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. Gary
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Wait, doesn’t the bill only seek to control private sector research, not publicly-funded research?

  2. Lil
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 6:49 pm | Permalink

    I think it would be helpful if you could explain what congress defines as “private-sector research work”.

  3. Michael Eisen
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    The full text of the bill makes it clear that “private-sector research work” means works funded by the Federal government but not carried out by government employees. Thus the bill applies to all Federally funded university research. I’ve clarified this in an update.

  4. DrugMonkey
    Posted January 5, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    Congress should be working to shorten the 12mo embargo for PMC release, not trying to roll back this excellent policy.

  5. Posted January 6, 2012 at 11:51 am | Permalink

    I just made a call of Carolyn Maloney’s office, to express my opposition to the bill. We also have a brief blog about this here: http://www.keionline.org/node/1341

  6. Roy Plotnick
    Posted January 6, 2012 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    One unaddressed issue here is the potential impact on non-commercial publishers, such as the professional societies. Journal publication is a critical activity, and it is funded by payments made by users, including access to back issues. I just stepped down as Treasurer of my society, which is relatively small, and about 20% of our funding comes from online sources. The loss of that income could force these journals to shut down and increase the monopoly of the commercial publishers. I should point out that we publish at close to cost and our members have very limited access to NSF grant funds.

  7. Posted January 6, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Permalink

    Elsevier, along with other commercial and non-profit publishers do indeed support the Research Works Act and commend Congressman Issa and Congresswoman Maloney for co-sponsoring this important legislation. You ask why Congresswoman Maloney co-sponsored this legislation? Simple. New York is one of the country’s leading publishing states with more than 300 publishers that employ more than 12,000 New Yorkers, many who live or work in or around New York City. Elsevier and many other publishers have offices located in Congresswoman Maloney’s district. We support her because she has been a strong supporter of this important industry, our employees and good public policy. And we believe the Research Works Act is good public policy.

    For starters, the Research Works Act would only apply to journal articles where the private sector has provided a value-added contribution in the creation of these information products. The bill specifically excludes research reports and the raw data generated by government-funded research. Authors still retain the ability to share data, reports, and other forms of research findings derived from the taxpayer funded research, including their submitted manuscripts.

    But while the government may fund the research, it does not fund the peer review process, editing, or publication of these private-sector information products. Elsevier and other commercial and non-profit publishers invest hundreds of millions of dollars each year in managing the publication of journal articles. Government mandates that require private-sector information products to be made freely available undermine the industry’s ability to recoup these investments.

    The publishing industry has invested significantly in providing public access to scientific journal articles. Patients can get free access to information on new research through various publisher programs including PatientINFORM. This program is provided in partnership with major heath organizations including the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, and the American Diabetes Association. In addition, many publishers offer a low-cost (between $1 and $4) access through DeepDyve and other similar view-only services. Free access to journal articles is also provided through research libraries throughout the country. Publishers have also partnered with the United Nations to create Research4Life which provides free access to medical and agricultural institutions and practitioners in the developing countries. Millions of articles are downloaded each year as part of this program.

    We’re very proud of what Elsevier has done throughout the years to expand access in sustainable ways, improve the research experience and enhance knowledge and discovery. And there are millions of researchers and other information professionals who value that contribution as well.

  8. Antonio
    Posted January 6, 2012 at 7:21 pm | Permalink

    IMHO, The government makes a highway (with public money) and then some group of people (the publishers) “adds the value” by painting the highway and planting some trees on both sides. Then “the publishers” reclaims a pay to the people who wants to travel across this highway.

    As i see, there are other many industries where there clear rules to make bussiness with infrastructures build by Federal Governments.
    BTW, a highway without trees, paint and design works well too. ArxiV and other initiatives are very good.

  9. Michael Eisen
    Posted January 6, 2012 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    @Tom Reller. I appreciate you taking the time to explain Elsevier’s point of view. However, as you likely suspected, I do not agree with you.

    First, your characterization of the bill is simply incorrect. You write:

    Research Works Act would only apply to journal articles where the private sector has provided a value-added contribution in the creation of these information products. The bill specifically excludes research reports and the raw data generated by government-funded research. Authors still retain the ability to share data, reports, and other forms of research findings derived from the taxpayer funded research, including their submitted manuscripts.

    However the language of the bill states that it applies to articles “intended to be published in a scholarly or scientific publication, or any version of such an article. Thus the bill would clearly apply to submitted manuscripts.

    But the more important fallacy in your argument is the statement that:

    But while the government may fund the research, it does not fund the peer review process, editing, or publication of these private-sector information products.

    This is ludicrously incorrect. As many studies have shown, on the order of 85% of the revenue collected by biomedical research journals comes, either directly or indirectly, from federal or state governments. And the lions’ share of the “added value” of peer review and editing is carried out by scientists who volunteer their (largely government funded) time to the journals. Thus, if, as you argue, control of the finished product is to go to the party who invested most heavily in the process – this is clearly the American taxpayers and NOT the journals. And this is not even considering the far more significant contribution of generating the research in the first place.

