Washington DC Principles for Free Access to Science Coalition Statement

Hard on the heels of the "Brussels Declaration on STM Publishing" by STM publishers, the Washington DC Principles for Free Access to Science Coalition has issued a statement condemning the Federal Research Public Access Act and similar measures.

An excerpt from the press release follows:

"The long tradition of methodical scientific inquiry and information sharing through publication in scholarly journals has helped advance medicine to where it is today," said Martin Frank of the American Physiological Society and coordinator of the coalition. "We as independent publishers must determine when it is appropriate to make content freely available, and we believe strongly it should not be determined by government mandate."

The Coalition also reaffirmed its ongoing practice of making millions of scientific journal articles available free of charge, without an additional financial burden on the scientific community or on funding agencies. More than 1.6 million free articles are already available to the public free of charge on HighWire Press.

"The scholarly publishing system is a delicate balance between the need to sustain journals financially and the goal of disseminating scientific knowledge as widely as possible. Publishers have voluntarily made more journal articles available free worldwide than at any time in history — without government intervention," noted Kathleen Case of the American Association for Cancer Research.

The Coalition expressed concern that a mandatory timetable for free access to all federally funded research could harm journals, scientists, and ultimately the public. Subscriptions to journals with a high percentage of federally funded research would decline rapidly. Subscription revenues support the quality control system known as peer review and also support the educational work of scientific societies that publish journals.

Undermining subscriptions would shift the cost of publication from the publisher who receives subscription revenue to the researcher who receives grants. Such a shift could:

Divert scarce dollars from research. Publishers now pay the cost of publication out of subscription revenue; if the authors have to pay, the funds will come from their research grants. Nonprofit journals without subscription revenue would have to rely on the authors’ grant funds to cover publication costs, which would divert funding from research.

Result in only well-funded scientists being able to publish their work. The ability to publish in scientific journals should be available equally to all.

Reduce the ability of journals to fund peer review. Most journals spend 40% or more of their revenue on quality control through the peer review system; without subscription income and with limitations on author fees, peer review would suffer.

Harm those scientific societies that rely on income from journals to fund the professional development of scientists. Revenues from scholarly publications fund research, fellowships to junior scientists, continuing education, and mentoring programs to increase the number of women and under-represented groups in science, among many other activities.

Prominent open access advocates Stevan Harnad and Peter Suber have both critiqued the statement in detail.

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