Elsevier-funded NY Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney Wants to Deny Americans Access to Taxpayer Funded Research

In 2008, under bipartisan pressure from Congress to ensure that all Americans would be able to access the results of taxpayer-funded biomedical research, the US National Institutes of Health instituted a Public Access Policy:

The NIH Public Access Policy ensures that the public has access to the published results of NIH funded research. It requires scientists to submit final peer-reviewed journal manuscripts that arise from NIH funds to the digital archive PubMed Central upon acceptance for publication.  To help advance science and improve human health, the Policy requires that these papers are accessible to the public on PubMed Central no later than 12 months after publication.

The policy has provided access for physicians and their patients, teachers and their students, policymakers and the public to hundreds of thousands of taxpayer-funded studies that would otherwise have been locked behind expensive publisher paywalls, accessible only to a small fraction of researchers at elite and wealthy universities.

The policy has been popular – especially among disease and patient advocacy groups fighting to empower the people they represent to make wise healthcare decision, and teachers educating the next generation of researchers and caregivers.

But the policy has been quite unpopular with a powerful publishing cartels that are hellbent on denying US taxpayers access to and benefits from research they paid to produce. This industry already makes generous profits charging universities and hospitals for access to the biomedical research journals they publish. But unsatisfied with feeding at the public trough only once (the vast majority of the estimated $10 billion dollar revenue of biomedical publishers already comes from public funds), they are seeking to squeeze cancer patients and high school students for an additional $25 every time they want to read about the latest work of America’s scientists.

Unable to convince the NIH to support their schemes, the powerful publishing lobby group – the Association of American Publishers – has sought Congressional relief. In 2009, the AAP induced Michigan Rep John Conyers to introduce the “Fair Copyright in Research Works Act” which would have ended the NIH Public Access Policy before it even got off the ground. Fortunately, that bill never left committee.

But they are back at it. A new AAP backed bill – the “Research Works Act” – was just introduced by Reps Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Darrell Issa (R-CA). Its text is simple and odious:

    No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that:
    (1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or
    (2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.

This bill would not only end the NIH’s Public Access Policy, but it would forbid any effort on the part of any agency to ensure taxpayer access to work funded by the federal government.

Why, you might ask, would Carolyn Maloney, representing a liberal Democratic district in New York City that is home to many research institutions, sponsor such a reactionary piece of legislation that benefits a group of wealthy publishers at the expense of the American public? Hmm. Wouldn’t happen to have anything to do with the fact that she’s the biggest recipient of campaign contributions from the publishing industry, would it?

According to MapLight, which tracks political contributions, Dutch publisher Elsevier and its senior executives made 31 contributions to members of the House in 2011, of which 12 went to Representative Maloney. This includes contributions from 11 senior executives or partners, only one of whom is a resident of her district.

It is inexcusable that a simple idea – that no American should be denied access to biomedical research their tax dollars paid to produce – could be scuttled by a greedy publisher who bought access to a member of Congress.

So I urge you to call/write/email/tweet Representative Maloney today, and tell her you support taxpayer access to biomedical research results. Ask her why she wants cancer patients to pay Elsevier $25 to access articles they’ve already paid for. And demand that she withdraw H.R. 3699.

Representative Maloney:

Twitter: @RepMaloney @CarolynBMaloney

Phone: 202-225-7944

FAX: 202-225-4709

Email: Use this form




Several people have commented that the language of the bill I quoted refers to “private sector work”, thinking that this means it does not refer to work funded by the US Government. This term is defined in the bill as:

The term `private-sector research work’ means an article intended to be published in a scholarly or scientific publication, or any version of such an article, that is not a work of the United States Government (as defined in section 101 of title 17, United States Code), describing or interpreting research funded in whole or in part by a Federal agency and to which a commercial or nonprofit publisher has made or has entered into an arrangement to make a value-added contribution, including peer review or editing. Such term does not include progress reports or raw data outputs routinely required to be created for and submitted directly to a funding agency in the course of research.

They are using intentionally misleading language to distinguish works funded by the government but carried out by a non-governmental agency as “private sector research”. Thus, under this bill, works funded by the NIH but carried at a University would be “private sector research”.

