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    • CommentRowNumber1.
    • CommentAuthorScott Morrison
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2012
    • (edited Mar 6th 2012)

    The Association of American Publishers just posted a letter outlining their opposition to the Federal Research Public Access Act, available here.

    To my unpleasant surprise, the AMS is listed as a signatory. Have they independently made a statement about signing this letter? Can we encourage someone from the AMS to comment directly?

    How can we persuade the AMS that opposing the FRPAA is a terrible idea?

    • CommentRowNumber2.
    • CommentAuthorcarolh1
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2012

    Why don’t you just write to Donald McClure, Exec Director of AMS?

    • CommentRowNumber3.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeMar 6th 2012
    • (edited Mar 6th 2012)
    I have nothing to do with the AMS decision of course, but I have to admit that I'm very uncomfortable with FRPAA, because of the six-month window. Such a small window might make sense in fields like biology or medicine, where publication is fast, papers aren't disseminated in other ways, and people really care about having the very latest results. In math, a six-month window is tantamount to no window at all, and it would definitely break the subscription model if it were adopted more widely. Government-funded research may not be enough to break the model by itself, but it would be a big step in that direction; plus, I just don't think Congress should be micromanaging research agencies by doing things like setting explicit time windows for open access (lobbying is not the right way to settle these issues, even if it's convenient when you're on the winning side).

    I really care about these issues, and if FRPAA were modified to allow funding agencies to set different windows based on the publication practices of the individual fields (maybe four or five years in math), I'd be very enthusiastic about it. Even aside from that, I think we need to find ways to move past the subscription model altogether (SCOAP3 is a possibility I'm very excited about), but we should be careful until we have something else in place.

    Incidentally, regarding breaking the subscription model, the Annals is a depressing case. When they tried becoming open access, libraries dropped about a third of all their subscriptions over a five-year period, even though the Annals is extremely affordable; at that point the Annals called off the experiment, out of fear of a vicious cycle of higher prices and lower subscription counts. University libraries are under terrible pressure, and they will cut any subscription they think they can possibly live without. Furthermore, thanks to bundling, the first ones they cut won't be the overpriced subscriptions from large publishers.
  1. @Henry Cohn - sorry, I fail to understand why you think that *longer* window would be more beneficial than the six months proposed in FRPAA. Why is locking the research behind a paywall for a longer term better? Please elaborate.
    • CommentRowNumber5.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeMar 7th 2012
    Certainly research ought to be open access. We're moving rapidly in that direction: I'm confident that before long, all math papers in reputable journals will be asymptotically open access (i.e., open access after a delay), and I think they will probably all end up being completely open access.

    We could do that right now, except for the finances. It actually costs a lot to run a high-quality journal; some of this can be covered by volunteers, but the math community is not capable of scaling up the volunteerism by a factor of a hundred or more.

    Plus, many mathematical societies (AMS, SIAM, LMS, etc.) make a profit from their journal publishing, and they spend this money on a lot of worthwhile things (conferences, education, outreach). If they lose this income source, then they will not be able to make it up by tolerable dues increases; instead, we'll end up with much higher dues and fewer activities. I don't want to preserve Elsevier's outrageously high profit, but anyone providing a useful service deserves to make a modest profit, and I do care about the AMS's profit. But even more important than the profit is making sure the journals can actually operate.

    There are several options for solving this problem, such as submission or publication fees. My favorite by far is the SCOAP3 model (, in which a consortium of libraries and funding bodies pool their money to support open access journals with no fees. It will go into operation in high-energy physics in January, 2013, and it should lead to substantially lower costs while providing completely open access to everyone. We should do this in mathematics, and a number of people are talking about trying. However, it may take a few years to set up, since you need to get firm commitments from universities and publishers before it can go into effect, and it will have to grow even once it is started (although I think it will be so obviously superior to the current system - open access and less risky for publishers - they once the option is there, everyone will push to get their favorite journals involved).

    While the community works on a long-term solution, we need to keep the current system operating until we get there. The AMS's experience shows that a five-year open access delay will not hurt the subscription rate, while the Annals's shows that complete open access really is risky if your operations are funded by subscriptions. Six months is short enough, compared with the math publishing cycle length, that it may well function the same as no delay. (The big unknown is how libraries would react to the fact that it did not cover all papers, but they might decide that FRPAA plus the arXiv covered enough papers that they could afford to pay for any remaining papers faculty needed individually. I don't think they should do this, but library budgets are in a desperate state, and they may decide they need to take this opportunity to save money.) This could then force us to greatly speed up the transition to a new system. That would be wonderful if we got the same system faster, but I think we would get a worse system. Some systems (like submission or publication fees) are easier to implement quickly, and even if we got a consortium-style system, having less time to negotiate could lead to higher costs or worse policies.

    So, from the perspective of mathematics, FRPAA will not be needed in the long run, and there's a real risk of screwing up the process of getting there. If FRPAA had more flexibility on time windows, then it would be harmless (while providing a valuable statement of principles and some practical benefit if the open access transition lasts that long), but as it is, I think it would give us a few extra years of open access at the possible cost of a worse system in the long run. It might turn out to be harmless, but the process of publishing reform is already risky, and I don't think we should be adding risks without a compelling reason.

    Instead of lobbying for FRPAA, I think mathematicians who care about these issues should be investigating various open access funding models (for example, SCOAP3) and lobbying to math societies, math departments, libraries, etc. If we can handle the funding issues, then moving away from the subscription model will be easy, and if we can't, then we will never make progress, so this should be our top priority.
    • CommentRowNumber6.
    • CommentAuthorScott Morrison
    • CommentTimeMar 7th 2012

    Thanks Henry for a great summary of the difficulties with FRPAA! I’m had a conversation with Rob Kirby this afternoon in which he brought up many of the same points, and particularly explained how he thought FRPAA would adversely affect Mathematical Sciences Publishers.

    I think on balance if it were up to me, I’d put FRPAA as written currently into action — my fear that we’ll grind on in the current system for too long outweighs my worry about the crash landing after such a big change. But I absolutely agree with your point that the six month window is essentially no window at all for mathematics.

    • CommentRowNumber7.
    • CommentAuthorScott Morrison
    • CommentTimeMar 8th 2012
    • (edited Mar 8th 2012)

    I wrote to Eric Friedlander, who replied, but then said that I could only share the response with “friends”; so please email me if you’d like to see his response.

    • CommentRowNumber8.
    • CommentAuthorHenry Cohn
    • CommentTimeMar 8th 2012
    Incidentally, my view of FRPAA is that its relationship with the Research Works Act really complicated things. Neither RWA nor FRPAA was likely to pass, at least in this session of Congress. Elsevier pushed for RWA to put open access advocates on the defensive. Of course they would have been happy if it had passed, but I'd bet they mainly envisioned tying up OA advocates so they would spend their energy fighting RWA. (This is speculation, and I have no inside information.) FRPAA was viewed by many people in just the same way: it opened up a new front against Elsevier, and it reframed the debate by introducing a more extreme option, so choosing neither FRPAA nor RWA would seem like a reasonable compromise. Overall, a lot of people tolerated FRPAA because its existence was politically useful and it was not likely to actually become law, even though they didn't like the way it was formulated. Then when RWA died and the FRPAA advocates wanted to really push to try to get it to pass, they were dismayed to discover that there wasn't as much support for FRPAA as they had anticipated.

    The sad thing is that I think research should be open access - I'm just concerned about the details of FRPAA, and I think there are much better paths forward.