    Perhaps a metaphor will help explain this issue to people unfamiliar with scientific publishing. Consider the process of bringing a new baby into the world. Few would dispute that obstetricians play a significant role in the healthy delivery of a newborn baby. In exchange for their service they provide, they could demand ownership of the baby, and charge the parents a monthly fee to access their child. After all, the doctor “added value” to the baby by ensuring that the birthing process went well, and they deserve to be compensated for it.

    Of course everybody recognizes this is absurd, because, while the doctor did do something of value, their contributions were trivial in comparison to those of the mother who carried the child for 9 months and did far, far more work during the actual delivery. But it is precisely this logic that leads publishers to assert the right to control permanently and charge for access to the primary record of publicly funded scientific and medical research.

    As you know, I understand that the process of overseeing the peer review and editorial processes costs money, and publishers need to be paid for the service they provide the scientific community and allowed to profit on their investments. That is why I and many others have spent over a decade working (through the Public Library of Science) to demonstrate that scientific publishers can thrive using the open access business model in which they are paid an upfront fee for the services they provide, with the articles being made immediately and permanently freely available to all.

    Indeed there is now little doubt that publishers can thrive using an open access business model that is better for virtually everyone with a stake in promoting and disseminating the results of scientific and medical research. You claim that Representative Maloney proposed this bill because it protects American jobs. But this is true in only the narrowest sense. If she had spent time to research the issue, rather than simply responding to her biggest donors, she would undoubtedly have found that the “subtracted value” that comes from impeding the free flow of scientific and medical knowledge poses a far greater threat to American jobs and competitiveness than does protecting the narrow interests of a dying industry.

  10. David García
    Posted January 7, 2012 at 6:15 am | Permalink

    This discussion reminds me “Academic publishers make Murdoch look like a socialist” http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/aug/29/academic-publishers-murdoch-socialist (George Mombiot)

    Kind regards,

  11. Posted January 7, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    This pisses me off, and I voted for fucken Maloney (who is otherwise a pretty good Representative). I just submitted comment on her Web form.

  12. Michael Eisen
    Posted January 7, 2012 at 8:48 am | 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 with the express purpose of allowing publishers a period of exclusivity necessitating continued subscription by research institutions requiring access to the latest research.

  13. Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:41 am | Permalink

    What value is added with “peer review and editing” in the age of blogs and the internet? Why would scientists feel compelled to grant Elsevier or any other publisher the power of determining not only what deserves to be published and where and when, but also how much they can gain monetarily out of it (without even sharing any profit with the original author)?

    Methinks there’s too much importance given to how much a journal is “prestigious”. And this all leaves science open to the risk of being manipulated by unscrupulous editing companies.

  14. accessmonkey
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 5:41 am | Permalink

    The White House is looking for public comments right now on access. It runs through the 12th. It’s not enough to just complain in the blogs about the Issa bill. Let Obama know why access is so important. You can be sure that publishers are going to weigh in… http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/12/21/extended-deadline-public-access-and-digital-data-rfis

  15. Crusty the Clown
    Posted January 8, 2012 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    Ah, isn’t this the same Elsevier which, in 2002, published a fake “peer-reviewed” Australasian Journal of Bone and Joint Medicine? (see
    for more info)

    There seem to have been other spurious journals propagated upon an unsuspecting readership as well. For shame. That is hardly the way to advance human knowledge, or to get unbiased information into the hands of front-line practitioners. Publication of those so-called “journals” was a purely meretricious act and well-deserved censure was heaped upon Elsevier at the time of disclosure in 2009. Unfortunately, trust is easily destroyed and it takes years – if not decades – to rebuild it. At this point in time I’m not sure I could place any trust in Elsevier, its publications, or its spokesmen. Sorry, but you brought it upon yourselves.

  16. Posted January 8, 2012 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    Tom Reller commented:

    Free access to journal articles is also provided through research libraries throughout the country.

    That would be big news to research libraries. Those same libraries now pay millions of dollars a year each to Elsevier for the right to offer those articles for ‘free.’

  17. Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    Correct Michael, I didn’t expect you would agree, but I do think it’s helpful for your readers to see a different point of view.

    In regard to the RWA applying to manuscripts, you fail to mention the following language in the bill — ‘to which a commercial or non-profit publisher has made or has entered into an arrangement to make a value-added contribution, inducing peer review or editing.” The arrangement hasn’t been made yet when an author submits the manuscript. But to clarify, the vast majority of journals allow authors to share submitted manuscripts, because they haven’t yet added any value to it.