This language is in there because the US Copyright Act specifically denies copyright protection to works carried out by federal agencies, and the authors of this bill did not want it to be seen as amending Copyright Act, something that would have ensured its defeat.

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  1. Just Saying
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    @Kate – that’s great that you found some utility in a journal article in 9th grade. But is it such a shocker here, in a science blog, that you’re not exactly representative of the general population? Clearly, your pipeline experiences are probably a bit different than the general population. Not to mention, as a 9th grader, did you really need embargoed content within 12 months to pique your interest? After all, the publishers’ target audience are researchers (you know, the folks that actually use this stuff for their job), not 9th graders.

    @Just Say Something – you say that no one under 50 reads print journals. I would say this is an overgeneralization. Anything with dense prose, I prefer to read away from my computer screen. Print outs are OK, but a shared journal subscription is much greener. Also, you say that the actual dead tree journals are coffee table material. I would offer that once the journals become “free” through an author pays model, you’ll start seeing those coffee tables getting a little more crowded. Paper journals aren’t going away, even if their utility declines linearly. As a result, costs will rise too, all due to waste.

  2. MeDog
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

    I note that the campaign contributions appear to be trivially small amounts; less than $15k total. I’m not convinced that they are the sole motivation here.

  3. Katherine
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 5:41 pm | Permalink

    I have lost track of the number of times that I have looked for good research to support or refute the latest “scientific” fads and rumors that now circle the globe instantaneously. The question is not how many people DO access peer reviewed articles, but if the general public should be able to access them without paying $40 an article or traveling to a University that can afford the subscription. We need access to properly assess statements that are presented as fact but are far from proven. Yes, the material can be dense, but it is a disservice to imply this is a reason to make it more difficult for anyone to obtain. We should be encouraging people to look at original research, and yes, I think we have paid for that “privilege”. And the idea that publishers are only recouping the value they added? Can I offer you a bridge or two?

  4. Preston Garrison
    Posted January 12, 2012 at 3:29 am | Permalink

    Years ago I happened to look at the small print in the journal Gene, which I read frequently and published in a little. I found that Elsevier charged the library $7000 for an annual subscription (just over a shelf foot of journals.) Now, I am basically a capitalist and conservative, but I resent the astronomical price for popcorn at the movies, because it is just gouging a captive market, and what Elsevier does is exactly the same thing on a huge scale, and, of course, they aren’t the only ones. But they are among the greediest bastards you can find. It does amuse me a little that a liberal democrat can be bought by these crooks so easily.

  5. Posted January 12, 2012 at 4:07 am | Permalink

    To Adam and others who continue to insist publishers don’t add any value, I’ve pasted a section from our “submission to Office of Science and Technology Policy public consultation on Public Access to Peer-Reviewed Scholarly Publications Resulting from Federally Funded Research,” below, that goes into further detail. Numbers referenced are industry numbers.

    A favor to ask as you and others critique this. Please note that I don’t doubt that the scenario outlined by EA is a common one. But so many authors who don’t see the value add are speaking only to their experience with their one article. Or perhaps few, or more, the number doesn’t matter. That is, unless you start to consider the sheer volume of what we as a company have to manage. It goes far, far beyond the experience of the one article. So instead of simply saying “I didn’t see this when my article was published,” consider instead what the scientific community as a whole has experienced through commercial publishers. Consider what researching articles was like before the digital revolution, and compare it to today, and then ask yourselves if commercial publishers are as irrelevant as has been suggested.

    And since I know someone will come in and say it can be done better, and more cheaply. We say, OK, that’s right. It’s a competitive market, come compete with us; come compete for our authors. PLOS is doing that now. BUT, compete with us without the aid of government intervention. Don’t ask government to dictate the rules of the game by keeping commercial publishers from recouping investments. That’s really all RWA is about.

    T. Scott Plutchak wrote an interesting piece a few months ago about ‘the economics of open access’ (http://tscott.typepad.com/tsp/2011/10/the-economics-of-open-access.html) which gets into some of the similarities between commercial and OA publishers, that I think does a better job describing some of the issues at play here. I encourage people to read that as well when considering their reply post. I don’t know T. Scott, but he’s a librarian who seems to take a balanced, informed approach to addressing these issues.

