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Behind the Research Works Act: Which U.S. Representatives are Receiving Cash from Reed Elsevier?

A bill (H.R. 3699) recently introduced in the U.S. Congress by  Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) aims to undo open access policies at NIH and to prevent the establishment of open access policies in other federal agencies. The large publishers, as represented by The Association of American Publishers, has expressed its love for this innocuously named “Research Works Act.” Open access advocates understand it as another terrible assault on the public interest and as instrument designed to not only mislead those who do not understand how scholarly research and its communication work but to more intensively transfer public resources into private, corporate hands. I am not going to offer an analysis of the bill and its contexts here.

In this note, I just want to highlight University of California Biologist Michael Eisen’s posting about the Research Works Act. After contextualizing and characterizing H.R. 3699, he points his readers to political contribution data available via MapLight. Looking into which members of Congress have received contributions from the large, multinational scholarly publisher Read Elsevier, Eisen notes that the largest recipient of Elsevier cash is Rep. Maloney (co-sponsor of H.R. 3699). He notes:

Dutch publisher Elsevier and its senior executives made 31 contributions to members of the House in 2011, of which 12 went to Representative Maloney. This includes contributions from 11 senior executives or partners, only one of whom is a resident of her district.

Who else is on the Elsevier donation list? Any guesses? Yes, of course, Rep. Issa. (For the full list of Elsevier recipients, see here.)

Thank you to Professor Eisen for his work digging into this question.

19 Comments Post a comment
  1. Very important post, Jason. Let’s hope some light on this sordid side of the issue slows down the momentum to pass this bill.

    January 5, 2012
  2. but you might want to check the spelling in the title — a couple of typos…

    January 5, 2012
  3. Double thanks Greg.

    January 5, 2012

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

    It is a very widespread and deep error to reckon the potential gains or losses from providing or not providing open access in terms of gains or losses to the publishing industry. Lost or delayed research progress mean losses to the growth and productivity of the US R&D industry in all fields, and hence to the US economy.

    What Needs To Be Done About Public Access to Peer-Reviewed Scholarly Publications Resulting From Federally Funded Research?

    The minimum is for all US federal funders to mandate (require) that: (i) the fundee’s revised, accepted refereed final draft of (ii) all refereed journal articles (including refereed conference articles) resulting from the funded research must be (iii) deposited immediately upon acceptance for publication (iv) in the fundee’s institutional repository. (v) Access to the deposit must be made gratis OA (online access free for all) immediately (no OA embargo) wherever possible (over 60 % of journals already endorse immediate gratis OA self-archiving).

    The purpose of mandating open access to federally funded research findings is order to ensure that it is accessible to all its potential users, not just those whose institutions can afford subscription access to the journal in which it happened to be published.

    Peer-reviewed research journal publishing is a service industry. It exists in the service of research, researchers and research progress, which are vastly larger and more important economically than research journal publishing itself, as a business. It is hence the research publishing industry that must adapt to the powerful new potential that the online era has opened up for research, researchers, research institutions, research funders, the vast R&D industry, teachers, students, and the tax-paying public that funds the research. Not vice versa.

    Economically speaking, it would be a great mistake to conceptualize this new situation as research, researchers, the R&D industry and the US tax-paying public all having to compromise their newfound potential to maximize the research progress – along the lines that have now been made possible by the online era — in order to protect and preserve the current revenue streams and M.O. of the publishing industry, which evolved for the technology and economics of the bygone Gutenberg era of print on paper.

    Research having to adapt to publishing would amount to the publishing tail wagging the research dog. It must always be kept clearly in mind that the peer-reviewed research publishing industry exists as a service industry for research, not vice versa:

    Publicly funded research is entitled to the full scientific and public benefit opened up for it by the new online media. The research publishing industry can and will continue to evolve until it adapts naturally to the new demands and needs of the online age of open access to research.

    Among the many important implications of Houghton et al’s (2009) timely and illuminating analysis of the costs and benefits of providing free online access (“Open Access,” OA) to peer-reviewed scholarly and scientific journal articles one stands out as particularly compelling: It would yield a forty-fold benefit/cost ratio if the world’s peer-reviewed research were all self-archived by its authors so as to make it OA. There are many assumptions and estimates underlying Houghton et al’s modelling and analyses, but they are for the most part very reasonable and even conservative. This makes their strongest practical implication particularly striking: The 40-fold benefit/cost ratio of providing Green OA is an order of magnitude greater than all the other potential combinations of alternatives to the status quo analyzed and compared by Houghton et al. This outcome is all the more significant in light of the fact that self-archiving already rests entirely in the hands of the research community (researchers, their institutions and their funders), whereas OA publishing depends on the publishing community. Perhaps most remarkable is the fact that this outcome emerged from studies that approached the problem primarily from the standpoint of the economics of publication rather than the economics of research.

    It is ironic that some publishers are calling Open Access self-archiving by authors (“Green OA”) “parasitic” when not only are researchers giving publishers their articles for free, as well as peer-reviewing them for free, but research institutions are paying for subscriptions in full, covering all publishing costs and profits. The only natural and obvious source of the money to pay for OA publishing fees (“Gold OA”) – if and when all journals convert to Gold OA — is hence the money that institutions are currently spending on subscriptions — if and when subscriptions eventually become unsustainable.

    What the research community needs, urgently, is free online access (Open Access, OA) to its own peer-reviewed research output. Researchers can provide that in two ways: by publishing their articles in OA journals (Gold OA) or by continuing to publish in non-OA journals and self-archiving their final peer-reviewed drafts in their own OA Institutional Repositories (Green OA). OA self-archiving, once it is mandated by research institutions and funders, can reliably generate 100% Green OA. Gold OA requires journals to convert to OA publishing (which is not in the hands of the research community) and it also requires the funds to cover the Gold OA publication costs. With 100% Green OA, the research community’s access and impact problems are already solved. If and when 100% Green OA should cause significant cancellation pressure (no one knows whether or when that will happen, because OA Green grows anarchically, article by article, not journal by journal) then the cancellation pressure will cause cost-cutting, downsizing and eventually a leveraged transition to OA (Gold) publishing on the part of journals. As subscription revenues shrink, institutional windfall savings from cancellations grow. If and when journal subscriptions become unsustainable, per-article publishing costs will be low enough, and institutional savings will be high enough to cover them, because publishing will have downsized to just peer-review service provision alone, offloading text-generation onto authors and access-provision and archiving onto the global network of OA Institutional Repositories. Green OA will have leveraged a transition to Gold OA.

    Stevan Harnad
    Founder and Moderator, American Scientist Open Access Forum (AmSci) 1998-2011
    Canada Research Chair in Cognitive Sciences, UQaM, Montreal
    Adjunct Professor of Cognitive Sciences, U Southampton, UK

    Harnad, S. (2011) What Is To Be Done About Public Access to Peer-Reviewed Scholarly Publications Resulting From Federally Funded Research? (Response to US OSTP RFI).

    Harnad, S. (2011) Open Access Is a Research Community Matter, Not a Publishing Community Matter. Lifelong Learning in Europe, XVI (2). pp. 117-118.

    Harnad, S. (2010) The Immediate Practical Implication of the Houghton Report: Provide Green Open Access Now. Prometheus, 28 (1). pp. 55-59.

    Harnad, S. (2007) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition. In: The Culture of Periodicals from the Perspective of the Electronic Age, pp. 99-105, L’Harmattan.

    January 6, 2012
  5. Thank you Stevan.

    January 6, 2012
  6. Just posted on my blog a piece where I suggest that academics retaliate by boycotting Elsevier journals

    January 7, 2012

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