    There are plenty of ways that the public can have free access to the products of government-funded research, such as via the author’s research report, data sets or the submitted preprint. But the government shouldn’t be able to mandate the free distribution of an article after journals have invested in them to add value. Processes required to do so – including review and selection for publication, peer review, publication online and in print, technical enhancement, and archiving – are the product of publishers’ effort and investments and that are not paid for with government funds.

    Thank you for acknowledging that the process of overseeing the peer review and editorial processes costs money, and publishers need to be paid for the service they provide the scientific community and allowed to profit on their investments. But your baby metaphor is misleading, and we’re not inclined to deconstruct it. While analogies are helpful illustrating broadly, they rarely hold up when applied to specific situations, particularly in science. Publishers have used analogies as well, most of which convey the widely accepted practice of government funding all sorts of activities that aren’t free to the public.

    Finally, on the assertion about a dying industry, suffice it to say that our industry is dynamic and thriving: we publish and deliver around 2 billion new research articles globally to researchers per year, driven by 3-4% annual growth in research funding and in the number of researchers. Moreover, we record 93% satisfaction levels among researchers. The last fifteen years have seen unprecedented levels of innovation due to publishers’ massive investments in technology, and we will continue to see more so long as publishers have an incentive to keep investing, and as long as they have freedom to continue deploying a mix of sustainable business models to recoup those investments – including institutional (and possibly national) licensing deals, transactional models, and funder/author pays. The mix of models, however, should evolve in response to stakeholder demands, not government mandates.

    Thank you for the opportunity to elaborate, though at this point I hope we can just agree to disagree. And thank you as well for the new twitter followers @Tomreller where I try to share the best of Elsevier – we actually do a lot more in addition to all our work in publishing journals.

  18. Posted January 8, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    The next time I am asked to do a peer review for a non-open access journal, I will send them the following email:

    Dear editor,

    It is with great regret that I must decline your request that I peer review this manuscript. Although the attached manuscript has significant merit and I have no known conflict of interests, I worry that any unpaid peer review done for your journal would result in a substantial loss of your own value-add contribution to the publication of this manuscript.


    Eric Widera, MD

  19. Posted January 8, 2012 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    The MapLight approach is interesting. If you look a little bit further you can see that this has been going on for quite some time. Maloney received nearly 40,000 from Elsevier over the past 5 years see: http://openaccess.nl/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=289

  20. Andrew King
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

    @Tom Reller, since others are being so respectful and sticking to the issue, let me just say that your manipulation of language in this situation disgusts me. In particular, how can you defend the description of all non-government academic research as “private-sector”? As you can see, this language is very misleading to academics, and I for one as a university-based academic do not by any means consider myself to be in the private sector; I’m sure the vast majority of my colleagues would agree. When you can use language that is clear, why use language that is deceptive? It is no better than a bare-faced lie, in fact it is worse, because in this situation you can and will defend it. I myself would be ashamed to make a living peddling such arguments. Sorry for resorting to a thinly-veiled ad hominem, but I am in the mood to speak my mind.

  21. Mark Funk
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I am frankly at a loss to explain Elsevier’s and other publishers’ opposition to the NIH Public Access Policy. Can they honestly say that this Policy is costing them money? I’m a medical librarian, who specializes in selecting and acquiring biomedical information resources, such as medical journals. I know that researchers in universities and big pharma require the latest publications RIGHT NOW. They can’t wait around 12 months for it to become free. I know of no librarians who are canceling journals because an unknown percentage of the articles within those journals will be free after 12 months. Our researchers wouldn’t stand for it. Librarians may be canceling journals, but that’s because of budget cuts we are experiencing, not the promise of free, year-old articles.

    If publishers can’t show that the current Public Access Policy is costing them money, it must be the principle that matters to them. From the tenor of Mr. Reller’s posts, it appears that Elsevier, at least, relies heavily on the “government shouldn’t be able to mandate the free distribution of an article after journals have invested in them to add value” argument. And yet they are quite happy to accept research articles that were funded by the government, given to them freely, and which become their intellectual property. I would respect the publishers’ position if they backed up their opposition to government mandates by refusing to accept any article that was funded by the NIH. Then we would know it’s about the principle, not the profit to be made by charging $31.50 for ordinary citizens to read the articles.

  22. Posted January 9, 2012 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    Andrew, then lets yes please continue to keep it respectful. We’re not trying to mislead anyone and there’s no need for disgust or anger. Let me have a little time to figure out exactly what the disconnect is here and get back to you, but I think it’s that when we say private sector, we are only referring to our company’s value adding activities, not the government funded research itself, or the activities of the peer reviewers.

  23. Andrew King
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 11:57 am | Permalink

    Tom, I don’t think we need to pretend that we will see eye to eye, but I will point out one thing you said that is, in effect, patently false.

    > But while the government may fund the research, it does not fund the peer review process, editing, or publication of these private-sector information products.