    Thank you
    Role of Publishers
    Publishers have not always been good at explaining the essential role we play in scientific communication, and there are many misperceptions. We:

    • Identify and support new areas of research by establishing and creating communities around new journals and adapting journals as fields evolve.
    • Establish and develop the editorial perspective and scope for each of the existing 27,000 journals and create the reputation and brand to attract author’s manuscript submissions to the “right” journal in highly focused fields of research.
    • Find and manage the appointment of journal editors and the ongoing development of journal editorial boards to ensure the proper editorial perspective, authority and responsibility to the scientific discipline and readers.
    • Establish and maintain sophisticated systems to manage the processing of some 2-3 million manuscripts submitted from researchers around the world annually.
    • Organize, manage, and financially and technologically support the peer review of submitted pre-prints, a labor-intensive globally-dispersed process that results in some 1-2 million accepted manuscripts annually.
    • Deliver the primary mechanism to ensure the veracity, and to improve accounts, of new research through peer review. Peer review, the process of subjecting an author’s scholarly manuscript to the scrutiny of highly qualified experts in the same field prior to publication, is widely supported by the academic community. In a recent study, 85% of researchers agreed that peer review greatly aids scientific communication and 90% said that it improves the quality of the published paper7.
    • Manage the communication of peer review results to several million globally dispersed authors annually.
    • Solicit, edit and prepare for production some 1-2 million manuscripts that are accepted for publication. This includes copyediting, proofing, formatting, branding, paginating, adding metadata and identifiers, checking and enhancing artwork quality, and adding links to ensure interoperability using industry standards like CrossRef. We also convert, structure, and semantically tag text, data, and artwork in XML.
    • Produce some 1.5 million final published journal articles each year, and disseminate them globally both in print journals and online electronic journal websites to 30 million of researchers and members of the public.
    • Archive journal volumes and promote their use in perpetuity, “future-proofing” against developments such as electronic document file format changes through arrangements with partners such as national libraries and Portico8.
    • Ensure the integrity of the published scientific record against plagiarism and distortion. For example, publishers regularly add errata or notices to articles and (on rare occasions) remove articles from the scientific record.
    • Enable visibility of research through abstract and indexing services, providing free-to-read abstracts of published journal articles, and by ensuring publications are indexed in Google and other search engines.

  6. Ben
    Posted January 12, 2012 at 8:45 am | Permalink

    Please help us organize the fight to retain public access by joining and sharing our Facebook community: http://www.facebook.com/ResearchWorksAct
    We are students and postdocs in Carolyn Maloney’s district, which encompasses Weill-Cornell, Memorial Sloan-Ketting Cancer Center, Rockefeller University, NYU Medical Center, Mt. Sinai Medical School, and Hunter College. Help us spread the word to pressure her to kill the bill.

  7. RMS
    Posted January 12, 2012 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    There is an over reaction to this bill. This bill is protecting the rights of publishers to avoid having their copyrighted articles distributed for free by federal law which overwrites their rights. That is, it is a correct bill.

    It does not prevent open access articles from being freely distributed. That is, if you want your articles to be freely available, publish them in open access journals, not in subscription journals. This law in no way forbids open access articles from being freely distributed.

    My suggestion, if this bill passes, if for the public granting institutions to enact rules that publicly funded research must be published in open access journals (or pay the open access fee to Elsevier). That is, forbid publishing (and thereby transferring copyright) to “regular” journals. This will enhance the quality and reputation of open access journals, therefore it’s a beneficial situation for the future of open access publication.

    Conclusion, this bill will end up helping open access publication by shifting publication of publicly funded research from subscription journals to open access journals.

  8. Kevin S
    Posted January 12, 2012 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

    I live in Rep. Maloney’s district, and this was her response to a brief, polite email expressing my disappointment in her co-sponsorship of this bill. The talking points are of course similar to Elsevier’s, although the argument that we are helping China (and hurting ourselves) by making PubMed available for free hasn’t yet been mentioned in this thread.

