Friday, July 28, 2006

The Publishers' "Private Market" Canard

Open Access. In response to the Provosts' Open Letter supporting a legislative requirement for open access to federally-funded research articles, Alan Adler, vice president for legal and government affairs of the Association of American Publishers, said “what the university community is excited about is the prospect of being able to get access to all this published material free online, which is not terribly surprising. But why should universities be excited about the government inserting itself into the process of providing access to research?

Congress must not be fooled by this rhetorical sleight of hand. This move by scholarly publishers to assert scholarly publishing as private domain into which the federal government is intruding is, frankly, silly. We have seen this move with the American Chemical Society's attempt to stop NIH from harvesting and publishing public domain information in its PubChem database. If there are any interlopers in scholarly communication in the sciences, it is for-profit commercial publishers rather than the federal government. (See John Willinsky, The Access Prinicple, for details).

The articles that would be made publicly accessible under the FRPAA are those reporting on research conducted with federal support. Why isn't this support also a form of "interference"? But we do not hear Mr. Adler complaining about the federal government subsidizing the critical input for his members' businesses do we? Moreover, the publishing activities of scholarly societies have been indirectly underwritten with government funding, which supplies funds that end up paying membership fees and/or journal subscriptions. Unless and until Mr. Adler's members are willing to pay full value to support the research and writing of research articles, they have no standing to complain about government "interference."

Provosts Support Open Access Bill

Open Access. A recent story reports that the provosts (chief academic officers) of 25 leading research universities in the United States have released an open letter supporting the pending Federal Research Public Access Act, which would mandate public access to the peer-reviewed scholarly literature that reports results from federally-funded research. This is an important development. Kudos to these leaders for their courage in making open access a front-burner issue for higher education's legislative efforts.