Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Legislating immediate OA

Heather Morrison, Would a bold politician speak up for an unprecedented public good? Imaginary Journal of Poetic Economics, October 20, 2007.  Excerpt:

Debates around open access to date have tended to focus on the pros and cons for researchers and their funders. Now that open access mandate policies have entered the political sphere, it may be timely to consider open access from a political perspective.

Politicians who support open access initiatives have an unparalleled opportunity to report to their constituents that they have supported an unprecedented public good in the form of open access.
One open access policy initiative currently under debate is the move to change the U.S. National Institutes of Health' Public Access Policy from a request, to a requirement, to make NIH-funded research publicly available after 12 months.

Here is an idea and opportunity for a bold politician: suggest an amendment requiring that results of NIH-funded research be made open access the moment they have completed peer review and are ready for publication.

Rationale: the public has already funded the research, and they have rights to the results. The purpose of public funding of medical research is to advance our understanding of medicine, so that we can, as quickly as possible, develop new ways to cure, treat, and prevent illness....

The reference to an unprecedented public good refers to the Budapest Open Access Initiative... - excerpt: An old tradition and a new technology have converged to make possible an unprecedented public good. The old tradition is the willingness of scientists and scholars to publish the fruits of their research in scholarly journals without payment, for the sake of inquiry and knowledge. The new technology is the internet. The public good they make possible is the world-wide electronic distribution of the peer-reviewed journal literature and completely free and unrestricted access to it by all scientists, scholars, teachers, students, and other curious minds....


  • Small point:  Friday (October 19) was the filing deadline for amendments to the bill that would provide OA to NIH-funded research.  So we can't file new amendments, even if we have to mop up after some harmful amendments filed at the last minute by the publishing lobby.  But I like Heather's idea from a tactical point of view.  Just as the publishers introduced one amendment (deleting the entire OA provision) in order to set up their other amendment as a reasonable compromise (severely weakening the OA provision), we might have introduced an amendment to demand immediate OA in order to set up the default bill (embargoed OA) as a reasonable compromise.
  • Larger point:  Heather is right to take a political perspective.  But politically, this is a two-sided issue.  On the one hand, immediate OA is in the public interest, but on the other, we should be ready to compromise in order to get a bill passed.  My most recent attempt to capture both sides of the issue was in the Richard Poynder interview, published two days ago:

I believe that any embargo is a compromise with the public interest....But...compromise may be politically necessary....I would like publishers to recognise that embargoes are a satisfactory way to meet their legitimate interests. I would like them to accept that the cost of a research project is almost always greater than the cost of publication, sometimes thousands of times greater, and therefore that the agencies funding research — and in the case of public funders, taxpayers — add at least as much value to peer-reviewed research articles as publishers do. If so, then publishers can't trump all the other stakeholders just because they "add value" and want to dig in their heels. But neither can we expect publishers to continue to add value without compensation. So we have to compromise. I believe the best compromise is a period of exclusivity for the publisher followed by unqualified open access for the public. I would like publishers to accept OA mandates for publicly funded research and focus their concern on the length of the embargo.  But for that to happen, OA proponents must accept the legitimacy of compromise. If they don't, ironically, they'll create a new kind of embargo — an indefinite delay of strong OA policies in the name of purity.

Update. Also see Heather's response to my blog comments.