FIRST of all, THIS is why you should never trust publishers

When President Obama announced last year that he was requiring federal agencies that fund science to develop policies to make papers arising from the work they publish freely available to the public, major subscription-based publishers responded in a generally favorable manner – reflecting the extent to which they had drawn the White House back from more aggressive proposals on the table. They even put forth a proposal – called CHORUS (Clearinghouse for the Open Research of the United States) through which they offered to implement  these public access policies for federal agencies – providing free access to articles on their own websites.

wrote at the time about why CHORUS was a ruse, that would never work. In particular, I warned that, despite their public veneer of support, publishers would continue to work to reverse these public access policies, and, because with CHORUS they would never have to give up control of published papers, they could just turn off public access if they ever succeeded.

Well, they’re trying to do just this. Last week a bill was introduced – The Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology (FIRST) Act of 2014 – a section of which (Section 303) is designed to undermine this already fairly weak policy. The language is a bit dense and confusing, but here is what it would do.

  • The surest way to kill a policy initiative in DC is to call for more study. FIRST calls for 18 additional months of study of public access policies, specifically calling for “data-driven” justification for embargo periods. This is language publishers have used before and is code for “set embargo periods so that they do not harm the bottom line of publishers”.
  • It calls for the use of existing infrastructure, including the NLM, but also in the private sector, and minimizing the burden of providing access – things that the publishers use to promote CHORUS
  • It weakens the embargo period to 24 months from its already unacceptably long 12 months, and allows for agencies to EXTEND this period for up to an additional year

I don’t have direct evidence that publishers are behind this, but it echoes all the main talking points they’ve been using to complain about public access. It’s not clear how far this will go, since this is just the House version of the bill, and the Senate version has not emerged. But it’s worth using the tools available through SPARC to voice your opposition to this bill.

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  1. Posted March 12, 2014 at 6:47 pm | Permalink

    The post highlights the competing interests between much of the scientific publishing industry and those of us interested in disseminating scientific data and research freely. I’m curious, though — if the moral here is “don’t trust the publishers,” then why do you think that PLoS recommends the Macmillan-owned repository, figshare, as an acceptable place to put data associated with PLoS papers ( ) ? Any ideas why the clear leader in open source publishing hasn’t learned the lesson you espouse here? Thanks for the thoughts. @schoppik

  2. Chris Rusbridge
    Posted March 13, 2014 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Why do they bother doing this, compared with the much simpler alternative of taking money to publish Open Access articles, and then chagre for access anyway (see recent posts from Peter Murray Rust and Mike Taylor)?

  3. Posted March 20, 2014 at 7:38 pm | Permalink

    By now you probably have seen the PLOS piece on this subject. There seems little doubt that the scientific publishers have their hand in this, but regardless of whether they do, it is bad policy and harmful to science and openness. Here is the link to the PLOS piece.