The federal government is taking another stab at socializing scientific, technical, and medical (STM) publishing in the U.S. This time the effort arrives in the form of S. 2695, the Federal Research Public Access Act, introduced in early May by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Joseph I. Lieberman (D-Conn.) (C&EN, May 8, page 28).
Briefly, the bill would require all federal agencies that fund $100 million or more in research annually to develop a mechanism for making the final, peer-reviewed author's version of scientific papers publicly accessible at no charge within six months of publication. As readers of this page know, I have absolutely no use for this blatant attempt by the federal government to take control of STM publishing. If successful, it will be an unmitigated disaster for the scientific enterprise because it will irreparably damage the entire process of reviewing and disseminating scientific information.
The Professional & Scholarly Publishing Division of the Association of American Publishers (www.pspcentral.org) has taken a strong stand against S. 2695. Recently, the division's Executive Council wrote a letter to Sen. Susan M. Collins (R-Maine), who chairs the Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, the committee to which S. 2695 has been referred, urging her "to oppose S. 2695 and to prevent any attempts to advance this legislation."
The letter was endorsed by 66 STM publishers ranging from commercial giants like Elsevier and John Wiley & Sons to society publishers like the American Chemical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry to other groups like the Ornithological Council and Health Affairs.
The letter argues that: "This unnecessary legislation would adversely impact the existing peer review system that ensures the high quality of scientific research in the United States. In addition, it would impose costly new mandates on federal agencies."
The letter points out that quality peer review isn't free. "There is a misconception that the peer review process is provided by volunteer experts at no cost to publishers," the letter states. "This is simply not true. Commercial and not-for-profit publishers invest hundreds of millions of dollars each year in the existing process of independent peer review." It goes on to point out that: "Although peer reviewers themselves are typically not paid, publishers incur considerable staff, capital, and operational costs to manage the peer review system and to meet the requirements of thousands of peer reviewers and journal editors. Publishers also provide the software and networked systems that enable authors to submit articles across the web, significantly decreasing the time to publication."
Another important point made in the letter is that, in the face of tightening budgets, it makes no sense to require research funding agencies to duplicate a distribution system that already exists. "S. 2695 is unnecessary and duplicates existing mechanisms that enable the public to access scientific and medical journal research. It would require the affected federal agencies to develop and maintain costly electronic repositories. To do so, agencies will need to divert millions of dollars away from federal research grants toward the databases' costs. In an environment of ever-shrinking budgets, we strongly believe every agency research dollar should be spent on scientific advancement and not on back-office administrative costs. ... Acting on its own in the free market, the publishing industry already has made more research information available to more people than at any time in history."
As a member of the ACS Publications Division executive team, I am very familiar with the tremendous effort, expense, and human resources that are poured into producing the finest chemistry journals and databases in the world. The ACS publishing operations, the Publications Division and Chemical Abstracts Service, are not just the society's crown jewels, they are indispensable components of the chemical enterprise. S. 2695 and other misguided efforts by the federal government to take control of STM publishing threaten their future.
If you care about the future of ACS publishing operations—indeed, if you care about the timely and accurate dissemination of the scientific literature—I urge you to contact Sen. Collins and your state's senators to oppose S. 2695.
Thanks for reading.
Views expressed on this page are those of the author and not necessarily those of ACS.