The American Research Works Act (RWA) stirred a fierce debate within the research world.
Scientists all over the world collected signatures against the RWA
limiting open access to publicly funded research. In particular,
the publisher Elsevier got under fire having declared "a war on
science" with its support for the bill.
Now, the collective efforts by the research community appear to
have borne fruit. In a public statement, Elsevier revoked its backing of the
RWA, saying that:
"While we continue to oppose government mandates in this area,
Elsevier is withdrawing support for the Research Work Act itself.
We hope this will address some of the concerns expressed and help
create a less heated and more productive climate for our ongoing
discussions with research funders.
In another statement directed specifically to its mathematicians
community, Elsevier announced some further changes:
"To make clear that we are committed to wider access, we have
made the archives of 14 core mathematics journals open, from four
years after publication, back to 1995, the year when we started
publishing digitally. All current and future papers featured in
these journals will become free to read, for subscribers and non
The RWA affair has drawn particular attention to the two
Congressmen who put forward the proposal: Darrell Isa and Carolyn
Maloney. Both had received sizeable donations by Elsevier. In the
light of Elsevier's statement, open access expert Cameron Neylon comments on the changed
prospects of the RWA and what this means for the OA community.
Anlaysis by Cameron Neylon
- The bill is dead. Essentially no-one
else was supporting this bill. The Association of American
Publishers (AAP) was working closely with senior Elsevier people
and there was essentially zero engagement from anyone else. Apart
from the Ecological Society of America, no other AAP member or any
other publishers supported the bill. For Elsevier to back down a
deal must have been done to allow Maloney and Issa to save
- This is a backdown, not a change of
heart. The statement says very clearly that Elsevier
will continue to oppose mandates. They distinguish at some level
between government mandates and "working with funders" but
Elsevier's current practice is to consistently make life difficult
and/or expensive wherever a mandate is applied, whether by
government, funder, or by an institution. Senior Management at
Elsevier believes that this is a principled position. I believe
that is wrong-headed and tactically and strategically inept, but it
seems unlikely that the position is likely to shift.
- With no change of heart there will be no swing
behind FRPAA. This is a tactical withdrawal to enable
a more coherent publisher coalition to be built to oppose the
Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA). The AAP will do so strongly, along
(probably) with Springer, Wiley-Blackwell, and a range of society
publishers. Key questions are which way will Nature Publishing
Group and the AAAS come out given they have given strong
support to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) mandate.
Remember that Issa is chair of the committee where FRPAA is
- Shifting from a negative campaign against something
towards something positive will be hard. FRPAA should
be a major target for support and a means of bringing the coalition
closer together. In the UK, the Finch report provides an
opportunity for the significantly grown OA community to demand that
its voice be heard. And in the moves towards Horizon 2020 in Europe
and the development and implementation of policy for that there are
also large opportunities. Time to move on from what we oppose to
what we support - and to articulate clearly both what that is, and
how we get there from here.