…we’ll pay for it twice?
The public is all too willing already to see public money spent funding scientific research as money wasted. If members of the public have to pay again to access research their tax dollars already paid for, they are likely to be peeved. They would not be wrong to feel like the scientific community had weaseled out of fulfilling its obligation to share the knowledge it builds for the good of the public. (Neither would they be wrong to feel like their government had fallen down on an ethical obligation to the public here, but whose expectations of their government aren’t painfully low at the moment?) A rightfully angry public could mean less public funding for scientific research — which means that there are pragmatic, as well as ethical, reasons for scientists to oppose the Research Works Act.
And, whether or not the Research Works Act becomes the law of the land in the USA, perhaps scientists’ ethical obligations to share publicly funded knowledge with the public ought to make them think harder — individually and as a professional community — about whether submitting their articles to private sector journals, or agreeing to peer review submission for private sector journals, is really compatible with living up to these obligations. There are alternatives to these private sector journals, such as open access journals. Taking those alternatives seriously probably requires rethinking the perceived prestige of private sector journals and how metrics of that prestige come into play in decisions about hiring, promotion, and distribution of research funds, but sometimes you have to do some work (individually and as a professional community) to live up to your obligations.