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  • “The RWA is dead”

    - Elsevier revoked its support of a bill limiting open access to publicly funded research. OA expert Cameron Neylon comments that the OA community should now use this momentum to gain further ground.

    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 subscribers alike."

    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

    1. 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 face.
    2. 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.
    3. 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 currently lodged.
    4. 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.