Recent (March 29) testimony to the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology seems to have re-drawn the battle lines over open access mandates, with one side touting the reintroduction of the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA), and the other claiming that the existing provision for an executive branch working group in the America COMPETES Act of 2010 works, and should be left alone.

The hearing was called, “Federally Funded Research: Examining Public Access and Scholarly Publication Interests.”

Though FRPAA was not yet being considered in Committee–it has to attract more cosponsors before committees will plan hearings on it, according to the spokesman for Mike Doyle (D-PA)–, Stuart Shieber, Director of the Office for Scholarly Communication at Harvard University and Elliot Maxwell, Fellow of the Communications Program at Johns Hopkins University testified on its behalf, saying it would provide better access to research results and economic benefits.

Scott Plutchak of the Health Sciences Library at U. Alabama, Birmingham,¬† H. Dylla of the American Institute of Physics, and Dr. Crispin Taylor Executive Director of the American Society of Plant Biologists argued that FRPAA was a “blanket approach” that would restrict innovation, publisher profits and flexibility, and ultimately access.

Plutchak, Dylla, and Taylor all spoke of the America COMPETES Act as more likely than FRPAA to foster a “robust” and “nuanced” system that encourages flexibility and federal agency/publisher partnerships. Taylor’s testimony repeatedly urged a “sensible, flexible, and cautious” approach.

Maxwell’s testimony referred to his own research on the economics of journal publishing in the NIH-mandate environment, in which he found not only that there was no evidence that the NIH policy harmed journal subscription rates, profits, or ability to carry out peer-review, but that in the environment of the NIH mandate, new journals continued to proliferate and existing journals increased profit margins.

Shieber’s testimony touched on other economic potentials of Open Access, such as text mining, which would of course depend on comprehensive availability of open-source articles.

He also pointed out “systemic problems” in the existing journal publishing structure that prevent the “widest possible dissemination” of scholarly materials. He had two recommendations for solving this distribution problem:

1. More institutions should emulate open access policies like Harvard’s, which mandates that faculty grant a license to the university to distribute their scholarly articles through article repositories;

2. Scholars should, when possible, publish research in open-access journals, which repositions the cost of journal publishing from libraries on behalf of readers to funding agencies and/or employing institutions on behalf of authors.

The anti-FRPAA position was represented neatly by Taylor, who said, “A centralized approach discourages innovation by driving traffic away from innovators, including publishers, thus minimizing scientific and commercial opportunities.”

Taylor’s position, though, rests on three assumptions: One, that publishers have a greater claim on innovation in this area than scholars, universities, university libraries, and federal agencies; two, that publishers’ current contributions to academic publishing¬† (coordinating peer review, page composition, copyediting, and listing and linking of bibliographic and reference data) would be unsustainable under the mandated deposit models championed by Shieber and Maxwell; and three, that publishers would operate in good faith and continue to work toward an open access model of publication without mandates to do so.

The first two are arguable positions, though Maxwell has demonstrated that the second position seems to fall apart under close scrutiny. The third position, given the meteoric rise in subscription prices and the growth of academic publisher profits during a recession, seems hard to support.

One thought on “FRPAA v. America COMPETES Act

  1. Open Access is a growing international movement that uses the Internet to throw open the locked doors that once hid knowledge. It encourages the unrestricted sharing of research results with everyone, everywhere, for the advancement and enjoyment of science and society.In this OMICS group publishes various journals.

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