    I have spent countless hours working as a peer reviewer, and my salary has most often been paid directly from government sources. You may argue that it is volunteer work in the name of academic service, but to believe that unpaid peer review does not take a significant amount of working time away from the research of taxpayer-funded scientists would be completely absurd.

    Now, I don’t believe that peer review should be paid, and I do feel it is a necessary service to the scientific community. I have never advanced to the role of editor and I don’t know how or if they are remunerated, but to pretend as though for-profit academic publishers do not have an army of reviewers effectively being paid by other people (usually taxpayers) is frankly an insult to those who do the service.

  24. SeekTruthFromFacts
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    …”when we say private sector, we are only referring to…” (Tom Reller from Elsevier)

    Interesting that Elsevier refer to the bill’s language as what “we” say.

    Sorry, Mr Reller, I realize that you’ve got to earn a living too.

  25. Paul
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    So from now on when politicians refer to the “private sector,” we can simply assume they mean “with the assistance of government subsidies.” Strange, considering how often you hear such a phrase coming from those supposedly interested in the limitation of federal spending.

    I must admit I find the slimy “but der takin our jobs” appeal rather hilarious. Your argument for the preservation of 12,000+ potentially unnecessary jobs would be just as useful supporting the creation of a dummy welfare “job” program where employees simply shuffle papers around and collect their government paychecks. If they require a faulty system to survive, they simply are not fit for survival. I wonder how many government funded research articles relating to natural selection are currently only available for a fee.

  26. John
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Those are pretty small campaign contributions. It looks to me like some people who work for Elsevier like Carolyn Maloney’s position on this issue, so they contributed to her campaign. You’re doing a pretty bad job at framing, but I guess you can only frame as well as the facts allow you.

  27. Posted January 9, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

    Andrew, it’s not patently false. What it is, is nothing more than a reflection of how difficult it is to communicate through comment streams and parsing language, which is why I’m loathe to continue do this, but I can’t let the assertion that I’d insult a reviewer go.

    But I also actually think we’re closer to understanding the disconnect here. When I say peer review process, I think you’re hearing just peer review. Peer review is exactly what you say it is, volunteer work in the name of academic science, and it never would have dawned upon me to have to say this, but of course we know peer reviewers aren’t paid. And we know that we, and our journals need them. If you ever reviewed for one of our journals, thank you, and we truly hope you continue to do so. I know all about the issues related to how difficult it is to find quality peer reviewers. You’re often paid by the government, and it is time consuming, we get it.

    All we’re saying is that there is a peer review process, and there is more to peer review than just the peer reviewers themselves. Our systems track it, our publishers support it, then there’s what we do to print and preserve the outcome. Michael granted as much.

    We call final published articles private sector information products because we (the private sector) have added value, as before mentioned, to the articles. Yes, I know the submitted manuscript is not a private sector information product. But please accept that the final published journal article, is. And again, Mr. Taxpayer, you are entitled to the research you funded in the form of the drafted article. Commercial publishers are NOT between you and this research. But when the article is submitted to us, to be accepted in a journal we manage, and we’ve entered an agreement to add value to it — apart from the peer review that you and other reviewers provide for free – but also everything else we do to it before it’s published, it has thus become a private sector product.

    Please know our business is dependent upon reviewers, and we would never intentionally mean to insult them. But I want to credit my publishing colleagues here as well. Not the companies, but the people, who work tirelessly and professionally to help editors do their job every day. I encourage you to find them at conferences or elsewhere to talk further about what they do to support science.

    BTW before I go. Peter Murray – that statement means free walk in privileges through a library; just another way Mr. Taxpayer can gain access to research.

    Thank you.

  28. Andrew King
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    I have reviewed many articles for Elsevier journals, and have decided to decline all incoming requests for the time being. In fact, I declined a request today and explained why I was doing so. This could impact my career negatively for a variety of specific reasons I prefer not to go into, but on a personal level it feels very gratifying to refuse, at least temporarily, to support this pyramid from the bottom.

  29. Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

    Yes, publishers add value. Not to the essentials, though.  If the authors and the reviewers ceased to exist, the publishers would soon go out of business.
    If the publishers ceased to exist? It would merely hasten a change that is already slowly happening.  Academics would take control of their own peer review and publication.  They would do so in ways that made information freely available.

  30. Kevin Padian
    Posted January 9, 2012 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

    Thanks to Tom Reller for appreciating the work that reviewers do, which is fundamental to the success of any good journal. However, he leaves out, I think, full appreciation of the work that unpaid academic editors do (as opposed to the house editors of publishers, who are of course paid). For some years I (like many others) have been an academic editor for an Elsevier journal, and I have done this work because I believe in the journal, even though I am disquieted by Elsevier’s ownership of it (and I have lobbied for the academy that owns the journal to publish differently). I probably spend 10-15 hours most weeks dealing with this work, including correcting the English of non-Anglophonic authors — which is a task that one might think the in-house editors would do. In fact the in-house editors essentially simply format the completed edited manuscripts (they do no real editing) and put them on-line. Mr. Reller, could I bill Elsevier for the editorial work that I put in, which you seem to credit entirely to your in-house people?

