Research Work Act Dead — What Next?

A larger victory for the rebel forces!

One day after Elsevier dropped its support for the Research Works Act, the people pushing this ugly bill—who coincidentally get regular contributions of cash from Elsevier—have decided to let it die! At least for now.

Here’s the joint statement from Representatives Darrell Issa and Carolyn B. Maloney, who proposed this bill… together with my translation into plain English:

“The introduction of HR 3699 has spurred a robust, expansive debate on the topics of scientific and scholarly publishing, intellectual property protection, and public access to federally funded research. Since its introduction, we have heard from numerous stakeholders and interested parties on both sides of this important issue.

Translation: the Association of American Publishers supported this bill because it would crush the Public Access Policy that makes taxpayer-funded medical research freely accessible online… and stop this practice from spreading to other kinds of research.

But then, scholars and ordinary people worldwide erupted in a wave of revulsion, even using this bill as an extra reason for boycotting the publisher Elsevier—the most vocal supporter of this bill.

For example, all way across the Atlantic, an editorial in the Guardian shouted: “The result would be an ethical disaster: preventable deaths in developing countries, and an incalculable loss for science in the USA and worldwide. The only winners would be publishing corporations such as Elsevier (£724m profits on revenues of £2b in 2010—an astounding 36% of revenue taken as profit).”

Since Elsevier is a global corporation, this is not what they want people to read in British newspapers.

As the costs of publishing continue to be driven down by new technology, we will continue to see a growth in open access publishers. This new and innovative model appears to be the wave of the future.

Translation: the big publishers are doomed in the long run.

The transition must be collaborative…

Translation: but Elsevier makes $100 million in profits every month now, so let's not move too fast.

… and must respect copyright law and the principles of open access. The American people deserve to have access to research for which they have paid.

Translation: we’re not evil. We’re for everything that sounds good, even things in direct contradiction to the bill we proposed!

This conversation needs to continue and we have come to the conclusion that the Research Works Act has exhausted the useful role it can play in the debate.

We’ve beaten, for now.

As such, we want Americans concerned about access to research and other participants in this debate to know we will not be taking legislative action on HR 3699, the Research Works Act. We do intend to remain involved in efforts to examine and study the protection of intellectual property rights and open access to publicly funded research.

But watch out: we’re not giving up.

So, we need to heed the words of open-access advocate Peter Suber:

This is a victory for what The Economist called the Academic Spring. It shows that academic discontent—expressed in blogs, social media, mainstream news media, and open letters to Congress—can defeat legislation supported by a determined and well-funded lobby. Let’s remember that, and let’s prove that this political force can go beyond defeating bad legislation, like the Research Works Act, to enacting good legislation, like the Federal Research Public Access Act.

So, folks, please:

1) Learn about the Federal Research Public Access Act. Blog about it, tweet about it: this is one of the few really good bills that Congress has considered for a long time.

2) If you’re a US citizen, sign the White House petition supporting the Federal Research Public Access Act. If 25,000 sign by March 9th, the president will review it.

3) No matter where you are, add a comment supporting the Federal Research Public Access Act to the Alliance for Taxpayer Access petition. And if you live in the US, sign the petition!

4) If you teach or study at a university, click on the picture below to get a PDF file of a poster explaining the boycott. Print it out and put it on your office door. While for some of us the Elsevier boycott is old news, a surprising number of people who should know haven’t heard of it yet! Within the field of mathematics, professional associations are planning a PR blitz to solve that problem. But if you’re in one of the bigger sciences, like biologist and chemistry, we really need you to help publicize what’s going on.

23 Responses to Research Work Act Dead — What Next?

  1. You’ll only see actual change when the research grant application process and postgrad research proposals are assessed anonymously, along the lines of using student numbers in exams. Until then, nothing will happen except the stale perpetuation of rehashed dud ideas in the hope that corporate interests will join the party.

    • Mike Taylor says:

      A few years ago, I probably would have swallowed this line. The thing is, we are seeing real change now. I agree that the grant assessment process is crucial — that’s why policy statements like the following from the Wellcome Trust are so important:

      “The Wellcome Trust […] affirms the principle that it is the intrinsic merit of the work, and not the title of the journal in which an author’s work is published, that should be considered in making funding decisions.”

      As this principle becomes more widely adopted, all the remaining reasons for “publishing” in a barrier-based journal evaporate.

      • Tell me why students have to use numbers instead of names in exams and assignments to avoid bias, but research proposals are not assessed in an anonymous fashion. Double standard, much?

        • Mike Taylor says:

          I’m not saying it’s right that research proposals aren’t evaluated anonymously. I’m saying that fixing that is not a prerequisite for the changes we’re talking about in this thread — a shift towards OA with the eventual goal of universal OA.

        • Darren Dahly says:

          Frankly, because the “who” matters when it comes to evaluating/predicting successful completion of a project. Comparing student assessments to complex, long term projects is apples and elephants.

        • What is good for the goose, is good for the gander. I see no reason as to why research proposals should not be assessed anonymously.