    “Thank you for taking the time to contact me about your opposition to HR 3699. As someone who represents thousands of researchers, research institutions, and publishers, and a strong advocate who helped double NIH funding, I appreciate the opportunity to respond.

    First, I think it’s important to point out that this bill does NOT impact research reports and raw data generated by government-funded research. This information would still be available at no cost to the public. Reports that suggest that these NIH funded research papers (prior to peer review) will not be available for free are wrong. Authors still retain the ability to share data, reports, and other forms of research findings derived from the taxpayer-funded research. However, once a publisher has worked on a manuscript, spent private funds to improve it and has peer-reviewed it, under this bill, the government would not be able to take that work-product and disseminate it for free. The information, the manuscript, and the data can be made available for free before they receive any private investment.

    The purpose of HR 3699 is to support the continued investment and innovation by private-sector publishers in scientific, technical, medical and scholarly journal articles and to advance the public interest in the important peer-review publishing system that helps ensure the quality and integrity of scientific research.

    The importance of peer review cannot be overstated. It is the system by which experts give informed comments on papers in highly specialized fields of science. It is essential to providing independent, informed, objective assessments to maintain the quality of scientific articles and ensure that science develops independently of ideological and political interests. Because peer review happens and fixes problems prior to publication, we never hear about the false or erroneous research that would otherwise make it into journal articles.

    Moreover, the publishing industry has invested in providing public access to scientific journal articles. Patients can get free access to information on new research through various publisher programs including PatientINFORM. Anyone can go into research libraries for free access to the articles in which publishers have invested substantially to ensure their high quality.

    Two-thirds of the access to PubMed central is from non-US users. In effect, current law is giving our overseas scientific competitors in China and elsewhere important information for free. We are already losing scientists due to a reduction in funding for federal research. This policy now sends our value-added research papers overseas at no cost.

    Finally, as people continue to struggle during these difficult economic times, it is important to be mindful of the impact of various industries on job creation and retention. New York State is home to more than 300 publishers that employ more than 12,000 New Yorkers, many of whom live in or around New York City in my district. New York City scientific publishers represent a significant subset of the total, and more than 20 are located in Manhattan, publishing thousands of scientific journals and employing thousands of New Yorkers. This bill saves American jobs. No industry could survive a model whereby they invest private dollars and are then required to give it to the federal government to disseminate the final product for free.

    Once again, I appreciate your taking the time to contact me.

    Member of Congress”

  9. Posted January 12, 2012 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

    “Research Works Act H.R.3699:
    The Private Publishing Tail Trying To Wag The Public Research Dog, Yet Again”



    The US Research Works Act (H.R.3699): “No Federal agency may adopt, implement, maintain, continue, or otherwise engage in any policy, program, or other activity that — (1) causes, permits, or authorizes network dissemination of any private-sector research work without the prior consent of the publisher of such work; or (2) requires that any actual or prospective author, or the employer of such an actual or prospective author, assent to network dissemination of a private-sector research work.”

    Translation and Comments:

    “If public tax money is used to fund research, that research becomes “private research” once a publisher “adds value” to it by managing the peer review.”

    [Comment: Researchers do the peer review for the publisher for free, just as researchers give their papers to the publisher for free, together with the exclusive right to sell subscriptions to it, on-paper and online, seeking and receiving no fee or royalty in return].

    “Since that public research has thereby been transformed into “private research,” and the publisher’s property, the government that funded it with public tax money should not be allowed to require the funded author to make it accessible for free online for those users who cannot afford subscription access.”

    [Comment: The author’s sole purpose in doing and publishing the research, without seeking any fee or royalties, is so that all potential users can access, use and build upon it, in further research and applications, to the benefit of the public that funded it; this is also the sole purpose for which public tax money is used to fund research.]”

    H.R. 3699 misunderstands the secondary, service role that peer-reviewed research journal publishing plays in US research and development and its (public) funding.

    It is a huge miscalculation to weigh the potential gains or losses from providing or not providing open access to publicly funded research in terms of gains or losses to the publishing industry: Lost or delayed research progress mean losses to the growth and productivity of both basic research and the vast R&D industry in all fields, and hence losses to the US economy as a whole.

