Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

HHMI responds to criticism of its Elsevier deal

Tom Cech and four co-authors, A Reply from HHMI, Journal of Cell Biology, July 24, 2007.  A letter to the editor.  This is a response to the editorial by Mike Rossner and Ira Mellman in the June 11, 2007, issue of JCB, How the rich get richer

From the HHMI letter:

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) recently announced a policy on Public Access to Publications for its investigators and Janelia Farm Research Campus scientists. This policy requires our scientists to publish in only those journals that make original research articles and supplemental materials freely accessible through a public database within six months of publication.

The policy seeks to balance the goal of public access and the equally important value of scholarly freedom—the goal of our scientists to allow their graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to publish their work in the journal of their choice. To bring more journals into compliance with our policy, we have concluded agreements with Elsevier and Cell Press, as well as other publishers, including the American Society of Hematology. Such conversations will continue with both for-profit and non-profit publishers.

Rossner and Mellman have criticized HHMI for not using its influence to coerce Elsevier into making their content public after a short delay without compensation. It should be noted that the $1,000 we are paying for each Cell Press article and $1,500 for other Elsevier publications is not profit to the publisher, but a reimbursement for their lost revenue in providing accelerated free access and their time and effort in uploading HHMI manuscripts to PubMed Central. Furthermore, HHMI already makes payments at a similar level to a wide array of non-profit and for-profit publishers for immediate or accelerated access to publications, as does the Wellcome Trust....

From the response by Mike Rossner (Executive Director, The Rockefeller University Press) and Ira Mellman (Editor in Chief, Journal of Cell Biology):

It seems clear from the HHMI response that they missed the point of our Editorial. They note that they are providing public access to HHMI-funded research with their outlay of cash to publishers (both commercial and non-commercial). This fact was not in dispute.

They do not, however, address the effect of their actions on the public access movement—that is, the effort to get publishers (especially commercial publishers, who have refused to release the bulk of their content to the public) to provide public access to their holdings after a short delay. If the Rockefeller University Press does not need reimbursement to provide free access after 6 months, neither should other publishers. Elsevier already makes vast sums of money publishing publicly funded research, and they should feel an obligation to give something back to the public. Paying publishers to provide spotty access to just a few of the papers they publish (e.g., those authored by HHMI investigators) does not address the issue of public access to all of the scientifi c literature. HHMI had an opportunity to exert some pressure on publishers to achieve that goal, and they chose not to do so. Although they claim they were trying to find a balance between public access and “scholarly freedom,” they did not succeed. Instead, the public access movement has suffered because HHMI gave in to the selfi sh desire of some of their investigators to continue publishing in Cell. This serves neither the public, nor science.

Comment.  Rossner and Mellman are right.  In my evaluation of the HHMI-Elsevier deal in the April issue of SOAN, I responded to some of the HHMI points that Rossner and Mellman did not address:

…[D]eposit in a repository is a clerical task whose cost is negligible….The job is not worth thousands of dollars per paper, or hundreds, or even tens.  If the physical job of depositing papers is really what HHMI wanted, it should have put the job up for bidding.  It could have gotten a much better deal…. 

Under the HHMI deal, Cell Press will reduce its permissible embargo on OA archiving from 12 months to six.  That's a real concession and gave Elsevier a bargaining chip in the negotiation.  But Elsevier journals outside Cell Press already permitted immediate self-archiving and the HHMI deal will lengthen the embargo to six months (for HHMI-funded authors), moving the bargaining chip back to HHMI….

[The Wellcome Trust] and Elsevier struck a deal last September…but [WT] got more for its money.  WT got immediate OA, while HHMI is getting embargoed OA.  WT got OA to the published edition, while HHMI is getting OA to an unedited edition.  WT got a Creative Commons license or equivalent; while HHMI could use CC licenses on deposited, unedited manuscripts, the published editions will remain under Elsevier's copyright with no significant reuse rights…. 

Elsevier is collecting fees for permitting embargoed green OA, and for making the deposits, when all its publishing costs are already covered by subscription fees….