We won the Battle of the Research Works Act. Now let’s win the War for Open Access.

Late last year Elsevier and two of its allies in Congress quietly introduced a bill that would have halted the trend towards increased public access to the results of government funded research headlined by the NIH’s Public Access Policy.

This brazen act, which its backers hoped would pass unnoticed in the quiet of the holidays, was ultimately noticed (when the Association of American Publishers issued press release), and met with intense opposition (c.f. my op-ed in the NYT, the writings of Mike Taylor and of the twitter account FakeElsevier and many, many others) culminating in a growing boycott of Elsevier.

In previous years publishers brushed off such criticism with the typical impunity of a multi-billion dollar conglomerate faced with outcry from academics. But this time all the bad press clearly had an effect, as today Elsevier retracted its support for the RWA, as did the two members of Congress who introduced it!!

So let’s take a moment to celebrate this victory, and thank all the people who rose up to oppose this odious attempt to legislate the elevation of private profit over the public good. It is another testament to the power of collective action in social networks, blogs and the mainstream press, to go along with defeat of SOPA and PIPA earlier this year.

Elsevier and others who have opposed public access will obviously hope that their tactical retreat will damped the enthusiasm of their opponents. But let us not confuse victory in this skirmish with victory. Elsevier’s journals are no more accessible today than there were yesterday. And 85% of the published literature remains locked up behind publishers’ paywalls. We should not rest until that number drops to 0%. And, if anything, we should be emboldened by this success to realize that when scientists and the public scream loudly enough, we are heard and can change things for the better.

So, once again, congratulations. Pause to have a drink to celebrate. But then back to the trenches.

[UPDATE] Fixed a few typos, including an inadvertent celebration of public creaming.

This entry was posted in open access, PLoS, politics, publishing, science, science and politics. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Posted February 27, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Permalink

    Hi Mike — this might be of interest:

    Springer gets suckered by creationist pseudoscience

  2. Posted February 27, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    And, if anything, we should be emboldened by this success to realize that when scientists and the public cream loudly enough, we are heard and can change things for the better.

    OH!!! BABY!!!!! YESSSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! OHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!! YESSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  3. Schoolmarm
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    How many typos can you have in one short post? I hope that’s not a feature of open research. You seem to mistake creaming louder for making sense.

  4. fairscientist
    Posted February 27, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Permalink

    that is good news……yes, let’s get to the open access issue now.

    i wonder how folks see the issue of companies, many of them multi-billion $ ones, paying for journal articles!!!! is it possible that there is no article-procesing fees in plos for academic/not-for-profit researchers and only for folks who work in for-profit places. and is it fair to charge companies to download articles and make it freely accessible to academic/not-for-profit researchers? if not, why not?

    thank you

    • Posted February 27, 2012 at 10:32 pm | Permalink

      @fairscientist: Nobody needs to, or should have to, pay to access the scientific literature. The most efficient way to fund publishing is for funding agencies to support the costs up front and make the contents freely available to everyone. If we try to make anyone pay, the end result will be that the literature is accessed and used less, which is not good for anyone. If we want companies to pay more, we should raise their taxes.

  5. Posted February 28, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Forget boycotting Elsevier. KILL Elsevier.

    The boycott by itself is not enough. If we stop here, Elsevier will simply try this kind of thing again, buy off more politicians, sponsor more bad bills. They can buy off anybody, not just Daryl Issuck and Carolyn Baloney. Scientists need to STOP SETTLING FOR EMPTY PROMISES AND MEANINGLESS TRUCES that only reinforce the pre-RWA status quo of monopolistic paywalls on publicly funded science – we must form an active movement to once and for all break science free from shackles of corporate publishing bureaucrats. The people getting most of Elsevier’s profits are NOT scientists, they are bureaucrats, lawyers, and investors. Elsevier wants war, then make it a bloody one. Switch everyone you know to open-access journals like PLoS, and expose the names of those who don’t make the switch, so we can finally KILL Elsevier. Any university that doesn’t have anti-Elsevier placards in some of its halls has a serious problem.