    What needs to be done about public access to peer-reviewed scholarly publications resulting from federally funded research?

    The minimum policy is for all US federal funders to mandate (require), as a condition for receiving public funding for research, that: (i) the fundee’s revised, accepted refereed final draft of (ii) all refereed journal articles resulting from the funded research must be (iii) deposited immediately upon acceptance for publication (iv) in the fundee’’s institutional repository, with (v) access to the deposit made free for all (OA) immediately (no OA embargo) wherever possible (over 60% of journals already endorse immediate gratis OA self-archiving), and at the latest after a 6-month embargo on OA.

    It is the above policy that H.R.3699 is attempting to make illegal…


  10. Posted January 12, 2012 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

    It is particularly galling that publishers are trying to have Congress overturn an NIH Public Access Policy was already a massive compromise of the public interest to that of the publishers in that it allows for an up to 12 month delay in making articles freely available

    and to be clear, that delay is from the time of print publication, if I am not mistaken. Which can be anywhere from 3 to 9 mo after the paper has been accepted and often after appearing in PubMed and in the journal’s early access queue. It is rather absurdly too long of an interval. The Congress should be looking to pare this interval back, perhaps to 6 mo after the paper appears on the journal’s list of accepted manuscripts and is available online?

  11. Posted January 12, 2012 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    Mr. Rellar:

    Thanks for coming by to offer the Publisher’s point of view on this topic. I must say that your last point seems to illustrate a very fundamental difference in perspective. We scientists don’t want any sort of “competition” to make money from our efforts. We don’t see what we do that way at all. The private industry service has been a necessary method up until this point in time, but we have no allegiance to it. What we have allegiance to is the service that private industry has rendered up to this point. Dissemination of scientific results. If there is a better way to get it done, we don’t care how or who profits/fails to profit, we just want the better way. You seem to feel that private industry has a right to make money from the fruits of taxpayer funded science. We don’t see it this way at all. It is not about fair competition of equally profit-motivated entities. It is about the government paying for a service and if there is a radical upheaval in approach that puts all the buggy whip manufacturers in the tanker, so be it.

  12. Just Saying
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 5:32 am | Permalink

    Drug Monkey – I always love your writing, but this time I think you’re putting words in Tom’s mouth. Nowhere did he say (or imply) that publishers have a “right” to the results. Seeking publication is voluntary , which he stated, and he promised that private sector would gladly compete for authors. Nothing about that implies a right to anything.

    If anything, it is the OA community that feels they have a right to free journal access. This is not true. The research that was bought and paid for ends the last day of the grant, and is owned by the PI. What he or she chooses to do with the knowledge gained is his or her choice. Most seek publication from a private or nonprofit journal for peer review and distribution. Other will seek OA journals. Some will seek patents and invent a new drug, device, etc. But it would be false logic for a PI to seek a federal policy where he or she would claim public domain over journal articles, but then expect IP rights of their own when seeking to monetize the results of taxpayer funded research. Would you not agree that an OA bill would be more principled if it said that ALL results from taxpayer funded research will remain in the public domain, instead of only cherry picking the journal articles? I hope you would say no for obvious reasons (ie that was not the intent of the grant in the first place), and hope the OA community would stop seeking federal legislation to only use the “maligned taxpayer” argument when it suits them. Otherwise, if you support forcing journals to hand over their content, I hope you’re also handing your royalties back you the taxpayer as well. After all, why should taxpayer pay for the drugs that they funded the invention of twice?? (A nod to Michael’s politically charged but false NYT headline).

  13. Crusty the Clown
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 1:53 pm | Permalink

    OK, I’m just a clown and can be ignored. But to my mind “Just Saying” sounds suspiciously like a ‘sock puppet’ for the scientific publishing industry.

    The public – clowns included – do use scientific journal articles. Timeliness is rather important but not of over-riding importance. The spokesperson from Elsevier seems to be over-reaching, IMHO. In my clownish view of things the rights of the public to freely access public-funded research results must trump the rights of corporations to profit – essentially at public expense.

