Stevan Harnad’s response to Rep. Conyers

Stevan Harnad, Rep. John Conyers Explains his Bill H.R. 801 in the Huffington Post, Open Access Archivangelism, March 7, 2009.  Excerpt:

Reply to: Conyers, John (2009) A Reply to Larry Lessig. The Huffington Post. March 6, 2009.

Congressman John Conyers (D. Mich) is probably sincere when he says that his motivation for his Bill is not to reward contributions from the publishers’ anti-OA lobby: He pretty much says up front that his motivation is jurisdictional.

Here are the (familiar, and oft-rebutted) arguments Rep Conyers refloats, but I think he is raising them less out of conviction that they are right than as a counterweight against the jurisdictional outcome he contests….(By the way, the original Bill was anything but secret as it made its way through the House Appropriations Committee, then the House, then the Senate, as Peter Suber’s many OA News postings archived along the way will attest.)

Rep. John Conyers:
"[O]pponents [of mandating Open Access to publicly funded research] argue that, in reality, it reverses a long-standing and highly successful copyright policy for federally-funded work and sets a precedent that will have significant negative consequences for scientific research." …

(3) Evidence of Positive Consequences: The actual consequences of self-archiving to date have all been positive ones, for research progress: enhanced visibility, access, uptake, usage, applications and impact for research findings.

(4) No Evidence of Negative Consequences: The "significant negative consequences" to which Mr. Conyers alludes (on the prompting of the publishing lobby) are the hypothetical possibility — for which there so far exists no actual evidence whatsoever — that OA self-archiving will cause subscriptions (largely institutional) to be cancelled catastrophically, making them unsustainable as the means of covering the costs of peer review….

Rep. John Conyers:
"These opponents argue that scientific journals expend their own, non-federal resources to manage the peer review process, where experts review academic publications. This process is critical….Journal publishers organize and pay for peer review with the proceeds they receive from the sale of subscriptions to their journals, thereby adding considerable value to the original manuscripts of research scientists."

All true. But no argument at all against Open Access self-archiving mandates! As long as subscriptions remain sustainable to cover the peer review costs…things continue exactly as they do now (and as they have done for over a decade in the few fields, such as high energy physics, where OA self-archiving has been going on spontaneously at close to 100% levels already with no detectable effect on subscriptions).

And if ever subscriptions fail, peer review will be paid on the OA publication-fee model that some OA journals such as PLoS and BMC already use today — but paid for out of the universal windfall cancellation savings, instead of out of extra funds, poached from somewhere else (often scarce research funds themselves!), as now.

In other words, the ominous talk about a threat to peer review is patent nonsense….

To try instead to keep holding back OA, now…despite its demonstrated direct benefits to research, just in order to insure publishers’ current subscription revenues and modus operandi from hypothetical risk is rather like trying to keep coal-fed steam engines or horse-drawn carriages in service in order to insure the revenues of stokers and the hay industry — except it’s more like trying to do that with hospital ambulances….

PS:  Also see my own response to Conyers’ defense of his bill.