Congress wants to limit open access publishing for the US government's $28B/year subsidized research

A new bill in Congress, H.R. 3699 ("To ensure the continued publication and integrity of peer-reviewed research works by the private sector"), creates a regulation that make it hard-to-impossible to publish open access scholarly journals. These are journals that are paid for directly by researchers, who pay a fee that helps pay for peer review, and are then made available free of charge to all comers. They don't make a profit the way that the incumbent commercial journals do, but they have surpassed many of the old journals for quality and "impact factor" (how often articles are cited in other articles) and are used by scholars and institutions who believe them to be better for contemporary science and scholarship than the 18th-century model of the old commercial journals.

Rather than allowing an open marketplace to decide which model is best, Congress -- including Rep Darrell Issa, who has taken a strong stand for open networks in his opposition to SOPA -- is putting its thumb fist on the scales to support the incumbent closed journals.

All of this makes his support for a new bill, the Research Works Act, incomprehensible. That bill would prohibit all federal agencies from putting any privately published articles into an online database, even -- and this is the kicker -- those articles based on research funded by the public if they have received "any value-added contribution, including peer review or editing" from a private publisher. This is a direct attack on the National Institutes of Health's PubMed Central, the massive free online repository of articles resulting from research funded with NIH dollars. Similar bills have been introduced twice before, in 2008 and 2009, and have failed both times. (Letters from universities and libraries opposing the 2009 bill can be found here.)

Unsurprisingly, the bill is supported by the Association of American Publishers, a trade group that has long had issue with NIH's public-access policy, which requires authors who receive any NIH funding to contribute their work to PubMed Central within 12 months of publication. As Paul Courant, the University of Michigan Librarian wrote of the 2008 iteration of the bill, the AAP's claim that the "Government does not fund peer-reviewed journal articles -- publishers do" is simply "not true."

Why Is Open-Internet Champion Darrell Issa Supporting an Attack on Open Science?

Scholarly Societies: It's time to abandon the AAP over The Research Works Act


  1. FFS, what is *wrong* with you (North, Non-Canadian) Americans? How have you allowed the Capitol to become the world’s biggest open lunatic asylum? Take your country back from these men, they’re effing up the World!

    1. Issa is one of our worst.  Background as a car thief and an arsonist, and those are his good qualities. You can’t fool all the people all the time, but if you can fool 50% of the electorate every two years, you can do a lot of damage.

  2. Wow, if this isn’t a first amendment issue, then I don’t know what is. It’s not a subtle attack on freedom of press at all. 

  3. A very slight correction: generally, in open access publishing the researcher doesn’t pay a fee for the peer review but for the publishing – the difference being that you don’t have to pay if the reviewers reject the paper. (It would really suck if you did!)

  4. How do you find a bunch of lowlife scumbags willing to short-change all humanity for a back-scratch?

    Hold an election.

    Reckon we can develop some proper anarchy before capitalism destroys civilisation?

  5. Anecdotally, it seems to me that the PLoS journals are getting a reputation among scientists for a lack of professionalism. Manuscripts getting lost, uncommunicative editors, lack of clear deadlines, etc. I have heard this from multiple scientists who have dealt with them. It seems that an all-volunteer army is difficult to organize when the general is a volunteer too. The paid scientific editors of Elsevier and Cell Press and Landes etc. perform valuable functions in cracking the whip when need be. PLoS has editorial staff but the structure sets them up to be subservient to the academic editors. 

    Whether PLoS is economically viable is a separate issue. Grants are propping the whole thing up at the moment. The PLoS ONE arm makes the most money, partially covering losses from the other arms. Scientists don’t know what to make of PLoS ONE, because it is a journal that refuses to separate wheat from chaff. If work is technically sound it’s in, regardless of significance or importance. So a lot of stuff of questionable importance is published there and it makes PLoS money. However, I had a dept. chair tell me she would not even count a PLoS ONE paper as a publication if she saw one on a C.V., so I don’t know if it will last.

  6. Journal editor here. First, I agree about the importance of open access and completely support open access scholarly publishing. But I have some quibbles with this post.

    Now, of course we must remain vigilant, but Issa’s bill is going nowhere, just like Conyer’s before. AAP has been trying to find a way around NIH’s open access policy since Zerhouni announced it (Reed Elsevier’s U.S. headquarters is in Maloney’s district). There’s overwhelming support for open access throughout NIH. All three co-chairs of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology are out-spoken open access advocates. And as we saw with Conyer’s bill (and several other issues), academia has the power to successfully oppose AAP. Open access is simply an established fact for NIH-funded research. So we should all just relax and focus instead on electing evidence-friendly politicians.

    Further, the post implies a false dichotomy between open-access and non-open-access journals. We are not an open-access journal, but most of what we publish becomes open-access after 12 months, in accordance with NIH policy. Indeed, many of these “old 18th-century commercial journals” are the ones pushing new, technology-enabled models for the evaluation and distribution of research, notably BMJ, Lancet, Nature, JAMA, etc. 

    Very few scholarly journals are profitable. And I don’t feel that it’s accurate to say that open-access journals “surpassed many of the old journals for quality and ‘impact factor’.” Open access journals are generally young, and ISI doesn’t even calculate and impact factor for the vast majority of them. (The Directory of Open Access Journals has 3,285 titles in its database; ISI ranks 190 of them.) Many of them are very good, but are nonetheless pretty immature shoestring operations that simply don’t compete with longer-lived traditional journals in either quality or impact factor. 

    All this is to say that it’s not accurate to depict scholarly publishing as “new open-access journals vs. old for-profit journals.” There is a wide array of publishing models within that universe.

    1. Where do fake journals fit in the continuum? Semi-related since you mentioned Elsevier:

      I think we do need to react every single time a congressperson does something or proposes something stupid. Each and every single time. It’s how democracy works. Otherwise things slip under the radar while backroom deals are made for votes on other legislators’ pet bills, and next thing you know they have the slim majority needed to pass more stupid laws. As for the president- he’s the president. We didn’t elect him dictator for life- he’ll be  gone eventually, perhaps even soon. He’s also been exceptionally jelly-spined, so don’t hold your breath for a veto.

  7. In the spirit of this proposed legislation, I recommend that the bill not be published in the Congressional Record.

    After all, the bill is financed by industry, it has not been peer reviewed, and the bill would forbid its own entry into a federal database — the Congressional Record.

  8. “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….

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