“The RWA is dead”

Nieuws | de redactie
27 februari 2012 | 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 RWAlimiting open access to publicly funded research. In particular,the publisher Elsevier got under fire having declared “a war onscience” with its support for the bill.

Now, the collective efforts by the research community appear tohave borne fruit. In a public statement, Elsevier revoked its backing of theRWA, 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 helpcreate a less heated and more productive climate for our ongoingdiscussions with research funders.

In another statement directed specifically to its mathematicianscommunity, Elsevier announced some further changes:

“To make clear that we are committed to wider access, we havemade the archives of 14 core mathematics journals open, from fouryears after publication, back to 1995, the year when we startedpublishing digitally. All current and future papers featured inthese journals will become free to read, for subscribers and nonsubscribers alike.”

The RWA affair has drawn particular attention to the twoCongressmen who put forward the proposal: Darrell Isa and CarolynMaloney. Both had received sizeable donations by Elsevier. In thelight of Elsevier’s statement, open access expert Cameron Neylon comments on the changedprospects of the RWA and what this means for the OA community.

Anlaysis by Cameron Neylon

  1. The bill is dead. Essentially no-oneelse was supporting this bill. The Association of AmericanPublishers (AAP) was working closely with senior Elsevier peopleand there was essentially zero engagement from anyone else. Apartfrom the Ecological Society of America, no other AAP member or anyother publishers supported the bill. For Elsevier to back down adeal must have been done to allow Maloney and Issa to saveface.
  2. This is a backdown, not a change ofheart. The statement says very clearly that Elsevierwill continue to oppose mandates. They distinguish at some levelbetween government mandates and “working with funders” butElsevier’s current practice is to consistently make life difficultand/or expensive wherever a mandate is applied, whether bygovernment, funder, or by an institution. Senior Management atElsevier believes that this is a principled position. I believethat is wrong-headed and tactically and strategically inept, but itseems unlikely that the position is likely to shift.
  3. With no change of heart there will be no swingbehind FRPAA. This is a tactical withdrawal to enablea more coherent publisher coalition to be built to oppose theFederal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA). The AAP will do so strongly, along(probably) with Springer, Wiley-Blackwell, and a range of societypublishers. Key questions are which way will Nature PublishingGroup and the AAAS come out given they have given strongsupport to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) mandate.Remember that Issa is chair of the committee where FRPAA iscurrently lodged.
  4. Shifting from a negative campaign against somethingtowards something positive will be hard. FRPAA shouldbe a major target for support and a means of bringing the coalitioncloser together. In the UK, the Finch report provides anopportunity for the significantly grown OA community to demand thatits voice be heard. And in the moves towards Horizon 2020 in Europeand the development and implementation of policy for that there arealso large opportunities. Time to move on from what we oppose towhat we support – and to articulate clearly both what that is, andhow we get there from here.

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