Elsevier = Evil

Along with SOPA and PIPA, our government is contemplating another acronym with deplorable consequences for the free dissemination of information: RWA, the Research Works Act. This is a bill to, it says, "ensure the continued publication and integrity of peer-reviewed research works by the private sector", where the important phrase is "private sector" — it's purpose is to guarantee that for-profit corporations retain control over the publication of scientific information. Here are the restrictions it would impose:

No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that--

(1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or

(2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.

This is a blatant attempt to invalidate the NIH's requirement that taxpayer-funded research be made publicly available. The internet was initially developed to allow researchers to easily share information…and that's precisely the function this bill is intended to cripple.

Who could possibly support such a bill? Not the scientists, that's for sure; and definitely not the public, unless we keep them as ignorant as possible. The corporations who love this bill are the commercial publishers who profit mightily from scientists' work. And first among these is Elsevier, the gouging publisher scientists love to hate.

If passed, the Research Works Act (RWA) would prohibit the NIH's public access policy and anything similar enacted by other federal agencies, locking publicly funded research behind paywalls. The result would be an ethical disaster: preventable deaths in developing countries, and an incalculable loss for science in the USA and worldwide. The only winners would be publishing corporations such as Elsevier (£724m profits on revenues of £2b in 2010 - an astounding 36% of revenue taken as profit).

Since Elsevier's obscene additional profits would be drained from America to the company's base in the Netherlands if this bill were enacted, what kind of American politician would support it? The RWA is co-sponsored by Darrell Issa (Republican, California) and Carolyn B. Maloney (Democrat, New York). In the 2012 election cycle, Elsevier and its senior executives made 31 donations to representatives: of these, two went to Issa and 12 to Maloney, including the largest individual contribution.

So Elsevier bought a couple of politicians to get their way. It's typical unscrupulous behavior from this company; at least they stopped organizing arms trade fairs a few years ago, so we know their evil can be checked by sufficiently loud public opinion.

Tell your representatives to kill RWA. It's another bill to benefit corporations that will harm science.

(Also on FtB)

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