          To take any other position is hypocrisy.

          Who knows, in the world of the future, my research proposal to investigate time dependent quantum mechanics might be accepted on the basis of merit, not who I know, or who I’m wiilling to corrupt for research dollars.

  2. Blue cat says:

    I recommend refusing to be on conference program committees unless the conference agrees to put all accepted papers online, free to the public.

  3. Within the field of mathematics, professional associations are planning a PR blitz to solve that problem.

    ooh, that sounds exciting! What have you heard? Or is it secret, still-in-development stuff?

    • John Baez says:

      I think it’s better to let Elsevier find out the details when this actually happens, not before. I just want people to know that steps are being taken, within the math community, to make sure everyone knows about the Elsevier boycott—not just the smallish fraction that pays close attention to blogs, Google+ and the like.

  4. Charlie Clingen says:

    “2) If you’re a US citizen, sign the White House petition supporting the Federal Research Public Access Act. If 25,000 sign by March 9th, the president will review it. ”
    Just signed. Only about 150 signatures so far… 24, 850 to go. Pass it on!

  5. The boycott poster PDF is a bit large for blogging…

    • John Baez says:

      I don’t know how you’d include a PDF in a blog – that PDF was for printing out, not blogging. I’m not sure what you want, but here’s a jpeg with the text, if you want it:

      I just exported the PDF as jpeg and used Irfanview to resize it. In my blog articles I find it more convenient to use a version without the text:

      • The first is perfect.

        Actually I wanted a small one included in some forum discussion. (Of course I could downsize the PDF, put it on my blog, and then link to that image from the forum post.)

        But suppose I don’t have a blog…

        Now absolutely everybody can easily spread the message everywhere in any image size.

  6. Nima says:

    Forget boycotting Elsevier. Kill Elsevier!

    The boycott by itself is not enough. If we stop here, Elsevier will simply try this kind of thing again, buy off more politicians, write more bad bills. They can buy off anybody, not just Daryl Issuck and Carolyn Baloney. Scientists need to STOP SETTLING FOR EMPTY PROMISES AND TRUCES that only reinforce the pre-existing status quo – we must 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. Switch everyone you know to open-access journals like PLoS, and expose the names of those who don’t make the switch, so we can finally KILL Elsevier.

    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 the 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 post the names of those fools in the universities who still support it. Expose the moral bankruptcy and tarnished name of anyone you know who is a lobbyist for them in academia or refuses to stop publishing in their journals. And go to my blog for more info on how to break the grip of this menace for good.

    • Mike Taylor says:

      I felt uncomfortably reading the level of hostility in Nima’s comment. It took me a while to realise why. It’s because I’ve spoken with individuals who work for Elsevier and are genuinely trying to do the right thing, and are not worthy of such hostility. But they are working within a toxic company; and that company as a whole (at least as is is now) probably is. I hope Elsevier employees reading this (especially the ones I’ve spoken with) will recognise and feel that distinction.

      As for “Forget boycotting Elsevier. Kill Elsevier!” — boycotting is what will kill Elsevier, just as surely as suffocation kills a mouse. The company lives entirely on free donations of content and editorial/review services. If we stop giving it that oxygen, it will have nothing to live on.

      To survive, it’s going to need to make much more radical changes than just “we still want the RWA but we’re withdrawing support for it because you were all so mean”. For more on this, seem my blog post of yesterday, Can Elsevier save itself?

    • Dave says:

      I am a big fan of the open-access movement and think these new developments are great, but Nima’s level of hostility goes way too far. There is *some* reasonable cost for publishing, distributing, and maintain archives of scientific literature forever. If Elsevier truly died, couldn’t a lot of good scientific works already published there be lost?

  7. […] Issa (R-CA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), announced that they were shelving the RWA for now.  See this hilarious post by physicist John Baez, which translates Issa and Maloney’s statement on why they’re letting the RWA die into […]

  8. Albert Ali Salah says:

    ACM e-mailed information about the authorizer today, I think it is a very good step in the public access direction, and deserves mention here:

    “You may be aware that ACM recently introduced ACM Author-Izer, a unique service which allows you to offer visitors to your home page free access to your ACM-published articles in the ACM Digital Library.

    ACM Author-Izer gives you the ability to add a link to the definitive version of your article on either your personal web page or your institutional repository. This link will expand your article’s accessibility to the worldwide computing community.

    To use ACM Author-Izer you must first take ownership of your Author Profile page in the ACM Digital Library. To go to your Author Profile page click the link above, and then sign in with your ACM Web Account username and password. If you don’t already have an Account, click “Sign up” from your Author Profile page. You can add personal information such as your photograph, homepage address, etc. Click “Add Author Information” to submit your changes. Once you receive email notification that your changes were accepted, you can use ACM Author-Izer.

    See how the ACM Author-Izer service works.

    We hope you will use this new service and inform friends and colleagues about its advantages.”

  9. […] Via this post by John Baez “Research Work act Dead – What Next?”. […]

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