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.