On February 27th, 2012, Elsevier announced its intention to drop support for the controversial “Research Works Act”, intended on limited public access to federally funded research outputs. Only hours afterwards, the bill’s sponsors in the US House of Representatives declared their end of the bill’s support.
Elsevier’s statement indicates that their support for the bill created the perception that they stood against the availability of free and low-cost methods of publishing and sharing of research findings, and that was in violation of the organization’s efforts to assist scientists in expanding the access to their findings.
Some have stated that a scientist based boycott of the company, centered on the website The Cost of Knowledge, was the impetus for the publisher’s move. The site has gained over 7,500 scientists that have committed to boycotting working with Elsevier in some fashion.
However, one can easily point to the now eased ability for the publisher to partner with research funding sources in providing systems of distribution that more widely benefit all parties involved as a good reason for the move. The company has stated that they intend on amending their pricing and access agreements in an effort to play a constructive and collaborative role in bringing the benefits of science to the wider community.
Looking forward, this will certainly not be the last disagreement as access to interoperable technologies and the widespread growth of technically skilled individuals increasingly affects the way in which science is conducted, administered, and reviewed.