    Elsevier’s profit on its turnover is currently estimated at 36% (see comments on http://svpow.wordpress.com/2012/01/09/do-your-bit-to-oppose-the-evil-research-works-act/), so I would think that you could afford to compensate the academics who do the heavy editorial lifting, no? …. : )

    Incidentally, in acquiring over 25% of the scholarly journal market (including some not-so-scholarly ones) in recent years, Elsevier has jacked up prices to extortion levels and demanded that libraries buy journals in a field as a bundle, rather than allowing them to pick what they want and can afford. And what our academic libraries pay for is NOT freely available to any member of the public who happens to walk in, contrary to what Mr. Reller says. First of all, private universities have no obligation to offer such a service, and most don’t; but even public universities have restricted access to their e-libraries! If Elsevier doesn’t give it away for free, how can universities afford to?

    However, public sentiment can move not only legislators but also the Elsevier brass. Take for example the incident of 2007 when the British Medical Journal and Lancet openly deplored Elsevier’s (qua Reed Elsevier’s) sponsorship of military arms exhibitions. The sponsorship was soon abandoned (see http://www.bmj.com/content/334/7605/1182.2). So there may be hope — but only if the “Research Works Act” can be defeated.

  31. Sarah
    Posted January 10, 2012 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    Publishers may “add value” but they’re only adding value to something that is rightfully owned by the people who paid for the original research.

    If you wash my car before I sell it, you have no claim on any ownership rights and unless the publishers want to fully fund research, they have no right to charge the people who funded that work to access it.

  32. Just Saying
    Posted January 10, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Some commenters here say that taxpayer money pays the bills in a user fee model as well, as it comes from a grantees funding. While this may be true in SOME part (indirects typically cover some of a library’s costs, but other sources contribute), you might want to examine the efficiency differences in two prevailing models – user pays and author pays.

    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.

    I would also say that the very very small, highly educated, affluent community of MDs and PhDs (by national standards) should pay for access to their very specialized and technical journals, while the researchers should be able to use every last scarce penny towards conducting actual research on behalf of their taxpayer investors – particularly since the general taxpayer has NEVER shown an interest in the materials. The OA community and its lobbyists have always had an astroturf campaign that use some indignant public or maligned taxpayer to once again give BIG UNIVERSITY something for free.

    When the whiny OA community starts sending the US Treasury a check for all of the royalties that result from any patents or inventions from federally funded research, I’ll take you a little more seriously. Or perhaps then you’d like to credit the taxpayers for the amounts they’ve spent on products that have resulted from their own funding, whether in whole or in part. The OA Mantra: “Bayh-Dole only when we say so!”

  33. Just Saying
    Posted January 10, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    Also, to get at Michael’s earlier “baby delivery” analysis…which is not quite on target.

    A more fitting example would be cord blood. A mother carries the baby to term. The OB delivers. Afterwards, in the maternity ward, the parents are approached about saving the baby’s cord blood. The couple says “yes!” The OB stores the cord blood in a bank and has a contractual agreement that spans many years. Upon receiving the first bill annual bill, the couple says, “wait, that’s our baby’s blood! That doc wants to profit from our baby’s blood!” The OB informs the couple that he works at a non-profit hospital, and there is no profit being made: rather, the cost of storage are real and cost money. The couple says, “we already paid you for the delivery!” and the OB explains that the delivery fee does not cover the costs of storing cord blood. “How else would we have purchased the refrigerators and keep the utilities going, never mind paying staff to keep the samples straight, etc.” he says. “But I delivered, I did all the work! I made the cord blood! And now it’s just sitting there, and you’re not doing anything to it!”

    Indignant, the couple heads to Capitol Hill to start the “taxpayer access to cord blood NOW!” campaign.

  34. Just Saying
    Posted January 10, 2012 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Michael and others have already noted that the higher education system is a muddled mix of federal, state and private (tuition) funding. The claim is that since so much taxpayer funding has contributed to the conduct of research, that the journals that publish the results should be free to the taxpayer. After all, they’ve paid for it already.

    I wonder if the community would feel the same about their classes as well. After all, it’s clear that the muddled mix of private and public funding for the university structure makes it difficult to determine that all tuition goes strictly to professors’ salaries. It can be reasoned that some taxpayer money is going to salary support, and in the case of research, it’s typically a maximum of $199.7k (soon to be $179.7k) that goes towards salary support for a PI. Therefore, if you’re 50% effort on a grant, and in the classroom the other 50%, expect to see me there as well! After all, I already paid! I wouldn’t hold my breath for a tuition check though. You might claim that the salary support is for the grant only, but its difficult to tell exactly how much more federal/state support is going towards the rest of your salary. Hence, I feel it is within my right as a taxpayer to utilize the services for which I have already paid.

