The New York Times (via CNET) reports on how some publishers have responded to the introduction of the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006. The gist of it?
Scholarly publishing has never been a big business. But it could take a financial hit if a proposed federal law is enacted, opening taxpayer-financed research to the public, according to some critics in academic institutions.
Never been a big business?! Don’t tell Elsevier shareholders.
There are two arguments in this article made against the bill from representatives of scholarly societies, for whom publishing isn’t a big business but is the activity that helps pay their bills and provide membership perks; they have good, honest reasons to be concerned that they will lose the income they have used for their societies. Though in this article, the arguement is framed a little differently: subscriptions may drop off and that will make it harder to sell ads because they can’t claim as many readers will see the ads. (Advertising? Is that where the money comes from? Who knew?) The other is a little more contentious.
Scientific data is easily misinterpreted, said Joann Boughman, executive vice president of the American Society of Human Genetics, publisher of The American Journal of Human Genetics. “Consumers themselves are saying, ‘We have the right to know these things as quickly as we can.’ That is not incorrect. However, wherever there is a benefit, there is a risk associated with it.”
So, make libraries pay for the subscriptions and make them available to a limited audience so the gullible public won’t read and misinterpret results. Because that would be bad for them. Right.
I always thought the argument that ordinary folks will benefit by being able to read research results a little dubious; it’s not that they will benefit by reading them, because for the most part they won’t, but that they will benefit because scientists will have greater access to them. And that public good is why we fund their research in the first place.