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March 2, 2012
Elsevier Backs Down on RWA
Late in January I noted that researchers were organizing a petition against scientific publisher Elsevier
, in an attempt to get it to change its practices. Earlier this week, Boingboing pointed me to a news message from Elsevier indicating that it had given in on one of the major points in the petition: withdrawing support for restrictive new legislation
Specifically, Elsevier has withdrawn its support for RWA, the Research Works Act. The Act would have prohibited open access to much federally funded research, reversing long-standing policy of many federal agencies that fund a great deal of the scientific research done in the US. Of course, this would have benefited publishers such as Elsevier, who would have become the sole (expensive, for-pay) conduits for this research. Without Elsevier's support, the bill appears dead.
In his post, Doctorow posed the question of "whether paying Elsevier is the best way to do science and scholarship." I think that's something of a rhetorical flourish as he (and anyone who works in the field) knows, the scientific and technical publishing machines are at best necessary evils. I confess I was wrong in thinking a boycott threat would not be effective, but I still believe that in order to get any real change from the publishers, academics will need to do a lot more soul-searching and changing of how they conduct important business such as tenure review cases.
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