Elsevier just blinked on the Research Works Act. It’s an entirely welcome development… but it’s unlikely to help them very much.
As with the 2007 protest, throwing the least-essential part of their strategy to the wolves only made sense, no doubt. Moreover, the RWA didn’t look like passing anyway, so why dwell? Call DC, call off the paid legislators, done. The only obvious cost is a minuscule amount of face on the part of those legislators, and legislators are accustomed to that, so they’ll keep taking Elsevier’s phone calls.
Will this allow Elsevier to regain face with boycotters? The Loon rather doubts it. It might have done once, but because The Cost of Knowledge has three parts to its manifesto, boycotters have been introduced to more about Elsevier than just its shady dealings with legislators. Boycotters will see this move for what it is: a sop to the wolves.
Will it allow Elsevier to regain face with provosts? Yes… for now… but the next comically oversized bill presented to a library whose provost is on the signatory list will (if the librarians have the sense deity gave a loon) make its way upstairs and cause Elsevier more heartburn than it’s worth. It’s an uneven form of market discipline, and it won’t last long, but it might help poor Purdue.
PubMed Central is probably safe from open Elsevierian meddling of the RWA sort henceforth. It’s here to stay, then, and open-access advocates should count that a significant victory. The Loon wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see the PRISM Coalition make a reappearance, as Elsevier tries less open (so to speak) methods of throwing sand in the gears, but the PRISM Coalition never did accomplish anything and seems unlikely to now.
Given that, the question in the Loon’s mind is whether PubMed Central can serve as a legislative wedge for FRPAA: “if it works for medicine, why doesn’t it make sense for all of science?” It can, in the sense that the identical instant Elsevier gets caught in serious anti-FRPAA lobbying, the boycotters will bay at their heels again. It won’t, in the sense that legislators haven’t the least clue what PubMed Central is, even after RWA.
The Loon has improved her personal odds of FRPAA passage… but only to 60%, this time around. It’ll be back if it fails; it always has.
If it doesn’t serve as legislative wedge, however, there’s a slim chance it’ll serve as cover for one of the other big government science funders to go it alone. The NSF is the likeliest candidate, of course, but they’re also the fattest target for the ire of such as Elsevier, so who knows? Like as not they’ll be content to sit back and wait for FRPAA.
As for the Loon, she rather thinks she enjoys helping make Elsevier blink. Let’s try it again!
- On library-school admissions
- If you were a publisher…