The saga of the American Anthropological Association (AAA)’s response to FRPAA (Federal Research Public Access Act) continues. Rex at the Savage Minds Blog just reported that the AnthroSource Steering Committee, a group leading AnthroSource, the AAA ’s digital repository system, has been DISBANDED. Here ’s an excerpt:

I finally got the memo on 30 October making official what we knew was coming: The AnthroSource Steering Committee (ASSC) has officially been disbanded and will be replaced by the new “Committee on the Future of Print and Electronic Publishing.” There were lots of problems with the ASSC; it ’s relationship to the finance committee and sections was never spelled out, for instance. But it is transparently obvious to everyone involved why the ASSC was replaced: as one member of the committee put it (not me) ‘we were all given pink slips soon after we pushed for FRPAA.’ We are all, every one of us, tremendously disappointed in this decision.

As noted across the anthropological and library blogosphere (see summary and here too), the AnthroSource Steering Committee recently issued a public statement in support of FRPAA and urged the AAA leadership to reconsider its rejection of the open access bill. Now the AAA sacks the AnthroSource Steering Committee.

To echo Peter Suber, Wow.

What a mess! This heavy-handed action is indicative of how much the AAA is on the defensive on this issue. They”re starting to remind me of the recording industry and their rearguard actions against file-sharing and online dissemination in general. This speaks volumes about how beholden this organization is toward failing and outmoded publication business models, models that hurt AAA members, universities, libraries, students, faculty, groups with limited financial resources, and the public (see evidence: here). The current system sees publication cost escalating unchecked, and according to Rex, the AAA ’s publication program is still loosing money. So, I just don’t get it, why stick with a failing business model, one that is not meeting the needs of its constituents, and not explore alternatives?

Trying to horde anthropological research seems self-defeating. It seems that anthropology should do more to attract more people to its research. FRPAA, which would require government funded archives of paper drafts accepted for publication, would be a great way for anthropology to become better known to a larger community. There ’s no direct financial threat to the AAA, since government agencies will foot the bill for the archives. Besides, overly proprietary and closed models become too inconvenient and expensive for people to want to use. Alternatives are already proliferating, and it is getting much easier and cheaper to set up an open, peer-reviewed, e-journal.

The AAA ’s attempts to horde anthropological scholarship is bad enough, since this research is often very important for human rights activists and development. But by opposing FRPAA, the AAA is also working against the dissemination of vital knowledge in other disciplines that directly impact health, conservation, and economic development. That makes this whole affair sordid, ironic, and even somewhat tragic, especially for a discipline that positions itself in advocacy on behalf of marginalized peoples and communities.

BTW: Changing the AAA is going to require some grassroots organizing. Some anthropological bloggers want to get together at the AAA meeting in San Jose to discuss ways to push forward an Open Access agenda. Find out more here!