Putting the nix on open access? (more about why HR 3699 sucks)

Apologies for two posts in one night, but there’s a lot of news on the open access front.  First, the Quantum Pontiff asks whether Elsevier Could shut down arixiv.org:

They haven’t yet, but they are supporting SOPA, a bill that attempts to roll back Web 2.0 by making it easy to shut down entire sites like wikipedia and craigslist if they contain any user-submitted infringing material. (Here is a hypothetical airline-oriented version of SOPA, with only a little hyperbole about planes in the air.)

I think that appealing to Elsevier’s love of open scientific discourse is misguided. Individual employees there might be civic-minded, but ultimately they have $10 billion worth of reasons not to let the internet drive the costs of scientific publishing down to zero. Fortunately, their business model relies on the help of governments and academics. We can do our part to stop them by not publishing in, or refereeing for, their journals (the link describes other unethical Elsevier practices). Of course, this is easy to say in physics, harder in computer science, and a lot harder in fields like medicine.

That was via this post (thanks to Paul Manning on FB).  Michael E. Smith over at Publishing Archaeology is on it with news about related issues as well.  Now, some words from John Hawks about the NIH, public funded research, and open access:

Today’s NIH repository and the data access provisions of NSF grants were established by acts of Congress in the late 1990s. In my opinion, the agencies have in many areas gotten away with the bare minimum of compliance with these regulations. Worse, far from strengthening open access to publications and data, some in Congress want to reverse them. The current effort owes much to lobbying by academic publishers, and large campaign donations from officers and employees of those publishers to key Congressmen.

Read the rest of Hawks’ post here.  Just a few days ago, Rex wrote a post here on SM called “Why HR 3699 Sucks.”  Oh, and it does suck.  If you haven’t read it, then read it now.  He uses a nice analogy to explain what’s going on with academia and publishing, comparing the fruits of academic labor with public works like roads and highways.  Imagine if we all had to pay tolls to actually use highways and roads that are funded by public money.  Get it?  Ya, that’s what’s going on.  Here’s where Rex really lays down what’s what when it comes to the current state of open access affairs:

I can see why Big Content is afraid: we, the construction workers, engineers, and planners, are all willing to work for free to make roads for whoever wants to use them, and we have free software that basically will run all the back office stuff. Do you see the beauty of this situation? It’s the executives, not the workers, who are afraid of being laid off once people realize that 90% of the people actually building the roads can do it without the help of the guys in suits.

Now it might be true that the small amount of work that these back office types do is of a higher caliber than that done by our automated software. But it might not be — and they are working hard to make sure that we don’t find out which way the cookie crumbles.

In case you haven’t gotten the punchline yet: academic publishing is highway robbery, and academic publishers make Rupert Murdoch look like a socialist.

Now, go back and read the rest.  Be sure to read the other links too.  Then feel free to provide your own responses, thoughts, and links in the comments section here.  As John Hawks reminds us: “public comment on access to federally funded research ends this Thursday, January 12.”  From Michael E. Smith: “For more information about the bill and about WHAT U.S. CITIZENS CAN DO about this, see the Alliance for Taxpayer Access.”  Thoughts?


Ryan Anderson is a cultural and environmental anthropologist. His current research focuses on coastal conservation, sustainability, and development in the Californias. He also writes about politics, economics, and media. You can reach him at ryan AT savageminds dot org or @anthropologia on twitter.

3 thoughts on “Putting the nix on open access? (more about why HR 3699 sucks)

  1. One more Rex reference (from the end of his post):

    “It’s not clear to me that HR3699 will get very far in the legislative process but the sooner we academics start pushing back against craziness like this the better, especially given the conflict about SOPA that is on the horizon.”


  2. It is crucial that faculty and graduate students are part of the push back (against SOPA and HR 3699) for a number of reasons. One of which is that we need, in doing so, to give the librarians a morale boost. They have been fighting for us on this front for decades with too few of us knowing or caring about it. They have been getting tired, really tired. The way that, on this one, faculty and graduate students have been unusually vocal, has been encouraging to them. We need their help. Keep it up.

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