    One can also use a museum metaphor: the building and initial exhibits are paid for with public funds, yet most museums maintain a user fee to maintain operations. It is the most efficient and fair system since (sadly) a majority of citizens don’t utilize these facilities.

    So if you’re interested in going to the museum (spoiler: metaphor), stop asking me, the average taxpayer to pay for your trips to go see the dinosaurs!

  35. zap
    Posted January 10, 2012 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

    “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.”

    Here’s a different forecast: No one uses hard copies anyway, so it’ll be $0 to print 0 journals. Cost to support web access will scale with actual usage, and won’t be significant. (It could also be covered by volunteer mirroring and ad-supported hosting.)

  36. Matt
    Posted January 10, 2012 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    “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.”

    One-time costs of preparing journal articles should be about the same no matter who pays. When it comes to distribution, the open access model is literally a million times more cost effective than the publisher-sets-prices model. At standard Amazon S3 rates, it would cost you about $2 per month to store every article ever published in Elsevier’s chemistry journal Tetrahedron Letters. If the average article downloaded is 250 KB and you serve a million article copies per month, that’s an extra $30 a month to Amazon for bandwidth.

    Cost to host the complete archive of Tetrahedron Letters with Amazon’s cloud for a month and serve a million article copies: $32.

    Elsevier’s price for non-subscribers to download a single article PDF from Tetrahedron Letters: $39.95.

  37. Just Saying
    Posted January 10, 2012 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    Matt and Zap – I agree a fully digital system would work better, but hard journals still get quite a bit of use. I’ve actually seen stats from some publishers that junior faculty actually prefer print. But for arguments sake, let’s agree the wind is blowing in the digital direction. I still think with an OA model you greatly and artificially shift demand. This results in waste.

    On balance, the research is fully owned by the PI. He or she can do whatever they want with it. If an OA movement happens organically, then so be it. However, I don’t understand the OA lobby’s insistence on enacting federal law that abolishes a private contract between a publisher and a PI. The taxpayers don’t “own” the research, even if they funded it. As such, they don’t own a journal article, or the drugs, devices or inventions that derive from taxpayer funded research. Grants are meant to encourage activity that the public views as worthwhile. Not to procure. That is the function of a contract. If the OA lobby intends on trying to take published and PI content and make it freely available, wouldnt you agree they should at least be principled and transfer patent royalties back to the taxpayers as well?

  38. Matt
    Posted January 10, 2012 at 11:28 pm | Permalink

    The Open Access movement *is* organic. No corporation or billionaire astroturfed it into existence. But organic isn’t the same as atomistic and uncoordinated. If I believe that Open Access makes the world better in small but worthwhile ways — and I do believe that — then why wouldn’t I work with like minded people to make it more common? It’s in the public interest to make publicly funded research broadly available. But there is a collective action problem: PIs will be reluctant to challenge the user-pays journal model individually, and the publishers certainly aren’t going to abandon it spontaneously. Collective action problems are however soluble through legislation, so PIs don’t have to choose between open access and career advancement.

    I’m in favor of reversing Bayh-Dole too while we’re at it. Why wouldn’t I be? Interjecting that into the conversation feels more like an attempt at distraction than a commitment to principle. If you’ve read blogs for very long you know the drill: “Sure, you may have discovered some bad thing happening to women in America, but I demand you spend longer talking about the worse things happening to women in Afghanistan or I will call you unprincipled/hypocritical/a peddler of some nefarious hidden agenda.”

  39. EA
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 1:36 am | Permalink

    Many researchers have complained about the high price of academic research journals and some of us are doing something about it. This Elsevier push is motivated by the medical side, but the fundamental problem is that there are some prestigious, very expensive scientific journals that libraries feel like they must subscribe to and authors feel compelled to submit there because they are prestigious. But things are changing at least in some disciplines. The cost of a journal is not so much for distribution- there are other costs, but those are largely actually borne by universities.

    A typical life story of a research article:

    Brilliant researcher at Oxbridge University (who pays her salary) comes up with great idea, writes it up, submits it electronically by emailing it to an editor at the Snooty Journal,

    The editor, a professor at Enormus State University (who pays his salary and has him teach a little less because of his prestigous editorship) thinks of an appropriate anonymous referee and sends off the article to be refereed. Snooty Journal may give ESU some money to cover part of the cost of a secretary, but does not pay his salary.

    Professor at IviedHalls University (who pays her salary) receives the article to refereee, reads it, sends it back with comments after letting it molder on his desk/inbox for a bit.

