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Several bills currently making their way through Congress are causing considerable concern in the archaeological and broader scientific community. The Federal Research Public Access Act of 2012 was introduced in both houses of Congress on February 9 of this year.

The legislation would require that publishers of academic and scholarly journals provide the government with final peer-reviewed and edited manuscripts, and, six months after their publication, those manuscripts would be made available to the public, on the Internet, for no charge. The House bill states, “The Federal Government funds basic and applied research with the expectation that new ideas and discoveries that result from the research, if shared and effectively disseminated, will advance science and improve the lives and welfare of people of the United States and around the world.”

We at the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), along with our colleagues at the American Anthropological Association and other learned societies, have taken a stand against open access. Here at the AIA, we particularly object to having such a scheme imposed on us from the outside when, in fact, during the AIA’s more than 130-year history, we have energetically supported the broad dissemination of knowledge, and do so through our extensive program of events and lectures for the general public and through our publications. Our mission statement explicitly says, “Believing that greater understanding of the past enhances our shared sense of humanity and enriches our existence, the AIA seeks to educate people of all ages about the significance of archaeological discovery.” We have long practiced “open access.”

While it may be true that the government finances research, it does not fund the arduous peer-review process that lies at the heart of journal and scholarly publication, nor the considerable effort beyond that step that goes into preparing articles for publication. Those efforts are not without cost. When an archaeologist publishes his or her work, the final product has typically been significantly improved by the contributions of other professionals such as peer reviewers, editors, copywriters, photo editors, and designers. This is the context in which the work should appear. (Almost all scholarly books and many articles lead off with a lengthy list that acknowledges these individuals.)

We fear that this legislation would prove damaging to the traditional venues in which scientific information is presented by offering, for no cost, something that has considerable costs associated with producing it. It would undermine, and ultimately dismantle, by offering for no charge, what subscribers actually support financially—a rigorous publication process that does serve the public, because it results in superior work.

Elizabeth Bartman is the president of the Archaeological Institute of America.

« President's Letter M/A 2012

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