    This appears to be another example of privatizing gain while socializing costs. I find it uncomfortably close to the types of reckless behavior which were featured in the 2008 collapse of global markets. We would be wise to avoid such practices across the board.

  14. Just Saying
    Posted January 13, 2012 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Clown – lol, that handle is pretty hilarious . Not a sock puppet for anyone. Just don’t like when people try to manipulate a market. No need try and discredit the messanger though., and I would love for you to address the message. I feel that I’ve brought up some points that are very much at the heart of a very technical legal debate.

    For instance, can you tell me, really, how the public does not deserve to have free or discounted access to drugs, devices, or other inventions that they helped paid for, under the same principle that you expound upon above? If the journals owe the public and their funders their content for free, why are not they entitled to the royalties to patents they paid for? It would help alleviate the strain on research dollars and healthcare costs if all royalties were transferred back to NIH and taxpayers received a discount for the amount of basic or clinical research in a drug, device or other invention that they funded. Would it not?

  15. B,Klein
    Posted January 20, 2012 at 7:31 pm | Permalink

    I think one can hardly equate the taxpayer $millions investment in Government sponsored research with a publisher’s cost for peer-review and editing of a manuscript that summarizes that research. Without Government funding to support the actual research, there would be no article.

    What is the purpose of U.S. research dollars? Is it to meet the needs of the funding agency on behalf of the nation OR to advance science for the public good OR is it to subsidize the scientific publishing industry? Just by funding the research, the Government IS subsidizing the scientific publishing industry.

    That aside, HR 3699 conflicts with established policies and law. It is not only contrary to common sense, but is contrary to current procurement law and data rights provisions in the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) and the Defense Federal Acquisition Regulation Supplement (DFARS). The policy permits Federal contractors to retain rights to software and other technical data generated by Federal grants and contracts, in exchange for royalty free use by or on behalf of the government. While the contractor may assign its copyright in “scientific and technical articles based on or containing data first produced in the performance of a contract” to a publisher, the Government’s license rights attach to the articles upon creation and later assignment by the contractor to a publisher are subject to these rights.

    HR 3699 is also preempted by the America Competes Reauthorization Act of 2010 http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/about/BILLS-111hr5116enr.pdf
    (a) ESTABLISHMENT.—The Director shall establish a working group under the National Science and Technology Council with the responsibility to coordinate Federal science agency research and policies related to the dissemination and long-term stewardship of the results of unclassified research, including digital data and peer-reviewed scholarly publications, supported wholly, or in part, by funding from the Federal science agencies.

    There are other issues with the bill, such as when a government employee is a co-author. A “joint work” is a work prepared by two or more authors with the intention that their contributions be merged into inseparable or interdependent parts of a unitary whole (17 USC § 101). The authors of a joint work are co-owners of the copyright in the work, unless there is an agreement to the contrary (17 USC §201).” Since the Government is the “author” and owner of works created by federal employees in the scope of their employment, the Government can copy and distribute works made jointly by non-Government parties and employees working within the scope of their Government jobs.

  16. Just a researcher
    Posted February 9, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

    @Just Saying You seem to flood the comments a little, so it’s hard to answer all your points (I actually have research to do today), but here is my try:

    “How do you think the cost of publishing would explode when their demand increases 5 or 10 fold?”
    As others have said in the comments, if the content is hosted online (like in the whiny OA model, remember?), the publishing costs will stay the same, long-term storage is cheap and distribution is just a matter of bandwidth (not very expensive).

    On the issue of waste: if you only access the articles you need and print those you read, where is the waste? Have you ever heard of academic search engines? Also, there are only so many journals you can scan each week for interesting titles, but you don’t limit what you read and cite to those: you do a bibliographic search, set up alerts, etc. Stop thinking in terms of journal subscriptions and start looking at how reserchears work. Also, talking about investments, let publishers do something worthwhile, like, I don’t know, publish articles in ePub format? [Add to this a 10 inch color eReader (first models released in 2012, yeah!), and see who still plans and prints a mile long list of papers – that’s heavy by the way – to read on the plane or in case they get stuck in an elevator…] But even before we get there (can’t wait!), OA actually generates no waste at all.

