Annoyed Librarian
Search ....
Subscribe to LJ
Inside Annoyed Librarian

Publishers Against the Dissemination of Research

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.


Please note that new comments for all posts on this blog have been closed.


  1. Decisions and trends like this don’t bode well for the library as publisher model, either, which I think is an exciting direction that libraries could take in the future following the model of Douglas County Libraries in Colorado.

  2. The funniest part is they act like the researchers/writers get paid for any of this. Whether an article is in a paid or free journal, those who write the articles don’t get paid. They don’t get paid to write, they don’t get paid to review, and, in most cases, they’re paying a hefty fee to either subscribe to the journal, or be a member of the professional association who publishes it.

    I do feel, however, that the Annoyed Librarian misses an important point in this argument: faculty (or research staff) cannot just not publish their research. Some institutions are rather opposed to open access journals, and some view certain journals with differing levels of respect. Thus already tenured faculty may be able to pick and choose where they publish, but those still seeking tenure may have fewer options, at least if they want to get tenure.

  3. I Like Books says:

    You forgot to mention that, in many cases, they pay to get the article published.

  4. ack! I have not seen this legislation! Gonna check it out though and contact my congress folk.

  5. See:
    “Research Works Act H.R.3699:
    The Private Publishing Tail Trying To Wag The Public Research Dog, Yet Again”


    The US Research Works Act (H.R.3699): “No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that — (1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or (2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.”

    Translation and Comments:

    “If public tax money is used to fund research, that research becomes “private research” once a publisher “adds value” to it by managing the peer review.”

    [Comment: Researchers do the peer review for the publisher for free, just as researchers give their papers to the publisher for free, together with the exclusive right to sell subscriptions to it, on-paper and online, seeking and receiving no fee or royalty in return].

    “Since that public research has thereby been transformed into “private research,” and the publisher’s property, the government that funded it with public tax money should not be allowed to require the funded author to make it accessible for free online for those users who cannot afford subscription access.”

    [Comment: The author’s sole purpose in doing and publishing the research, without seeking any fee or royalties, is so that all potential users can access, use and build upon it, in further research and applications, to the benefit of the public that funded it; this is also the sole purpose for which public tax money is used to fund research.]”

    H.R. 3699 misunderstands the secondary, service role that peer-reviewed research journal publishing plays in US research and development and its (public) funding.

    It is a huge miscalculation to weigh the potential gains or losses from providing or not providing open access to publicly funded research in terms of gains or losses to the publishing industry: Lost or delayed research progress mean losses to the growth and productivity of both basic research and the vast R&D industry in all fields, and hence losses to the US economy as a whole.

    What needs to be done about public access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications resulting from federally funded research?

    The minimum policy is for all US federal funders to mandate (require), as a condition for receiving public funding for research, that: (i) the fundee’s revised, accepted refereed final draft of (ii) all refereed journal articles resulting from the funded research must be (iii) deposited immediately upon acceptance for publication (iv) in the fundee’’s institutional repository, with (v) access to the deposit made free for all (OA) immediately (no OA embargo) wherever possible (over 60% of journals already endorse immediate gratis OA self-archiving), and at the latest after a 6-month embargo on OA.

    It is the above policy that H.R.3699 is attempting to make illegal…

  6. Randal Powell says:

    There are so many sneaky, Orwellian bills being pushed through Congress these days, that it’s hard to keep up with them.

  7. I have just contacted the Representative for my area and Senators to vote against form of this bill. For shame.

  8. Coordinating the flow of a few emails seems like insufficient cause to allow publishers to convert public property for private gain. If the public paid for the knowledge then the public own it!

  9. At the bench says:

    Maybe scientists reviewing for Elsevier should start writing up contracts for peer review that reflect the value of their time and expertise: $500 per manuscript reviewed, with $250 up front and the rest due within 30 days of their sending the review to the publisher sounds about right. It’s a mystery why they donate their services to profitable corporations.

Optimization WordPress Plugins & Solutions by W3 EDGE