Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, March 06, 2009

Aiming criticism at the right target

Thank goodness the buzz in support of the NIH policy and opposing the Conyers bill is on the rise.  Most of the buzz I've seen is based on good understanding.  However, two objections to the bill miss the target:

  • It's not true that the bill would prohibit OA to NIH-funded research.  It would prohibit federal agencies, including the NIH, from requiring OA to the research they fund.  More precisely, it would prohibit the elegant and now-lawful method the NIH uses to secure permission for that OA, namely, requiring grantees to retain the right to grant the government a non-exclusive license to distribute OA versions of their peer-reviewed manuscripts. 
  • It's not true that the bill would prohibit or kill open access journals.  The NIH policy does not require submission to OA journals, and the Conyers bill would not prohibit submission to OA journals.  Both are about green OA (through repositories), not gold OA (through journals).  The Conyers bill wouldn't even prohibit green OA; it would only prohibit federal agencies from mandating green OA and requiring authors to retain the right to authorize it or make it permissible. 

I point these out because we don't make justified headway against a bad idea by shooting at different bad ideas.  Let's not make it easy for the bill's supporters to say that the critics simply don't understand.

It's still possible to use some shorthand for convenience.  The Conyers bill would repeal the OA mandate at the NIH (not OA itself, and not OA journals), and block similar mandates at other federal agencies.  Or, the bill would repeal the NIH policy to require deposit in an OA repository.

For more detail on the bill, including the NIH method for providing OA without copyright infringement, see my article from October 2008, when Conyers first introduced the bill.  For details on how the political circumstances have changed since then, see my article from last week.

Update (3/7/09).  Also see Stevan Harnad's similar corrective, Conyers Bill H.R. 801 Has Nothing to Do With Open-Access Journals, and his March 8 follow-up.

Update (3/8/09). Also see Jan Velterop's comment on my post.