Many provide important reportage and investigative journalism and perspectives on current research. The income from subscriptions are often important for the financial well-being of affiliated scientific societies. A healthy scientific publishing world would include both.

But requiring tax-payer funded research to made available 6 months after publication is a bare minimum. We paid for it once. Why should be pay for it again and in the process line the pockets of a ten billion dollar industry? I won’t give up my subscriptions to Nature or Science and wait 6 months for cutting edge science. I couldn’t afford to. So they’ll do just fine.

Cornyn and Lieberman. For once on the correct side (as opposed to always being on the Right side). Hallelujah. Almost makes me believe in miracles. Almost.


  1. #1 Dorothea Salo
    March 16, 2007

    Thanks for publicizing this bill — as an academic librarian, I appreciate it!

    Please be aware that an online petition (modeled on a successful effort in the European Union) is now available at http://www.publicaccesstoresearch.org/ . Please read and consider signing it!

  2. #2 Les Boden
    March 17, 2007

    I like your quote from Brian Walsh: “When it’s the taxpayers that are underwriting projects in the federal government, they deserve to access the very things they’re paying for.” This is a great idea, and the logic applies equally to drugs, biomedical devices, and other discoveries funded by federal dollars. Why should private gain derive from research funded by taxpayers?