Along with much of the rest of libraryland I've been watching with great interest the flurry that followed the introduction of the "Reinvigorate SPARC Act". Filed shortly before Christmas, it wasn't until the exuberant AAP press release started making the rounds in early January that...
What? Oh.... Right. Sorry -- I meant the "Research Works Act". I got the title confused with the effect.
I was both depressed and astonished when I saw the SSP press release. Just at the point when the OSTP RFI on access to peer reviewed publications promised at least the possibility of taking the discussion a step forward and getting past the simplistic arguments we've suffered for the last few years, this poorly written piece of inflammatory legislation could have no possible effect but to inflame the partisans.
And, of course, the predictable is what happened -- blog hysteria. An assault on Open Access! Trying to shut down PubMed Central! Evil Publishers! Enemies of science!
But... as one waded through the muck of hyperbole and righteous outrage, one could begin to discern some occasional glimmers of discussion of real issues. The fact that the research community was more engaged is certainly a positive -- even if much of that engagement is simplistic and riddled with error. Still, you could find people raising substantive issues: What is the appropriate role of the government? What value do publishers add? Would research progress reports be sufficient to address the public's right to research results and if not, why not?
That many publishers, including many members of AAP, came out against RWA gave me hope. On my better days, I began to believe that as bone-headed as RWA is, maybe its introduction would actually do some good.
And then came the re-introduction of FRPAA to make sure that doesn't happen. Now, instead of discussing the real complexities of scholarly publishing, the real challenges and opportunities, we can have letter writing campaigns and sloganeering, pep rallies and resolutions and press releases.
And we can waste another year.
One might have hoped that SPARC would take advantage of the interest in these issues that the RWA has sparked among the research community, as well as the divisions it has revealed among members of the publisher community. They could have tried to foster some discussion among those communities to see if we've learned anything from the last few years. Maybe we could work together to craft new and better legislative proposals that would achieve open access in a way that resulted in greater buy-in from all stakeholders.
But instead of seizing the opportunity, SPARC apparently prefers to continue the adversarial combat that will have little effect other than shutting down creative discussion. It's a shame.
There are alternatives. The American Association of University Presses has issued a statement opposing both RWA and FRPAA and supporting the America COMPETES legislation that led to the recent OSTP RFI. We have an opportunity to move forward. Let's not blow it by getting bogged down in legislative trench warfare.