Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, May 08, 2006

Publisher objections to FRPAA

Sara Ivry, Some Publishers of Scholarly Journals Dislike Bill to Require Online Access to Articles, New York Times, May 8, 2006. Excerpt:
Scholarly publishing has never been a big business. But it could take a financial hit if a proposed federal law is enacted, opening taxpayer-financed research to the public, according to some critics in academic institutions. The Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006, proposed last week by Senators Joseph I. Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut, and John Cornyn, Republican of Texas, would require 11 government agencies to publish online any articles that contained research financed with federal grants. If enacted, the measure would require that the articles be accessible online without charge within six months of their initial publication in a scholarly journal. "Not everybody has a library next door. I don't mean to be flippant about it, but this gives access to anybody," said Donald Stewart, a spokesman for Senator Cornyn. "The genesis of this was his interest in open government and finding ways to reform our Freedom of Information laws and taxpayer access to federally funded work."

Some members of the scholarly publishing industry are wary of the legislation. Howard H. Garrison, the director of public affairs at the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, an organization whose members collectively publish approximately 60 journals, argued that the legislation would weaken the connection between the journals and their readers and that journals could lose subscribers and ad revenue if articles were available online. "People won't be able to gauge how many people will be reading the articles and that has ramifications for advertising, promotion," he said. "Does it reach 1,000 scientists, 2,000 or 50? If the articles are on a government Web site, your readership may be halved." Scientific data is easily misinterpreted, said Joann Boughman, executive vice president of the American Society of Human Genetics, publisher of The American Journal of Human Genetics. "Consumers themselves are saying, 'We have the right to know these things as quickly as we can.' That is not incorrect. However, wherever there is a benefit, there is a risk associated with it."

A year ago, the National Institutes of Health introduced a policy encouraging scientists who had received N.I.H. financing to submit published articles within a year to a central database at the National Library of Medicine. Fewer than 4 percent of researchers have complied. Catherine McKenna Ribeiro, the deputy press secretary for Senator Lieberman, said mandatory compliance would "foster information sharing, prevent duplication of research efforts, and generate new lines of scientific inquiry." She said in an e-mail message that the bill would, in effect, allow agencies to better monitor what publications were a result of their grants.

Comment. Am I getting jaded, or will NYTimes readers --scientists and non-scientists alike-- see the pettiness of the publisher objections when juxtaposed with the benefits and urgency of public access to publicly-funded research? Should we really reduce the effectiveness of the enormous US public investment in research in order to help journals measure traffic and charge for ads? Should we really reduce access for scientists in order to paternalize non-scientists who may not understand the literature or care to read it? Let's get serious. It's not about journal advertising or journal subscriptions, and it's only secondarily about lay readers. It's about $55 billion/year in research, making it available to all the researchers who can apply or build on it, and making it as useful as it can possibly be. --And BTW, there are ways to give publishers the traffic data they want without derailing OA, and there are good reasons to think that FRPAA will not reduce subscriptions.