The APS should withdraw its support from the AAP-led letter to the White House
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To the board of the Association for Psychological Science:
On December 18, 2019, APS joined a number of other academic societies and publishers in signing a letter to the White House lobbying against a rumored executive order (https://bit.ly/2Sr9dnI ). The order, as currently described, would mandate that publications resulting from US government-funded research be made publicly available immediately upon their publication (rather than after a 12-month embargo under current law). As current and past members of APS, we write to request that APS publicly withdraw its support of this letter.
The decision to sign this letter runs counter to a fundamental goal of scholarship: making the products of scholarly research as widely available as possible. As scientists, educators, and students, APS members conduct their work with the goal of making their scientific efforts widely available; their membership backs APS’s efforts to support and promote psychological science. Many scientists also feel an ethical obligation to make the products of their labor available to the taxpaying public that makes such work possible. Though the details of the rumored executive order are not yet public, mandating immediate public access to all US-sponsored articles would in principle greatly increase worldwide access to the scientific knowledge generated by US-based APS members.
As a signatory to this letter, APS is explicitly lobbying the United States federal government against the interests of both APS members and the broader public that relies on the science APS members produce. The letter contains numerous claims that overstate the role of publishers in the academic enterprise and understate the benefits of increased global access to publicly-sponsored research. In the interest of brevity, we focus on one particularly egregious claim: the assertion that the proposed mandate “....would effectively nationalize the valuable American intellectual property that we produce and force us to give it away to the rest of the world for free.” This statement contradicts core APS values in at least two ways.
First, the vast majority of the “intellectual property” the signatories claim as their own is research conducted by members of organizations like APS and supported by taxpayers. It is problematic to complain that public access represents “significant government intervention in the private market” given that academic societies like APS similarly depend on government intervention and support: public money pays the salaries that allow academics to contribute “free” peer review to journals and the subscription and publication fees that publishers charge the same communities that produced the research.
Second, the letter advances a nationalistic, USA-centric viewpoint inconsistent with APS’s role as a global organization. Much of the content in APS journals is produced outside of the United States, but the letter focuses on the rights of publishers to use their intellectual property to "advance American competitiveness and help ensure the quality and integrity of American science." That position is hard to reconcile with, e.g., European Union mandates for open access. Statements like this one and others throughout the letter emphasize the economic consequences for publishers to the exclusion of consideration of the benefits to researchers around the world, including members of organizations like APS.
APS provides many services to the scientific community, including advocacy for a range of policies that benefit psychological scientists and society. It has been been a force for improving psychological science and public awareness of psychological research for 30 years. We are proud of these substantial and important contributions because APS has consistently aligned itself with the goals of its scientific membership. We recognize that journal revenue currently helps sustain the society, and that the introduction of a stronger open access mandate would have consequences for the society’s finances. We are confident that APS can address those challenges while remaining true to its mission to “promote, protect, and advance the interests of scientifically oriented psychology in research, application, and the improvement of human welfare.” We do not believe that achieving this mission requires APS to place the interests of its publishing partners ahead of those of its members and of the taxpayers who fund its members’ research. We therefore request that APS publicly withdraw its support from the December 18 letter.
We note that, on December 20th, the APS posted a statement clarifying its position on the rumored executive order (https://www.psychologicalscience.org/policy/statement-from-aps-regarding-possible-executive-order-affecting-publications.html stating that APS opposes an executive order because the organization would like “more time to gather information and discuss implications.” We are sympathetic to the need for time to develop plans, but given that the clarification statement does not disavow the main claims of the December 18 letter, we must assume that APS leadership continues to support the arguments in the letter that prioritize revenue maximization over the most important objective and responsibility outlined in the APS mission—to disseminate psychological science in the public interest. This misalignment on core values, unless rectified, leads us to question whether will continue reviewing for APS, submitting our articles to its journals, or attending its annual meetings. We trust that APS will take these concerns seriously, and we await the organization’s response.
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