Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

More on the NIH policy

Scott Jaschik, Momentum for Open Access, Inside Higher Ed, July 24, 2007.  Excerpt:

Last year, a proposal in Congress to require all federally supported research to be placed online, freely available, attracted considerable attention and debate — and ultimately stalled.

This year, a measure that is narrower — it would apply only to research supported by the National Institutes of Health — appears within reach of passage. The proposal is part of the appropriations bill for the Education Department and the NIH, and passed the House of Representative without debate last week. The Senate Appropriations Committee has already approved the measure, which has attracted bipartisan support.

While supporters of the “open access” movement continue to want a similar provision to apply to all federally supported research [FRPAA], they view the prospect of a win on NIH-supported research as a significant breakthrough. “The long term vision is that public access to federally supported research is the place to be,” said Heather Joseph, executive director of the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition, one of the groups pushing for open access. Passing the NIH bill would show that this is “sound and prudent public policy” and that “the sky won’t fall.”

But Patricia S. Schroeder, president of the Association of American Publishers, said that her group’s opposition to the legislation was not lessened at all by its being limited this year to the NIH. Large publishers will be fine, but she predicted that the bill could eventually kill some small, nonprofit publishers that play key roles in advancing research....

Publishers have furiously opposed the legislation, saying that it would discourage many libraries from subscribing to journals and that it would make it impossible for journals to support the labor-intensive and vital work they do in peer review and in presenting work for publication. Some scholarly societies have faced tough debates over the issue, with professors pushing for open access so they can see more research and the societies’ journal publishers fearful of lost subscription revenue....

Joseph, who has been pushing the open access bill, said that the result has been “incredible bipartisan support.” She predicted that a broader bill would eventually pass as well, although this year the focus is on the NIH. And while higher education was initially divided on open access, there have been more signs in the last year of a coalescing of support around it, with groups of provosts of research universities or presidents of liberal arts colleges coming out in favor of open access. The Alliance for Taxpayer Access, a coalition of groups favoring the bill, has released a series of endorsements from library groups, scholars and others.

Schroeder, of the publishers’ association, acknowledged that opinion in higher education has shifted in favor of open access. But she said that was based on a lack of knowledge. “Any time you tell somebody they are going to get something for free, they think ‘yahoo.’ ” The problem, she said, is that “no one understands what publishers do.” If academics realized what publishers did with the money they charge — in terms of running peer review systems — they would fear endangering them.

She also said that the requirement to put research online would force professors to spend time processing their papers, and she compared the requirement to one that would force police officers to spend less time fighting crime and more time on paperwork. “I want researchers doing research,” Schroeder said.

Proponents of open access have generally said that the publishers are exaggerating the impact, and overlooking the way researchers would benefit from having access to research currently denied them when their libraries cancel journal subscriptions they can no longer afford.

Because this year’s bill is focused on the NIH, some scholarly groups that opposed last year’s legislation are staying on the sidelines — although they are still watching with interest. The American Anthropological Association is among the groups that opposed the open access bill last year, although plenty of anthropologists strongly backed it and some were critical of the association’s stance.

Bill Davis, executive director of the association, said that some anthropology research does receive NIH support, but it is “not a major source of funding.” As a result of the “limited scope” of the bill this year, his group is not taking a stance. He acknowledged a “continuing set of concerns” over how open access would affect the society’s journal operations....


  • Pat Schroeder continues to focus on the harm to publishers --and worse, hand-waving references to this harm-- without acknowledging (1) the evidence from the field with the highest levels and longest history of OA archiving, physics, where this harm has not materialized, (2) the enormous benefit to research and to the public which depends on this research, or (3) the mission of the NIH to advance the public interest in research and health care, not the private interests of publishers. 
  • Schroeder:  The requirement to put research online would force professors to spend time processing their papers, and she compared the requirement to one that would force police officers to spend less time fighting crime and more time on paperwork.  “I want researchers doing research.”  This is uninformed.  Grantees will have to give the NIH copies of their publications, but this is part of the ordinary reporting already required at the end of a grant period.  All the processing of the manuscript is done by the NIH.  Naturally Schroeder doesn't mention the fact researchers will do research better and faster if they have access to the primary sources.