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Why does the University of California Press support reactionary legislation opposing public access to scientific research?

Michael Eisen, Professor of molecular and cell biology | January 5, 2012

A bill (H.R. 3699) was just introduced into the US House of Representatives that would deny the American public access to the results of scientific and medical research carried out at taxpayer expense.

The bill’s target is the National Institutes of Health’s 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.

Because of this policy, enacted in 2008, physicians and their patients, teachers and their students, policymakers and the public have access 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 many in the scientific and medical publishing industry. And Reps Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) just introduced a bill – seemingly at the behest of publishers – that would end the NIH Public Access Policy, and forbid any other federal agency from doing anything like it. Unsurprisingly, the bill was immediately endorsed by the Association of American Publishers (and sounds as if it were written by them), under the ludicrous pretense that the policy threatens American jobs.

What IS surprising, however, that the University of California Press is a member of the AAP, and is thus complicit is this atrocious effort to place the private interests of a small number of publishers ahead of the public good.

At a time when the University is facing horrific budget cuts, it is simply inexcusable that funds from a University subsidized entity are being used to promote reactionary legislation that is completely antithetical to the interests of the University, its students, teachers and researchers, and the public.

The Press should denounce this bill and suspend its membership in the AAP until it reverses its opposition to the NIH Public Access policy. If it does not, the University must terminate their relationship immediately.

Comments to “Why does the University of California Press support reactionary legislation opposing public access to scientific research?

  1. “Research Works Act H.R.3699: The Private Publishing Tail Trying To Wag The Public Research Dog, Yet Again”


    The US Research Works Act (H.R.3699):

    “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.”

    Translation and Comments:

    “If public tax money is used to fund research, that research becomes “private research” once a publisher “adds value” to it by managing the peer review.”

    [Comment: Researchers do the peer review for the publisher for free, just as researchers give their papers to the publisher for free, together with the exclusive right to sell subscriptions to it, on-paper and online, seeking and receiving no fee or royalty in return].

    “Since that public research has thereby been transformed into “private research,” and the publisher’s property, the government that funded it with public tax money should not be allowed to require the funded author to make it accessible for free online for those users who cannot afford subscription access.”

    [Comment: The author’s sole purpose in doing and publishing the research, without seeking any fee or royalties, is so that all potential users can access, use and build upon it, in further research and applications, to the benefit of the public that funded it; this is also the sole purpose for which public tax money is used to fund research.]”

    H.R. 3699 misunderstands the secondary, service role that peer-reviewed research journal publishing plays in US research and development and its (public) funding….

    • Steven,

      I am just saying “thank you” for succinctly translating the legalese of HR 3699, and rebutting it. I think this legislation is of a kind with SOPA and its ilk: overreaching by corporations trying to monetize and privatize as much of the public good as possible, while dumping the cost of “externalities” on the public.

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