    The weird cord blood metaphor: If Elsevier is the OB-gyn and parents are researchers, then you forgot to mention that the parents would take it in turn to (voluntarily and for free) check the cell lines in the bank, that the OB would be making 30-40% profit margins and generate huge revenues on the cord blood bank, and when the parents want to use their baby’s stem cells, they would have to pay a high price per cell while the cell line would be property of the bank. Also, they would have to pay a huge subscritpion for time-limited access to bundles of cell lines they don’t care about and not just the one they want.
    “The user fee model makes the best use of scarce resources. Why? Because each grantee pays directly with his or her own funds. You discriminate wisely what you need and what you don’t. There’s extremely little waste. If journals were free to you (through an author pays model), how many more would you “subscribe” to? 5? 10? How do you think the cost of publishing would explode when their demand increases 5 or 10 fold? The author pays model is actually a pure giveaway to publishers. In a few years, it won’t be a $3000 fee for the author. It’ll be $5000, or $7000 just to print more journals that sit on bookshelves, or email alerts with new issues that go unread. In the end, tens of millions of dollars are shifted out of desperately thin research budgets to pay for an enormous and artificial demand premium for journals. If you have a different forecast, I would be interested to hear it.”

    Well, with author pays, if the prices go up (which they surely will, probably along with one or two laws to make sure no one can develop other business models) at last the financial pressure will be shifted from the libraries to researchers, who are often unaware of the problem as long as they can access the articles they want (and they don’t care who pays for them). When they can’t pay anymore, well, they will go to non-profit, OA journals. You see whether or not the change is organic then. Also, it will take time and a more than 2 or 3 fold increase in publishing prices for companies like Elsevier to go back to their current profit margins. That still leaves time to develop other non-profit journals. Of course, sustainable OA models do not have the good fortune to justify price rises that dwarf inflation rate . But, come to think of it, neither does Elsevier biz model.

    Yes, the most of the public will probably never want to read a research article, but 1) some do, and for important purposes too (for instance using OA articles as sources to Wikipedia entries that anyone can look at and check should they feel so inclined (or are you going to say next that the public is not interested in Wikipedia?)
    and 2) not anyone who needs access to papers has a well-funded library available (or rather access to the online service, because in my field researchers never set foot in a research library): med students AND MDs, undergrads, PhD students who can’t get an article from a particular journal through their institution’s subscriptions…
    And anyway, back to the original question: why should research institutions fund research, generate huge profits for private companies that research can perfectly well live without, and *then* pay astronomical fees to access papers they and other research institution produce, and not have the right to distribute their own work? Research can’t continue without researchers reading other researcher’s papers.
    So you talk all the time about the public accessing the results of research, but that’s a tiny part of the demand here. What we need first and foremost is, for researchers to access research results *for free*, because it’s part of their job to write papers, to peer-review others and to read yet others. So as a salary for doing all your peer-reviewing and editing, how about you share the result with them, hm?

  17. Just a researcher
    Posted February 9, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    @Just Saying

    “You and your peers, right now, have the power to alter the market where you are the major players.” Well, the RWA goes against such action. This is why we oppose it.

    “There is no excessive profit in the system”
    I can’t believe I’m reading this… What about the difference between recouping costs and making 30-40% profit margins? Especially in a field that is publicly funded AND useful for public good (knowledge, medicine, shall I go on?) Your making such profits on this is not only excessive, it is indecent and outrageous. (Yes I say you because I still feel like you – or your financial interests – belong to Elsevier)

    “Instead, your constituency and lobbyists decided to pursue federal legislation to force change in the market.”
    That is *exactly* what big academic publishers are doing *right now*, except they’re trying to throttle naturally occurring change (internet age, anyone?) instead of forcing it, because their useless, unfair, gatekeeping business is of the past but it makes them rich.

    “[The public] surrender their right to the results that have been transferred by the author and distributed by a private company.”
    Why should they? They don’t have to. Why should the author transfer ownership of his research results to private companies?

