By Naty Hoffman
In 2008, legislation was passed requiring all NIH-funded researchers to submit their papers to an openly available repository within a year of publication. Even this modest step towards full open access was immediately attacked by rent-seeking scientific publishers.
More recently the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy started to collect public feedback on expanding open access. The first phase of this process ends on December 20th.
From ACM’s official comment, it is clearly joining the rent-seekers. This is perhaps not surprising, considering the recent ACM take-down of Ke-Sen Huang’s paper link pages (Bernard Rous, who signed the comment, is also the person who issued the take-down). In the paper link case ACM did eventually see reason. At the time, I naively believed this marked a fundamental change in ACM’s approach; I have been proven wrong.
ACM’s comment can be found towards the bottom of this link; I will quote the salient parts here for comment.
ACM: “We think it is imperative that deposits be made in institutional repositories vs. a centralized repository…”
A centralized repository is more valuable than a scattering of papers on author’s institutional web pages. ACM evidently agrees, given that it has gone to the trouble of setting up just such a repository (the Digital Library). ACM’s only problem with a central, open access repository is that it would compete with its own (closed) one. Since an open repository contributes far more value to the community than one locked behind a paywall, ACM appears to value its revenue streams over the good of the community it supposedly exists to serve.
ACM: “…essentially everything ACM publishes is freely available somewhere on the Web… In our community, as in others, voluntary posting is working.”
This is demonstrably false. Almost every graphics conference has papers which are not openly available. Many computing fields are even worse off.
Most infuriatingly, ACM presents a false balance between its own needs and the needs of the computing community:
ACM: “…there is a fundamental balance or compromise in how ACM and the community have approached this issue – a balance that serves both… We think it is imperative that any federally mandated open access policy maintain a similar balance… There is an approach to open access that allows the community immediate access to research results but also allows scholarly publishers like ACM to sustain their publishing programs. It is all about balance.”
What nonsense is this? The ACM has no legitimate needs or interests other than those of its members! How would U.S. voters react to a Senator claiming that a given piece of legislation (say, one reducing restrictions on campaign financing) “strikes a fundamental balance between the needs of the Senate and those of the United States of America”? ACM has lost its way, profoundly and tragically.
As much as Mr. Rous would like to think otherwise, ACM’s publishing program is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. ACM arguing that an open repository of papers would be harmful because it “undermines the unique value” of ACM’s closed repository is like the Salvation Army arguing that a food stamp program is harmful because it “undermines the unique value” of their soup kitchens.
If you are an ACM member, these statements were made in your name. Regardless of membership, if you care at all about access to research publications please make your opinion known. Read the OSTP blog post carefully, and post a polite, well-reasoned argument in the comments. Note that first you need to register and log in – the DigitalKoans blog has the details:
Note: To post comments on the OSTP Blog, you must register and login. There are registration and login links on the sidebar of the blog home page at the bottom right (these links are not on individual blog postings).
Hurry! The deadline for Phase I comments (which include the ACM comment) is December 20th, though you can make your opinion known in the other phases as well.