I have to say I was as surprised and annoyed as other librarians when I read about the Research Works Act, which seems to have shocked and surprised everyone in the academic community except the people who actually produce academic research.
For those who missed the furor last week over a bill that was referred to a House Committee in mid-December, the Research Works Act is intended “To ensure the continued publication and integrity of peer-reviewed research works by the private sector.”
To do that, it would prohibit federal agencies from insisting on open access copies of articles reporting the results of research that has been funded by those agencies, policies like the one the NIH mandated in 2008.
The Association of American Publishers is ecstatic about the bill, and one detects the fingerprints of their lobbyists all over it. Here’s the statement that seems to offend librarians the most:
The Research Works Act will prohibit federal agencies from unauthorized free public dissemination of journal articles that report on research which, to some degree, has been federally-funded but is produced and published by private sector publishers receiving no such funding. It would also prevent non-government authors from being required to agree to such free distribution of these works.
As any idiot could,and some very bright people have, pointed out, no private sector publishers have produced any research. On the other hand, this is the same group that claims:
the NIH policy deprives both authors and publishers of their free choice to use the business model best suited for disseminating content and could ultimately reduce incentives to make substantial investments in peer reviewing, publishing, and disseminating scientific research.
We might also point out that the only substantial investments publishers make in peer reviewing involve sending the articles to researchers, who both produce the research and peer review it without being paid by the publishers. We wouldn’t want to limit their free choice, though!
The same ridiculous anti-open access statement by the AAP includes this doozy:
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) policy seeks to address a challenge or problem that has not been proven to exist. In doing so, the NIH policy introduces legal conflicts with an author’s and publisher’s copyright and undermines intellectual property rights and the economic incentive of publishers and rights holders. The policy makes their copyrighted material available without compensation in online sites, for dissemination to anyone, anywhere, anytime. Such mandatory open access erodes and disrupts the proven, balanced economic model that supports and sustains journals as dynamic and effective vehicles for promoting scientific communication for centuries.
Hmm, let’s see. “A problem that has not been proven to exist.” I guess commercial journal publishers raising subscription rates at 2-3 times the inflation rate, making it difficult to impossible for academic libraries to purchase the results of the research their universities pay for while publishers rake in hefty profits isn’t a problem, at least not for the publishers!
My favorite howler is the claim that “mandatory open access erodes and disrupts the proven, balanced economic model” for scholarly publishing. If the goal of scholarly research is strictly for publishers to profit, the model is proven and balanced. If the goal is to disseminate the results of scholarly research, the model is flawed and unsustainable. If it were proven and balanced, then the OA movement would never have started in the first place.
Not that I would expect members of Congress to know that. Among those members are people who believe that global warming is a hoax or that spending more money on schools means always learn more. Interpreting evidence isn’t really their strong suit. Accepting money from publishers is.
As I said, I was a bit shocked. It’s one thing when publishers of trashy best-selling novels try to keep public libraries out of the dissemination loop, but for publishers of scholarly research to do their best to thwart the dissemination of that research is a gross violation of the trust of all the researchers who provide them their content and quality control for free.
Not that the researchers care, of course. If they cared, they would have stopped contributing to, reviewing for, and serving on the editorial boards of the worst offending journals years ago. They haven’t, and won’t, even if this particularly nauseous bill doesn’t pass.
Oh, sure, there will be a few professors protesting about anti-OA shenanigans, but the bulk of the scientists who publish in the commercial journals will continue to do so, and in this hunt the scientists have the big dogs. Or maybe they are the big dogs. It’s whichever one of those that means the scientists have the most collective power.
As with public libraries and their Big Six publishers, academic libraries have no control over the process. They sit idly by chattering about the problem while the powers that be worry about other things, like tenure and research grants.