Sunday, September 24, 2006

Opposition to open access legislation

Senior academic officials from 10 academic institutions have sent a letter to the two senators (Cornyn, TX; Lieberman, CT) sponsoring the Federal Research Public Access Act (S.2695)

The letter comments:

"The free posting of unedited author manuscripts by government agencies threatens the integrity of the scientific record, potentially undermines the publisher peer review process, and is not a smart use of funds that could be better used for research...Mandating free dissemination of scientific manuscripts within six months would significantly limit the ability of non-profit and commercial publishers to cover the upfront reviewing, editing, and production costs of creating these manuscripts. Some journals would simply cease to exist. Others would be much less able to support innovation in scientific publishing and archiving. Ultimately, this could lead to a system in which NIH and other federal agencies must sustain a significant portion of the research publishing enterprise, maintaining 100+ years of archival journals, as well as producing new research articles."

The Library of Congress provides several links to further description of the legislation and related documents.

Contrary to the initial focus of the letter, it's hard to see how the following text from the legislation would subvert peer review:
"Each Federal research public access policy shall provide for--
(1) submission to the Federal agency of an electronic version of the author's final manuscript of original research papers that have been accepted for publication in peer-reviewed journals and result from research supported, in whole or in part, from funding by the Federal Government;

(2) the incorporation of all changes resulting from the peer review publication process in the manuscript described under paragraph (1);

(3) the replacement of the final manuscript with the final published version if--

(A) the publisher consents to the replacement; and

(B) the goals of the Federal agency for functionality and interoperability are retained;

(4) free online public access to such final peer-reviewed manuscripts or published versions as soon as practicable, but not later than 6 months after publication in peer-reviewed journals;

(5) production of an online bibliography of all research papers that are publicly accessible under the policy, with each entry linking to the corresponding free online full text; and

(6) long-term preservation of, and free public access to, published research findings

The legislation also explicitly excludes material that is not peer reviewed, including:

(1) laboratory notes, preliminary data analyses, notes of the author, phone logs, or other information used to produce final manuscripts;

(2) classified research, research resulting in works that generate revenue or royalties for authors (such as books) or patentable discoveries, to the extent necessary to protect a copyright or patent; or

(3) authors who do not submit their work to a journal or works that are rejected by journals.
I can see how this may hurt scientific publishing financially, but the text of the proposed legislation seems to be in line with the traditional peer review process. The legislation also seems to parallel similar efforts, already nationally mandated, in the UK to facilitate public access to the results of publicly-funded research (see this previous post).

T. Scott provides an interesting commentary and suggestions re: the economic aspects of the debate and the potential detrimental nature of partisanship on the issue (i.e. "us vs. them" arguments).

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