Don't Let the Sideshow Distract You: H.R. 6845 and What Comes After

September 20, 2008

The next salvo in the ongoing battle to decide whether the Federal Government should be in the scientific publishing business has been fired. H.R. 6845 seeks to preempt the recently-passed law (PL 110-161) requiring recipients of NIH funding to deposit copies of their peer-reviewed manuscripts into PubMed Central.

The move is hardly surprising. The aim of PL 110-161 was on face value to promote Open Access. In practice, it created a government agency charged with publishing scholarly manuscripts based in part on value added by scientific publishers. Regardless of your views on the subject, it's pretty easy to see how publishers view this as a fight they can't afford to lose.

The problem is that the publishers' cause has already been lost; H.R. 6845 is merely a sideshow. The same process that gutted traditional music publishers and newspapers is now working on the scientific publication industry. Make no mistake - those journals disappearing from your libraries and Web browsers are the sign of an industry in trouble.

This leaves us with a question I'd pose to all Open Access proponents: What does a future in which even the wealthiest scientific publishers are going out of business look like?

That's the thing to focus on.