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Event Report:: Why Policy Matters, with Wiley-Blackwell

4 May 2011

Why Policy Matters: Shaping Public Policy Issues that Affect Scholarly Publishing brought together scientific membership associations at the National Press Club in Washington DC for an exploration of the future of policy and the scholarly publications industry. Steve Miron, Senior VP of John Wiley & Sons kicked off the discussion by addressing the policy challenges facing academic publications. From the growth of journal publishing in China to open access policies in the recent America COMPETES Act, and the Office of Foreign Assets Control embargo on foreign publication editing in 2004, Miron pointed out that it is becoming increasingly clear that publishers must enter into policy debate. The challenges of digital piracy and open access are relatively new and will pose a serious problem if publishers do not act in a timely and effective way. He went on to outline some of the challenges in more detail. For example that there is increasingly a conflation of open access with the concept of government transparency. In China the debate on open access is also well underway. The NIH’s mandatory deposits have not yet had much of an impact on revenues of publishers but this may change soon especially if such policies become more common. Miron concluded by saying that we need to be more proactive in setting the public agenda.

Next, Dorol Cooper of C&M International outlined the approaches that advocates could take to influence policy making, especially given the lack of partisanship in today’s U.S. Congress. She identified that well-know triangle of influence between the private sector, Congress and the Executive. There are many reasons for the climate of mistrust among legislators, but the key ones picked out by Cooper are the lack of collegiality and interaction caused by less time spent in Washington DC and the so called ‘funnel effect’ that limits legislative leadership to only the most influential legislators on the Hill. However, despite these problems, changes in intellectual property rights are one of the few areas on which both Democrats and Republicans look eye-to-eye. In order to make these changes as effective as possible it will be necessary for academic societies to communicate their own story and narrative more effectively. Peer review and scholarly publication enables universities to be stewards of knowledge and the motor of economic innovation.

Crispin Talyor, Executive Director of the American Society of Plant Biologists, then took the floor to discuss developments in the publications industry and how, in the U.S., those are being framed by certain policy changes in Washington. They have been precipitated by changes in cost structures and revenue streams, novel pricing practice and constrained budgets, and technological advances. Open access movements are arguing that research is funded by tax payers and so publications of that work should be free, that it encourages further innovation, that it plays into researcher goals, and that it enables tracking of funding portfolios. On the side of the publishers the arguments are that open access harms the health and sustainability of journals, harms peer review and research quality, harms academic freedom and copyright, and leads to unnecessary government interference. These arguments and others were part of the Scholarly Publishing Roundtable recently convened by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy which plans to roll out a public access program for publishing in the next few years.


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Research that produces nothing but books will not suffice.
                                                                                                                    - Kurt Lewin