Birthday Parties

Policy and Passion

I know that it startled some of my colleagues when I said, during some of the meetings in Boston last week, that as far as I could tell Open Access just wasn't very controversial among publishers any more.  When I was at the STM meeting in Frankfurt, I detected very little opposition to the concept -- indeed, all of the major publishers appear to be experimenting with some form of open access publishing, and the best of the open access publishers are treated with increasing respect for the strength and quality of their operations.  If you'd gone prowling through the halls of the Arabella, or spent time hanging out in the bar listening in on conversations, you'd have been hard pressed to find anybody expressing opposition to "open access."

"What is controversial," I said, during one of those Boston meetings, "is the NIH public access policy.  But opposition to the policy is not about opposition to open access.  It's opposition to what many publishers consider to be unwarranted government intrusion."

One of the things that SPARC has been tremendously successful at is controlling the terms of the debate and equating support for Open Access with support for the NIH policy and FRPAA.  If you're a supporter of Open Access, you are necessarily a supporter of the policy.  Express reservations about the legislation and you open yourself up to charges of being opposed to Open Access.  It's been a very effective advocacy strategy.

Unfortunately, this rhetorical sleight-of-hand effectively cuts off serious discussion of the implications and trade-offs inherent in any policy proposal.  Issues of stewardship, interoperability, commercial and non-commercial reuse, branding, context, differences in how the literature of different disciplines is handled, as well as the appropriate role of government all have a place in the discussion.  It is perfectly possible to be completely committed to the widest possible unfettered dissemination of peer-reviewed scientific literature and still have serious reservations about whether or not the legislative approach enshrined in FRPAA is the best way to get there.

"For America to obtain an optimal return on our investment in science, publicly funded research must be shared as broadly as possible," states the recent open letter from the 41 Nobel Prize winners to the U.S. Congress.  I don't know a single person in publishing who would disagree with that statement.  But I really do wish that we were having a serious, honest discussion among all of the stakeholders about the best way to get there.


Ed Sperr

While it may well be possible to have "serious reservations about...the legislative approach enshrined in FRPAA", most of the arguments actually made against it seem fairly disingenuous (including the letter linked above).

FRPAA and the NIH mandate only apply to *taxpayer funded8 research. This isn't some sort of land grab -- it's an attempt to maximize the return on our collective investment.


Scott, I am reading David Foster Wallace a lot these days. One of the things I admire most about him is his passionate convictions (about all manner of issues), mixed with a simultaneous refusal to let his mind wander down partisan blind alleys.

You are doing the same thing in the schol comm arena, and that's a great service. Happy Thanksgiving.

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