The Paywall and the ASA
The Trump Administration proposed making publicly-funded open access upon publication. The ASA started sounding the alarms.

Today, we sit down with Philip Cohen (University of Maryland) to discuss the American Sociological Association’s opposition to a Trump Administration proposal to mandate the immediate public release of federally-funded research.


The Trump Administration recently proposed a regulation that would require that publicly-funded research be distributed openly upon publication. This policy drew immediate opposition from the publishing industry, who makes money by selling licenses to view this research within the first 12 months of publication.

The American Sociological Association co-signed a public letter opposing the regulation, arguing:

The current 12-month embargo period provides science and engineering society publishers the financial stability that enables us to support peer review that ensures the quality and integrity of the research enterprise. Further, it enables us to drive advancement in our respective scientific fields through our meetings, programs and outreach…

…To take action to shorten the 12-month embargo would undermine cooperative efforts to address these bigger, higher priorities, and risks the continued international leadership for the U.S. scientific enterprise.

Some sociologists, including members of the ASA Publications Committee.

Committee member and University of Maryland sociologist Philip Cohen assembled a petition of sociologists opposing the ASA’s decision to immediately oppose this regulation proposal.

In this episode, we invited Philip Cohen to discuss the ASA’s position.

Statement from ASA

We reached out to the ASA Communications Office for comment. They responded:

The letter ASA signed, along with more than 50 other learned societies with similar missions related to advancing science and scientific scholarship, expressed concern about an Executive Order rumored to be coming out with almost no notice or consultation with the scientific community.  The letter asked President Trump to slow down and “engage with a broad array of stakeholders to collaboratively ensure openness and reliability in research and development.” In signing the letter, our primary goal was to encourage discussion by the Administration with the scientific community before moving forward precipitously and unilaterally with policy changes that will affect scientific publishing. Given (as you probably know) that the Trump administration has not been particularly friendly to scientific advancement (see for some examples), an unexpected and hurried executive order related to science policy was met with skepticism.  

Given that we still do not have full information about the content of the possible Executive Order, we are focused on ensuring consultation as it is developed so we have no additional comment now. 

I should also mention that the decision to sign the letter was made following ASA’s policy for responding to time-sensitive public issues—with a vote of the President, President-elect, Past President, and Secretary. Needless to say, these elected leaders take this responsibility very seriously and do their best to reflect the interests of the sociologists who are our members.

Photo Credit

By Martin Falbisoner – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

One Response

  1. A couple of comments. First, please tell all of your guests on shows about scholarly publishing that the big for-profit company’s name is pronounced “ELL-seh-veer”, NOT “El-SEHV-ee-yea”. It’s Dutch, not French. It was very annoying to keep hearing one guest mispronounce it over and over despite the fact that everyone else on the show was getting it right.
    Second, if one is looking for a reason to mistrust Trump’s motives in doing what seems to be “the right thing”, I have one for you that might be sociologically connected. I heard on another, science-oriented, podcast, that apparently in the field of human genetics, the overwhelming laypeople attention and publicity to the latest scholarly research is coming from the White Supremacy movements, who are cherry-picking whatever they can find to support their racist views. This is very disturbing of course to the researchers in that field. Since Trump is well known to support their views, I can well imagine someone from that subculture urging him to make sure that they can get freely to the latest research (I would guess not many of them have access to paywalled journals), and the entire “lose the embargo” across all federally funded research could be really just about satisfying this particular constituency. Perhaps worth exploring at least. It wouldn’t be the first time Trump made wide-sweeping policy changes to please a very narrow group of supporters, with damaging consequences to lots of other people (eg trade war for steel workers?).

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