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[BOAI] Re: US Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006
From: Stevan Harnad <harnad AT ecs.soton.ac.uk>
** Apologies for Cross-Posting ** As presently drafted, the wording of the the timely and extremely welcome US Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) http://cornyn.senate.gov/doc_archive/05-02-2006_COE06461_xml.pdf stands to create needless problems for itself that could even make it fail under the already-gathering opposition from the publisher lobby: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/08/business/media/08journal.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&oref=slogin&adxnnlx=1147107814-LFLCRUGWHIqcRqKhm1BhhQ Yet the FRPAA's flaws are ever so easily correctable: The gist of the problem is all there in this well-meaning quote by Senator John Cornyn (R, co-sponsor of the bill (with Senator Joe Lieberman, D: quotation is from Robin Peek's Newsbreak in Information Today): http://www.infotoday.com/newsbreaks/nb060508-2.shtml > JC: "Making this information available to the public will lead > to faster discoveries, innovations and cures"..." This same logic underlies the Bill itself. The publisher lobby will (quite rightly) jump straight onto the two profound errors in this reasoning, and they will use it, for all its worth, against the Bill: (1) For most of the research literature, the public has neither the expertise nor the interest to read it. (2) Making it accessible to the public, does not make for cures! Yet the remedy is so absurdly simple: The pressing reason for making research accessible to everyone is *not* because the general public has a pressing interest in reading it, nor because the *public's* reading it will result in cures. It is so that *researchers* -- those specialists by and for whom it was written, the ones with the expertise to use, apply and build upon it -- can access and apply it, to the benefit of the general public who paid for it. In Senator Cornyn's quote, the following sentence comes second, and too late, already undone by the first statement (and the logic is similarly backwards in the Bill itself): > JC: "This bill will give the American taxpayer a greater return on > on its research investment." The right way to put it is: "Making this information available to all researchers who can use, apply and build upon it will lead to faster discoveries, innovations and cures, thereby giving American taxpayers a greater return on their research investment. As a side bonus, the tax-paying public too will have access to as much as they may feel they wish to read of the research they have funded." Today, most of published research is not accessible to much of its potential research-user population because no researcher's institution can afford paid access to more than a fraction of it. *That's* the real public rationale for mandating self-archiving: so that the tax-paying public that funds the research can benefit from the "discoveries, innovations and cures" that will arise from making research findings accessible to all researchers who can use and apply them. UK: "Maximising the Return on the UK's Public Investment in ↵ Research" http://openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/28-guid.html CANADA: "Making the case for web-based self-archiving" http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/11534/ EUROPE: "Publish or Perish -- Self-Archive to Flourish" http://www.ercim.org/publication/Ercim_News/enw64/harnad.html AUSTRALIA: "Australia Is Not Maximising the Return on its Research Investment" http://eprints.comp.utas.edu.au:81/archive/00000204/ Of course, the general public can and will be able to read whatever they wish of research too, if it is made OA. But it is foolish in the extreme to base the case for making research OA on the putative pressing need for the public to read it, and the putative "discoveries, innovations and cures" that the *reading public* will provide as a result! Why would the FRPAA make such a silly strategic error? Because, superficially, the right of the tax-paying public to access the research that they have paid for looks like a spinnable "public good" issue as well as a spinnable "public right-to-know" issue. In that (flawed) ↵ form, it looks like viable political-campaign material. But what makes it look like such a compelling naive-voter issue is also its fatal weakness, once the publisher lobby -- which is not at all naive -- attacks it: because the two points I have made above are dead-obvious, and can stop the momentum of OA dead in its tracks *if the FRPAA has no stronger rationale to back it up with*. Here is what I would immediately say if I were in the publisher lobby (and believe me, the publishers are already busy saying it): "The government wants to put the revenues of a viable industry at possible risk simply because it thinks the general public has a burning need to read mostly-technical texts written for a small population of specialists. (Here we have some public-library data on the infinitesimal rate at which the general public actually consults this kind of specialized material when it is made freely available to them: Is this what all the fuss is about? Because if it's instead just about access to the kind of clinical-health-related material that we *do* have evidence the public wants to consult, we can easily work out a side-deal instead of the FRPAA that leaves most of the research literature in closed access, as it is now, with some exceptions for articles of potential clinical relevance and hence public interest). "And why on earth does the government imagine that giving the general public access to the research literature gives rise to more or faster "discoveries, innovations and cures"? Who does ↵ the government imagine is providing those "discoveries, innovations and cures"? It is not the general public but the small population of specialists who already have access to the research." The requisite stronger rationale to counter these obvious (and valid) criticisms is precisely: *research, from researchers, to researchers, for the sake of the research funder, the public* -- along with the empirical evidence (from comparative usage and impact data for articles within the same journal issues that have and have not been made OA by their authors by self-archiving them) that the "small population of specialists who already have access to the research" is in reality only a fraction of its potential research usership. http://opcit.eprints.org/oacitation-biblio.html But the primary, solid and unassailable rationale -- the real rationale for OA all along: research for researchers -- needs to be put first, up-front, rather than trying to put the self-archiving mandate across under the banner of the weaker, defeasible rationale: "research for public use." [This could be supplemented by the case for the need for access to the primary research literature for students who are learning to become researchers (again not the general public).] Nothing at all is lost from remedying the FRPAA wording in this way. Public access still comes with the OA territory. But it immunizes the Bill, pre-emptively, against these obvious (and valid) prima facie publisher counter-arguments, whereas the current version is positively provoking them. In addition to this remediable flaw in the FPRAA's fundamental rationale for mandating self-archiving, there is also the functional flaw I mentioned in my previous posting on this topic (that of allowing any delay at all). http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/%7Eharnad/Hypermail/Amsci/5340.html This second flaw is also easily remedied (by what Peter Suber has come to call the "dual deposit/release policy") which is simply to mandate immediate deposit for *all* FRPAA-funded articles, and allow the 6-month delay only for the timing of the OA access-setting (Open Access vs. Closed Access), rather than for the timing of the deposit itself. http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Temp/weaker-OApolicy.htm That way, the new "Request Email Eprint" button -- now implemented in both the Eprints and Dspace Institutional Repositories and allowing individual users to request an email version directly from the author, semi-automatically -- will tide over any 6-month delay almost as effectively as immediate OA for all those would-be users who need it. https://secure.ecs.soton.ac.uk/notices/publicnotices.php?notice=902 Stevan Harnad American Scientist Open Access Forum http://amsci-forum.amsci.org/archives/American-Scientist-Open-Access-Forum.html
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