RWA/FRPAA -- SPARC misses an opportunity
What value do publishers bring to public access articles?

We Can Do Better Than FRPAA

SPARC's greatest rhetorical achievement has been to establish the equivalence of support for FRPAA with support for Open Access.  If you're on the right side of the issue and believe that the public must have free access to at least the author's final version of peer reviewed published papers, then you must be in support of FRPAA.  If you question FRPAA then you must be in the pocket of the evil publishers, deviously trying to lock away the results of federally funded research from the deserving public.

But I'm troubled by FRPAA's willingness to make do with the author's final manuscript and with the scant lip service that it pays to interoperability, data-mining, and preservation.  I think its one size fits all approach doesn't reflect the actual diversity of approaches to the literature among disciplines, and that its unwillingness to engage in some level of compromise with the publishing community sets up an us/them framework that has already done considerable damage to the scholarly community and that makes enemies of people who, in fact, have much more aligned interests than is generally recognized.   Most worrisome of all, perhaps, the fact that FRPAA is presented as THE solution to public access gets in the way of productive discussion about how we might achieve a better path to open access.

The report from the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable, now two years old, still reflects the complexity of issues pretty well, and I'm encouraged by the fact that OSTP's RFI process clearly reflects those concerns.   Although the report doesn't specify a particular policy approach it does outline pretty well the issues that ought to be balanced in the development of such policies.

There have been a variety of ideas floated over the years that are worth looking at in developing a policy approach that improves on FRPAA's flaws, in particular the linking proposal that was made by a coalition of 57 not-for-profit publishers to NIH back in 2005/6, as well as Stuart Shieber's 2009 paper "Equity for Open-Access Publishing".

Elements that might be incorporated into such policies would include requiring that grantees publish in OA journals (whether fully OA or hybrid), that metadata be submitted to granting agencies to link back to the Version of Record, that standards for data-mining and interoperability be developed across all of the federal granting agencies, and that publishers either adopt robust preservation/archiving strategies on their own, or participate in "trusted" endeavors (however those turn out to be defined).

Policies along these lines would privilege the Version of Record, eliminate the embargo period, and emphasize the development of standards for interoperability.  They would provide a mechanism to encourage subscription publishers to develop fully OA business models, while injecting a level of market competition that could help to hold publication fees down.

They would also bump up against some issues of academic freedom by limiting where scientists could choose to publish, they would result in providing subsidies to commercial publishers for moving to OA, and they would not necessarily result in government controlled repositories like PubMed Central. 

So there's still plenty to argue about in the details.    But now is the time to have those arguments.  With the publishing industry already experimenting in numerous ways with OA business models, with many publishers on record opposing RWA, while stopping short of endorsing FRPAA, and with the OSTP folks sifting through all of the comments in response to the RFI, now is the time to move past the limitations of FRPAA and try to engage fully with all of the stakeholders to achieve immediate open access to the Version of Record.  Why in the world would we want to spend the next year engaging in a legislative fight that, even if it was won, wouldn't get us close to that?




Would support of FRPAA, whatever its flaws, get us closer to the ultimate goals of interoperability and data-mining? Is it a very modest step or actually a step backward? I say modest step forward, which is why FRPAA should be supported as the larger debates continue.

It reminds me of the health care debate--single payer is the best way to go, but so politically toxic that we have a muddled down law instead. And yet that law is still better than what we have now and will provide insurance to millions who do not have it.. As they say, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

T Scott

You may very well be right. It may be that the incremental approach that FRPAA represents is the best that we can do right now. And yet, when I talk to people in publishing I don’t hear much resistance to Open Access. Marty Frank, at APS, has been the most vocal of the society publishers in his opposition to FRPAA and to the NIH Policy, but he’s been a leader among the Highwire publishers in making content freely available and he’s the one who helped develop and push the linking proposal that I reference in this post. During the discussions that led to the report from the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable, it became clear that the big commercial publishers were quite willing to consider some form of funder-supported gold OA. The big publishers (commercial and not-for-profit), given their significant investments in infrastructure, definitely get the importance of standards for interoperability and the importance of preservation/archiving. So I think the sad irony is that the focus on FRPAA has actually been an impediment. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the folks at OSTP are smart enough to ignore all of the RWA/FRPAA noise.

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