Elsevier Blinks, Will No Longer Support Research Works Act

In a victory for science, and those who favor open access for the easy dissemination of scientific results to the public and scientists around the world, Elsevier has withdrawn support for the Research Works Act.

I think credit has to go to Tim Gowers calling for and Michael Eisen spreading the word on the boycott and getting Elsevier’s attention. Eisen initially brought our attention to the bill which would have allowed Elsevier to break with the growing tendency towards putting science payed for with tax dollars into open access databases. The Research Works Act would allow them to erect pay walls on publicly-funded research and it was out of line with where science publishing has been going for the last decade. By calling attention to it and pushing back against Elsevier, the publisher that seemed to be largely behind the new legislation, Gowers and Eisen appear to have effectively killed support for this bill. If congress gets the message hopefully it will sink into oblivion.

We have to be vigilant for future efforts to restrict open access such as this bill. After the public spends millions on individual research projects, scientists spend years making discoveries, and peer reviewers donate their time to critique and improve the presentation of the data in the manuscripts, it’s exceedingly arrogant that publishers feel they own those results for decades just because they came in at the end as the publisher. While publishing is a capitalist enterprise and they should make money, their compensation should be proportionate to the effort and investment they put into the manuscript. The reality is, their contribution is vanishingly small compared to the efforts of scientists and costs to taxpayers. With the expansion of online databases, the decreasing costs of distribution of information, and the role of the internet in science communication, they can no longer justify their strangle hold on scientific results for decades after initial publication.

Eisen calls for Elsevier Boycott – but can we all go OA?

Eisen writes

Thus, people joining in the new boycott have no excuses not to follow through. There are plenty of viable OA options and it is simply unacceptable for any scientist who decries Elsevier’s actions and believes that the subscription based model is no longer serving science to send a single additional paper to journals that do not provide full OA to every paper they publish. So, come on people! If we do this now, paywalls will crumble, and we all be better off. So, come on! Let’s do it!

This sounds great. If you remember we were similarly disgusted since Eisen brought the Research Works Act to our attention several weeks ago.

I still have two issues though with all OA publishing. For one, in my field I tend to publish in AHA journals which are not open access but the predominant journals. There is still a relative shortage of OA journals. There are not enough compared to the thousands of subscription options to take on the literature. I think their success has if anything made them more inaccessible with higher impacts. After all, everyone likes the idea of everyone being able to see and read their paper. Either by the fame of the journal or by the advantage of rapid publication and universal access. I once tried to publish a paper in PLoS One but frankly, I don’t think it was really high enough impact, and while not triaged, we were tanked by a reviewer who basically insisted on about 3 more PhD projects worth of work in order to get it in. Finally, what about us poor peons still working for the man? What if the boss says, “I want this journal”? Because after all, it’s pretty difficult to convince the olds to change their ways.

In the end to survive you must publish. I’d say the goal should be that we should all give a right of first refusal to your OA option. If that fails, suck it up and send it to the private publishers. And if anyone has some good vascular/heart/circulation OA alternatives to recommend I’m all ears.