April 23, 2018

Elsevier Backs Off RWA Support; Still Opposes Mandated Open Access

This article has been updated to include information on the bill’s status and from ACRL.

Scientific journal publisher Elsevier today withdrew its support for the Research Works Act (RWA), a bill which would have prohibited open access mandates for federally funded research. The publisher had been the target of a boycott among academics, as LJ reported. At press time, 7,486 researchers had pledged not to publish, referee or do editorial work for Elsevier’s journals.The Act was also opposed by the American Library Association (ALA) and the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC), among many others. Representative Mike Doyle recently introduced an opposing bill, the Federal Research Public Access Act.

Just hours after Elsevier withdrew its support from the legislation, Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa and Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, RWA sponsor, issued a joint statement that the bill will not move forward, according to Alexander Howard, Washington correspondent, O’Reilly Media.

Peter Suber, open access projection director at Public Knowledge, said, “It shows that academic discontent — expressed in blogs, social media, conventional media, boycotts, and open letters to Congress — can defeat legislation supported by a determined and well-funded lobby.”

In a second statement, Elsevier offered further concessions to open access advocates. “We have made the archives of 14 core mathematics journals open, from four years after publication, back to 1995, the year when we started publishing digitally. All current and future papers featured in these journals will become free to read, for subscribers and non subscribers alike,” the publisher said. “We will create a scientific council for mathematics, to ensure that we are working in tandem with the mathematics community to address feedback and to give greater control and transparency to the community.”

Joyce L. Ogburn, president, Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) told LJ, “We think Elsevier is a very important publisher and we appreciate their listening to their community.”

However the publisher made clear that it is not changing its tune altogether: “While we continue to oppose government mandates in this area, Elsevier is withdrawing support for the Research Work Act itself,” the statement says, continuing, “while withdrawing support for the Research Works Act, we will … oppose repeated efforts to extend mandates through legislation.”

The Research Works Act would have not only prevented extending mandates, if passed, it would have effectively rolled back the existing mandate of the National Institute of Health, which requires that NIH-funded papers be accessible to the public on PubMed Central no later than 12 months after publication.

Meredith Schwartz About Meredith Schwartz

Meredith Schwartz (mschwartz@mediasourceinc.com) is Executive Editor of Library Journal.

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  1. The boycott by itself is not enough. Scientists need to form an active movement to once and for all break science free from shackles of corporate publishing bureaucrats. The people getting most of Elsevier’s profits are NOT scientists, they are bureaucrats, lawyers, and investors.

    The Mathematics backdown is not enough. Why just maths? What about other fields which are STILL imprisoned by ElSerpient’s evil coils? I am in paleontology, and there are literally hundreds of dinosaur anatomy and taxonomy papers that I have been unable to access (by any LEGAL means anyway) because they are all trapped behind Elsevier’s paywalls, even papers that are several decades old! Them offering a brownie for maths and then saying they will continue to oppose federally mandated open-access on all other areas of taxpayer-funded research means they have NO intention of furthering science, and any compromise with them is futile. The only way to liberate science from this prison is to KILL the beast, and expose the names of those scientists who have sold out to it. Anyone who does so, is the only kind of true proponent of open-access and equitable learning. Down with Elsevier, and Wiley, T&F, Springer, and all the rest!!! They are gobbling up the fruits of American people’s money, and not giving back anything in return!

    We need to hit “Elserpiente” where it hurts, right in the pocketbook. Not only refuse to buy their journals and cancel our subscriptions, but push universities to do the same. Also, we need to identify and EXPOSE those scientists and researchers who are still collaborating with them, and make sure they value their reputation enough to go open-access. If that means writing up a blacklist of traitors to science, so be it. Post in every scientific blog, BAN ELSEVIER. And go to my blog http://paleoking.blogspot.com/ for more info on how to break the grip of this menace for good.