    “If there was a journal that could do the same work and charge 25% less, why haven’t we seen one.”
    Well, access to PLoS is free. If I’m not mistaken that’s 100% less. Why don’t we see more of those? Maybe because of publishing lobbies trying to pass bills like RWA?

    “Why don’t universities make the content freely available to anyone that walks in off the street.”
    They do. Self archiving (required or even run by universities) is one option to conform to the NIH policy (that is, until RWA crushes it).

    “The research that was bought and paid for ends the last day of the grant, and is owned by the PI. What he or she chooses to do with the knowledge gained is his or her choice.”
    Wrong. They have to publish it. Most of the time it also means giving exclusivity to the journal who then owns the copyright. What’s the alternative? OA Journals. There are few of them as yet, but they’re steadily growing and will outlive Elsevier. For tenure and positions, it is required of us that we have high impact publications in journals created (at a cost, which should be duly paid) and now locked by companies like Elsevier. There is much to be done about that within the scientific community itself, and OA advocates are working toward this goal.
    So no, we don’t really have a choice and yes, refusing to publish in or do peer-review for commercially run journals is the way to go. It is tremendously painful and risky, and certainly not all researchers can afford it, but my money is on this organic movement, because the current situation is just insane.

  18. Posted February 26, 2012 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    Dear All,

    I must thank all the contributors of this blog as I have learnt so much here. I must disclose I am the CEO (also a shareholder and director) of the publishing portal WebmedCentral, which has been publishing scientific content without any prior peer review in a climate of post publication peer review for 18 months now. We have found some scientific support for what we do and I must admit some strong opposition. We have however learnt several lessons in our short journey so far, which I will soon be presenting elsewhere.
    Various issues affecting the publication and dissemination of scientific output are not new. Debate about pre vs. post publication peer review, open vs. closed reviews, author pay vs. reader pay subscription model etc are all widely understood. What is however not fully appreciated always is that they are interlinked. It would be difficult to find a lasting solution to these problems without looking at them all at the same time.
    There are journals charging readers (or libraries) for the content and then there are others, who charge authors (or research funders) significant sums of money in lieu of open access. Many of these “open access” journals have been funded by significant charitable donations and are “not for profit”. Still, they find it difficult to be sustainable. One has to put Elsevier’s argument in this context. Publishing industry will not be able to offer radically better solutions until scientists and researchers are reluctant to engage with this wider debate about how we communicate science and reward those who do a good job of it. WebmedCentral is fundamentally examining the whole process and doing its bit to come up with alternatives. All I can say for now is watch the space!

    Kamal Mahawar
    CEO, Webmed Limited
    United Kingdom

  19. Sib.
    Posted February 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    @Tom Reller I am a little confused when publishers say that its costs serious amounts of money to get peer reviews and editorial work, etc. From my understanding, most reviewers do their work on a volunteer basis and don’t get paid for it (at least I haven’t been paid for the many reviews I have completed for journal papers and to the best of my knowledge, no one else I know in the academic community has been paid either). Most editors, asst. editors, etc. are also academicians/researchers who volunteer their time and effort. Universities pay the salaries of these people (mostly from federally funded grants). Hence, federal research money is being used in two ways by the publishers — to fund the actual research and also to pay the salaries of the volunteer reviewers/editors. Without these contributions, the publishers wouldn’t have a real business! In the case of reviewers and editors that don’t work in academia, their money/time is sponsored by their employers and not companies like Elsevier.

    The main costs (in my understanding) comes from the secretarial staff and time/money to manage the servers, etc. These days with electronic typesetting, most papers are set by the authors themselves and there is little work for publishers to do. Likewise for electronic distribution.

    But locking down access to material that has been funded, twice, by federal grants is not kosher, imho. Let Elsevier pay *real* salaries to the reviewers and editors *and* fund the research. Then they can claim to have a better argument for locking down the results using these types of bills.

  20. C. Eastwood
    Posted April 21, 2012 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    Hi Tom:

    Reed Elsevier ? (odious peddler of fake medical journals)… Hang ’em High.

    The revolution is already underway (cf. Gowers’ blog). The Internet – as the vehicle of the collective intelligence of the Actual Content Creators – means that the likes of Elsevier can be relegated to the garbage can of history.

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