Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Jan Velterop on FRPAA

Jan Velterop, On the bill, The Parachute, May 16, 2006. Excerpt:
The Cornyn-Lieberman Bill, a.k.a. the Federal Research Public Access Act or FRPAA, has evoked some strong reactions. Many - perhaps most - publishers are dismayed; many - perhaps most - open access advocated are delighted.  Yet I'm afraid I see the FRPAA as a bit of a dogs dinner. Fish nor fowl. The six months' embargo is a perilously short period of time for most publishers to recoup their costs via subscriptions. And it is useless as a stimulus to the development of sustainable open access publishing.

Of course, I know of assertions that a six months' embargo poses no threat to subscriptions; even that immediate open self-archiving is safe. The example ('evidence') invariably given is that of physics and the effect ArXiv has had on subscription [at least so far]. Evidence? Perhaps. But without a mechanism, or even hypothesis, that might possibly be seen as explaining the phenomenon. Not even like evidence that extremely diluted potions still seem to provide a cure for some diseases in some people. For that we have at least a hypothesis: placebo-effect. Even if publishers do not entirely reject the evidence, they simply cannot afford to bank on its broad and sustained validity. Hence, publishers' anxiety.

The only reason why there possibly is a six months' embargo in the Bill is a realisation that publishers need to be able to recoup the money they put into publishing. Given that Messrs. Cornyn and Lieberman realise this, it would have been better to require immediate open access and to acknowledge that publishing is part of doing research, and therefore the cost of publishing part of the cost of research, thereby stimulating publishers to seriously develop open access publishing models based on article processing charges....

The whole world of scientific and scholarly research benefits from having robust and reliably sustainable open access publishing structures. Politicians do, too, because society as a whole does, too. And yes, publishers do, too.

Comments. Just two quick responses.

  • I agree with Jan that FRPAA should have provided that the cost of (OA) publishing is part of the cost of research and hence that grantees may use grant funds to pay processing fees charged by OA journals. I listed this as one of three weaknesses in the bill in my article on it earlier this month.
  • However, I disagree with Jan that we have no hypotheses to explain why high-volume OA archiving in physics has not caused cancellations of physics journals and why (after more funder mandates) we may see the same phenomenon in other disciplines. Here are seven hypotheses. (1) ArXiv is mostly preprints, not postprints, and libraries want to provide access to postprints. (2) The CURES Act and FRPAA would mandate OA to the author's final version of the manuscript, not the published edition (which may contain extensive copy-editing and mark-up), and libraries want to provide access to the published version. (3) CURES and FRPAA allow a six-month delay before the OA edition must be released, and libraries want to provide immediate access. (4) CURES and FRPAA only mandate OA for articles based on research funded by certain agencies, virtually no journals limit themselves to those articles, and libraries want to provide access to all the articles in a journal, not just the subset funded by certain agencies. (5) CURES and FRPAA only mandate OA to research articles, not to review articles, editorials, letters, news, and other journal content, and libraries want to provide access to these other kinds of content as well as the research articles. (6) Some publishers report that OA archiving soon after publication actually increases subscriptions and submissions. (7) University libraries want to provide access to journals in which their own faculty publish (or, they are under pressure to do so even if they don't want to).