Sunday, July 03, 2011

STM submission to European Institute of Innovation & Technology: a critique

The International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM), in their latest anti-open-access lobbying ploy, has just released the STM submission on the open public consultation on the European Institute of Innovation and Technology.

Some comments:

SUSTAINABILITY of scholarly publishing - STM says: "Because the public interest is not served if access to and dissemination of trusted scientific publications and data is not sustainable". Hear, hear! By all means, let's mandate sustainability of scholarly publishing. John Houghton & colleagues have done some excellent research indicating some cost-effective solutions. In particular, the most transformative model - deposit into open access archives with a peer review overlay and dispense with journals altogether - is particularly recommended. This seems a curious argument coming from STM. I wonder if one the largest STM publishers, Elsevier, would survive if economic sustainability were mandated for scholarly publishing.

EXCLUSIVE copyright is what STM says it needs: "rules governing publication must allow publishers to obtain the exclusive use of copyrighted content in relevant media (e.g. online, electronic, print, micro-fiche etc) so that the substantial investments they make in scholarly communication can be recovered". Oh really?

This is what STM says in the consultation on the European Institute of Innovation and Technology; but what do members tell their scholarly authors? Here is what the Elsevier Author's Rights page has to say: "Elsevier wants to ensure a proper balance between the scholarly rights which authors retain (or are granted/transferred back in some cases) and the rights granted to Elsevier that are necessary to support our mix of business models". Wiley's Authors Rights section says: "Wiley-Blackwell journal authors can use their article in a number of ways, including in publications of their own work and course packs in their institution." Taylor & Francis say: 'We prefer authors to assign copyright to Taylor & Francis or the journal proprietor (such as a learned society on whose behalf we publish), but accept that authors may prefer to give Taylor & Francis an exclusive licence to publish.". The vast majority of STM members have long permitted a variety of author self-archiving practices, as detailed in the Sherpa RoMEO Publisher Copyright Policies and Self-Archiving list. (All websites viewed July 3, 2011).

This desire for exclusive copyright cannot be a goal for ALL STM members, because the members' list includes publishers of fully open access journals, such as Versita and BioMedCentral!

RECOVERING INVESTMENTS - STM's "need" for exclusive copyright is purportedly so that "substantial investments they [STM members] make in scholarly communication can be recovered". In the case of publicly funded research and/or research conducted at publicly funded institutions, the vast majority of resources that go into the research is public funding. So why shouldn't the public recoup our investment, through being able to read the results of the research (without paying again), benefiting from the research when the knowledge diffuses through society (to doctors, journalists, policy-makers, teachers, etc., etc.), and enjoying the economic benefits of spurring innovation? The work of unpaid authors and peer reviewers is greater than the contributions of publishers (valuable as they are); so how does it make sense that those who have contributed such a small portion of the share should be allowed to reap the exclusive benefit?

Finally, STM members claim that they are an indispensable link in scholarly communication. This is wishful thinking! Edgar & Willinsky's survey of 1,000 journals using Open Journal Systems illustrates just how quickly a renaissance of scholar-led publishing can happen, if we only make available the tools! This is just logical. Without scholars, there would be no scholarly publishing industry. Without a scholarly publishing industry, scholars would make do. In the extremely unlikely scenario that the scholarly publishing industry were to disappear overnight, scholarship would be, at most, inconvenienced. My prediction is that without the dead weight of the past, a new system that makes more sense given the tools we have available such as the internet, would begin to appear almost immediately.