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Frequently Asked Questions

In June 2006, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) posted a statement on its website indicating that it had signed on to a letter drafted by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) expressing opposition to the Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA or S. 2695).  The letter- addressed to Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), Chair of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs, a congressional panel with oversight over the dissemination of federally-funded research - outlined several concerns about the legislation, shared to varying degrees by over 70 nonprofit scholarly publishers whose publishing programs could be adversely impacted.  The AAA's decision to sign the AAP letter was subsequently questioned, principally on the grounds that it signaled general opposition to "open access" publishing.  The following FAQs are provided to clarify the context and intent of the AAA' decision.

What does the bill - S. 2695 - propose?

  • The bill - sponsored by Senators John Cornyn (R-TX) and Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) - calls on federal agencies with extramural research expenditures of over $100 million to develop public access policies requiring recipients of federal research grants to make their findings freely available on agency-maintained digital repositories within six months of publication.  The proposed legislation represents an expansion of a voluntary plan initiated in 2005 by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).  This plan encouraged but did not require recipients of NIH research grants to make their findings public within a year of publication.

Does AAA oppose open access?

  • No.  Opposition to S. 2695 does not in any way signal AAA opposition to alternative publishing models premised on open access principles.  On the contrary, it simply indicates opposition to the specific requirements contained in this legislation.
  • AAA recognizes that open access is a paradigm in the ascendance and AAA's members subscribe to the ideal that public access to scholarly research enhances the public good.
  • The AAA has not yet come to any conclusion about how its publishing enterprise should be shaped to maximize access to its published content.  A broad ranging membership conversation on this issue is just beginning, and it is important that this conversation be allowed to unfold without a solution being imposed on the AAA by the federal government.  The scholar-members of the AAA should ultimately determine which business models best address the demand for information exchange in their community.  AAA's niche entry in this marketplace, AnthroSource, is still finding its way - it must continue to be tested in an environment free from government interference.

Does AAA policy support open access objectives?

  • Yes. In July of 2005, the AAA, under the counsel of the AnthroSource Steering Committee and in partnership with the University of California Press, revised its author agreement to allow authors greater freedom of their materials post-print. As a result of the revised author's agreement, the AAA currently has a green SHERPA rating (
  • The AAA author agreement provides authors the opportunity to fully comply with current open-access legislation, including:
    1) To use the article for educational or other scholarly purposes of Author's own institution or company;
    2) To post the article on Author's personal or institutional website; and
    3) To post the article on free, discipline-specific public servers of preprints and/or post prints.
  • The Executive Board of the AAA passed a motion to allow complete and free access to AnthroSource and its scholarly content to institutions in less developed countries, tribal colleges and historically black colleges and universities in North America, Arctic and First Nation colleges and universities in Canada. This offer will start in January 2007.  We will provide more detail of this program in the coming weeks.

Why did AAA sign the AAP letter?

  • The decision to sign on to the AAP letter was driven by the need to inform Members of Congress of the potentially disruptive effect of the proposed legislation on AAA's publishing program at an especially critical period in its development.  The letter offered the AAA a timely vehicle through which to support a broad effort by the scholarly publishing community to prevent a hasty and ill conceived federal government intrusion into the publishing marketplace.  By joining the AAP effort, the AAA lent its support to the larger community of non-profit publishers, all of whom are being challenged to adapt in a a rapidly changing environment.
  • Signing the AAP letter is best understood as a targeted action by the AAA which achieved several objectives: 1) it affirmed AAA's strategic relationships with other non-profit and scholarly publishers by signaling our understanding of the general shared concerns about S. 2695; 2) it publicly 'marked' the AAA's ongoing interest in the open access discussion; and 3) it communicated the AAA's view that there are better options for reconciling the twin goals of advancing the objectives of open access and engineering viable publishing models for the anthropology community.

What are the concerns with the legislation?

  • Publishers add significant value to the scholarly communication process by managing and supporting the peer-review process, the pre-production process and data conversion, and the content hosting and distribution of the research results.  These value-added services are not federally funded.  The FRPAA assumes that because some research efforts are supported by federal funds. These funds also support the publishing efforts. They do not.  The AAA has, with help from the Mellon Foundation and in cooperation with the University of California, made significant investments in the AnthroSource portal to make our anthropology content available in digital form, easily accessible and searchable, S. 2695 would appropriate, by federal government mandate, the value-added product of this privately funded enterprise.
  • AAA's subscription revenues could be adversely affected by the legislation.  Currently, subscriptions are the main source of funding for the AAA publishing program.  If implementation of S. 2695 were to result in reduced subscription revenues, at a time when ongoing financial investments are needed to further develop AnthroSource, alternative sources of funding for the publishing program would have to be secured.  If membership dues were to substitute subscription revenues, individual member fees would have to be doubled. Strategic decisions
    affecting the association's future publishing program should be made through a deliberative process by AAA members and leadership, not forced by federal legislation.
  • The bill would take decision-making with regard to the distribution of published works out of the hands of those who do the publishing.  An operating assumption underlying FRPAA is that federal government repositories offer the most efficient and user-friendly vehicles to facilitate public access to scientific research.  This is a highly dubious assumption given that nonprofit and for-profit scientific publishers have already invested heavily in understanding what drives the market for public access to scientific research, and designed delivery systems and products accordingly.  Anthropologists and their partners in the publishing community - not government administrators - are in a much better position to know how to efficiently disseminate (federally or otherwise funded) anthropological research to the public in a manner consistent with public access principles and private sector innovation.
  • S. 2695 fails to address the practical and financial implications of administering dedicated federal repositories for research papers.  Among issues the legislation does not clarify are: 1) how much federal funding triggers the submission requirement; 2) who is responsible for implementing the requirement; and 3) to what extent federal appropriations will support online agency repositories; and 4) how the content of such repositories can be insulated from ideologically driven and partisan politics.  Further, as is the case whenever federal regulations apply, it is likely that non-profit publishers will have to spend additional time and resources complying with the legislation, resulting in reduced investments in their own publishing programs.
  • There are many experiments with alternative publishing models such as "author-pays" models.  Unfortunately, none has yet been demonstrated to be self-sustaining.  The Public Library of Science (PLoS), regarded by many as the flagship of the open access movement, lost almost $1 million in 2005.  Author fees and advertising income currently cover only 35% of its total costs.  To help bridge the gap, PLoS is about to increase its author-pay charges from $1,500 per article to as much as $2,500 (or 67% increase), depending on which of its journals an author publishes in.  Similarly, BioMed Central, a British open-access publisher, has increased author charges from $500 to as much as $1,700 per article (an increase of 340%), and it has yet to break even.  FRPAA would insert new government-run entities into a scientific publishing marketplace that is currently in tremendous flux and instability.  Adding the federal government into this mix will, at best, disrupt current developments, and quite possibly shut down many smaller scholarly publishers who need time to construct alternative self-sustaining publishing models that will allow their publications to survive and continue to serve the interests of their scholarly communities.


AAA AnthroSource Steering Committee supports FRPAA (letter)

AAA signals opposition to legislation (statement)


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