    Editor accepts or rejects the paper, possibly asking for modifications based upon the referee’s recommendation, possibly some iteration at this step.
    Original author prepares the article in electronic format using the LaTeX free typesetting system (developed by volunteers) with Snooty Journal’s style files and uploads it to their web site.

    Snooty Journal staff typeset the paper, messing a few things up because they are not experts in the appropriate field, and send the “galley proofs” to the author to review.

    Original author points out typos introduced in their typsetting process, sends back corrected galleys.

    Snooty Jounal releases the article on their paid-subscription webpage and prints it as a dead-tree volume to send to libraries around the world that can afford it.

    As you can see, the hard part of the labor (writing, reviewing, refereeing) is not done by anyone at the publisher– various universities pay the salaries of those folks and they pay again for the journal in dead-tree form.

    So you can see that there may be some objection to the arrangement. In the old days, the journal staff actually typset things and dead-trees were the only game in town, but most of the typesetting is done by the author.

    The choice is hard for some people that really need to publish in the expensive journals to get tenure, recognition, grants, etc. But for people who already have tenure, some are resistant to the journal extortion. Some may have a policy like mine- I do not submit to expensive journals or agree to referee for expensive journals, now that I have the advantage of tenure.

    There have been some successes of editorial boards that resigned wholesale, then started a free/inexpensive journal. Hopefully this becomes more common.

    Some researchers in Mathematics have signed The Banff Protocol:

    We agree neither to submit to, referee for, nor participate in the operation of any journal that charges an excessively high per page subscription fee, as compared to the average of the 25 highest impact journals in pure mathematics.

  40. Posted January 11, 2012 at 2:30 am | Permalink

    I don’t dispute that Elsevier adds value to the published work. They do some copy-editing, integrate the work of volunteer reviewers, format, print, archive, and host online copies. And they deserve to be paid for their efforts by whoever subscribes to the dead-tree or online version of their publications. I don’t believe they should be forced to send copies to anyone freely (other than the LoC) or provide any free web access.

    However, Feist v. Rural held that US *copyright* only extends to the creative aspects of a work, not merely copy-editing or collection, verification, or simple organization of data. Elsevier’s work, while valuable, does not seem to meet the originality requirement for them to claim copyright protection at all on the final product, even within the first year of publication.

    In other words, one cannot create a sufficiently transformative work to be copyrightable simply because one corrects some typos and fusses over the kerning and column gutters. Spending time and money on something does not entitle one to copyright privilege.

    It’s possible they could claim copyright on the final presentation of the work (fonts, columns, etc.). But my gut tells me that even if the formatting is creative enough to merit copyright protection, the same cannot be said of the words, charts, and data tables in the final product. It remains in the public domain, even in edited form. Anyone with access to that paper is perfectly within their rights to OCR or copy/paste it into another form and publish it themselves, even en masse.

    IMHO, Elsevier should quit while they are ahead and thank their lucky stars that they seem to have a sweet 12-month publication embargo at the moment that hasn’t been tested sufficiently in the courts.


  41. Mike
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 2:46 am | Permalink

    So, corporations buying stock in US Congress? That’s a bad joke.

  42. Just Saying
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

    Matt – I would respectfully say that the OA movement is absolutely not organic. The issue of high journal prices is *solely* driven by you and your peers. For the publications that carry a high cost, there is high demand. There is no excessive profit in the system – the publicly traded companies are not seeing stock prices going through the roof, nor is there latent capital that is looking to enter the market. IF…you and your peers purposefully sought to decrease demand to these choice journals, and thus bring down the price, I would say THAT would be organic. You and your peers, right now, have the power to alter the market where you are the major players. Not the journals. The problem with your constituency’s mindset is that there is no substitute, thus altering the dynamic of the market. You think you have to publish in these journals (or perish!). But that is a choice driven by you alone.

    Instead, your constituency and lobbyists decided to pursue federal legislation to force change in the market. What’s more, you decided to sneak the 12 month provision into an appropriations bill! Legislating a major copyright change through a spending bill, without hearing or debate. Hardly organic. Not to mention the talking points about some “maligned taxpayer” that can’t get access to research results (pure astroturf) and the manner by which science would be accelerated (speculation, no evidence). That was not your community’s finest moment and the RWA simply is rolling that back. After all, the preponderance of journals permitted free access to content over 12 months pre-dating your appropriations language.