    The Mathematics backdown is not enough. Why just maths? What about other fields which are STILL imprisoned by ElSerpient’s evil coils? I am in paleontology, and there are literally hundreds of dinosaur anatomy and taxonomy papers that I have been unable to access (by any LEGAL means anyway) because they are all trapped behind Elsevier’s paywalls, even papers that are several decades old! Them offering a brownie for maths and then saying they will continue to oppose federally mandated open-access on all other areas of taxpayer-funded research means they have NO intention of furthering science, and any compromise with them is futile. The only way to liberate science from this prison is to KILL the beast, and expose the names of those scientists who have sold out to it. Anyone who does so, is the only kind of true proponent of open-access and equitable learning. Down with Elsevier, and Wiley, T&F, Springer, and all the rest!!! They are gobbling up the fruits of the American people’s money, and not giving back anything in return!

    We need to hit “Elserpiente” where it hurts, right in the pocketbook. Not only refuse to buy their journals and cancel our subscriptions, but push universities to do the same. Also, we need to identify and EXPOSE those scientists and researchers who are still collaborating with them, and make sure they value their reputation enough to go open-access. If that means writing up a blacklist of traitors to science, so be it. Post in every scientific blog, BAN ELSEVIER, and post the names of those fools in the universities who still support it. Expose the moral bankruptcy and tarnished name of anyone you know who is a lobbyist for them in academia or refuses to stop publishing in their journals. And go to my blog http://paleoking.blogspot.com/ for more info on how to break the grip of this menace for good.

  6. EvoStevo
    Posted February 28, 2012 at 3:35 pm | Permalink

    sorry to see you walk back public creaming.

  7. fairscientist
    Posted February 29, 2012 at 8:48 pm | Permalink

    elsevier has withdrawn support to the rwa. they clearly felt the heat. but is it too little, too late!!!!

    let’s analyze the situation critically. who is responsible for the situation to come to this point. we, the scientists and no one else. i have a simple question. why are we demonizing elsevier and elseviers of the world alone!!!!

    how many of us have guts to walk upto the big guys, the big professors, departmental chairs, hhmi professors, and tell them that publishing in journals that are not open access is not right and they should seriously consider publishing in open access journals.

    as a community, is it time to take a step back and introspect?

    thank you.

  8. fairscientist
    Posted March 2, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Permalink


    “Also, we need to identify and EXPOSE those scientists and researchers who are still collaborating with them, and make sure they value their reputation enough to go open-access”….this is a non-starter…..think about it in practical terms and in order to do what you are suggesting, and btw i am 100% in support of this, there will be no one left (in terms of statistical significance as most scientists today publish in the journals published by these publishers that we all want to vanish)..

    why not to start with your department!!! i don’t know whether you have a department policy but most departments in most universities/research institutes don’t have a policy on research publication that mandates (they cant) open access publication. if it doesn’t exist in your dept., simply go to your chair/head and suggest him/her what you want others to do. let’s see what type of reaction you get…..

    i shall be v eager to get the reaction of your departmental chair/head.

    thank you

  9. Reece
    Posted April 4, 2012 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    “I do not think that word means what you think it means.” — Princess Bride

    Despite differences in the way we (as a society) feel about the merits of various publication models, can we at least agree that “Free full-text, open access” ought to have a straightforward meaning? Not so for the folks at Discovery Medicine apparently: The “outside link” at NCBI for PubMed 22127114 uses as icon with exactly that text. Follow it to… an order page for $39.

    Really, this discussion is hard enough without companies saying one thing an doing another. The Open Source folks felt the need to trademark the term due to shenanigans like this.

    “Open access” means access by anyone, anywhere, any use. Find your own term if you provide less.


  10. Santi
    Posted October 16, 2012 at 3:42 am | Permalink

    This is typical outcome when the people stand together against industry giants like Elsevier! Let’s boycott more publishers so that at least tax-payer funded research outcomes are accessible, free of charge!!!!!!

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