    You say it’s in the public’s best interest to make publicly funded research available. This is a red herring. The public has never shown a real interest in actual journals articles, and for the few that do, most publishers allow patients or direct family members to have free access. I would say it is in the public’s best interest for you to find cures or new treatments. THAT is what the public wants when it entrusts you with $30b of NIH money annually. The public loves research, but they generally could care less about what it says until it’s finished. And why shouldn’t they. A grant mechanism is a sum of money from the taxpayers to the grantee – no strings attached. In the same way the public surrenders their right to teh IP and any new products that may result from grant funding, they also surrender their right to the results that have been transferred by the author and distributed by a private company. Cold hard math. If you want taxpayer to have ownership of the research, I suggest you lobby NIH to start using the a contract mechanism so they can procure something and retain ownership – not the grantee. That is why it is apropo to discuss Bayh-Dole in the same vein. They are very much one in the same. And if OA continues to use the taxpayer argument to win concessions from the publishers, I would at least ask that they be principled and also let the Congress know that they would also like to begin transferring all royalties back to the public as well.

  43. Just Saying
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    EA – the Banff protocol is a great example of a purely organic movement. If this happens more throughout the community, there will certainly be an organic movement without the need for federal legislation. This would be a good thing, and force the current players in publishing to accelerate new models. One caveat though – just because a journal is expensive doesn’t mean it’s evil. Some journals have so many manuscripts to read and administrative, copy editing and curating tasks that a surge in demand could drive prices. A better standard for denying your volunteering services might be excessive (whatever that means) *profit* at your expense.

    However, I would submit to you that there is no indication of excessive waste in the system. The publisher market is characterized by both for-profit and non-profit entities. Certainly we can agree that the Boards of non-profits are not price gouging themselves (the real audience for the journal). For some high priced for-profit journals, there has been no stock run up, no latent capital waiting to enter the market. If there was a journal that could do the same work and charge 25% less, why haven’t we seen one. I know it’s easy to think the costs are nominal for running a journal, but they are real and substantial (even with the volunteer peer review). I know everyone likes to quote the “per article rate” of $30 per article, but the truth is not many people actually pay this. And certainly not most researchers. In reality, the cost per article, per investigator, is actually very very low. With one institutional subscription to a package of journals, even though the price tag may be high for the library, there’s a lot of science in there!

  44. Just Saying
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Richard – that is an interesting point about copyright law, one I am not as familiar with.

    I would offer, though, that the content does not “remain in the public domain.” The public gives grantees sole license over all property generating from a grant, including the research results. These results can either be the journal article or a new drug, device, product, etc. The public does not seek to collect royalties, nor should they seek to ask Big Publisher to make their product available for free either. But here’s the kicker: the public isn’t seeking either of these things. The research results are the property of the PI. If he or she wants to place them in the public domain, they can start their own blog and post them. If they want them submitted to Nature, Science, Cell, etc to be published, then they can do that too. But they shouldn’t then expect that product to be free. Those are two very different things.

  45. Just Saying
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    “And what our academic libraries pay for is NOT freely available to any member of the public who happens to walk in, contrary to what Mr. Reller says. First of all, private universities have no obligation to offer such a service, and most don’t; but even public universities have restricted access to their e-libraries! If Elsevier doesn’t give it away for free, how can universities afford to?”

    Why don’t universities make the content freely available to anyone that walks in off the street. It’s the taxpayers’ research, right? They funded it. Given it to them. This is particularly true of public universities. Here, even MORE public money supports the enterprise. It’s patently hypocritical to say public university libraries have on obligation to make publicly funded content available to anyone. University libraries always should be open to their pubic financiers. Anything else is extortion.

  46. dooright
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    Darrell Issa?

    That just doesn’t sound like the Darrell Issa that I know. But then, what DO I know?

  47. Just Saying
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    I hope my [sarcasm] came though on that last post. But it’s intent was to demonstrate that there is a clear line that we draw when we receive public funding. It’s not carte blanche for taxpayers, as cold as that may sound. So when it comes to journals, if you’re not happy with the price, you can’t claim public rights to something they funded in that case, but not others that don’t benefit you directly, such as access to your classroom, lab, or royalties if you’re not at a 100% fully private university.

  48. Kate
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

    @Just Saying:

    You stated that “The public has never shown a real interest in actual journals [sic] articles…”

    Since you’re making a rather extreme claim (“never!”) with no backing, I don’t feel too bad countering with an anecdote. In my ninth grade geology class, I conducted some original (but admittedly clunky) research on convection plumes based on ideas I gathered from primary literature. The papers were from “actual journals,” and I took “real interest” in them, more so than in any other written work up to that point in my life. As a member of the “public,” yeah, it took me weeks to struggle through each paper. I loved the challenge, and the experience changed my life.

  49. Just Say Something
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    @Just Saying:
    Nobody reads printed journals anymore. They are just coffee table decoration. Every scientist below 50 downloads the papers as PDF, stores it in zotero and maybe prints it out. Soon they wont even print it on their printer anymore, because they read on tablets. It costs very little to host and deliver the papers. Serving 10x more does not increase the cost. The investment in building the infrastructure (software) is however high.
    There is no need for per access price as a regulator.

  50. Adam
    Posted January 11, 2012 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    can you really blame them for wanting to rake in millions for doing basically nothing?

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