Archive for July 16, 2012

Open Access, of the Closed Kind

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , on July 16, 2012 by telescoper

Last night a story began circulating that the government, through RCUK, was intending to move quickly on the matter of open access to research outputs. This morning there’s a press statement from RCUK, the text of which is here:

Research Councils UK (RCUK) has today, 16th July 2012, unveiled its new Open Access policy. Informed by the work of the National Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, chaired by Professor Dame Janet Finch, the policy at once harmonises and makes significant changes to existing Research Councils’ Open Access policies.

Professor Douglas Kell, RCUK Champion for Research and Information Management commented: “Widening access to the outputs of research currently published in journals has the potential to contribute substantially to furthering the progress of scientific and other research, ensuring that the UK continues to be a world leader in these fields. I am delighted that, together, the Research Councils have been able to been able both to harmonise and to make significant changes to their policies, ensuring that more people have access to cutting edge research that can contribute to both economic growth in our knowledge economy and the wider wellbeing of the UK.”

Drs. Astrid Wissenburg, Chair of RCUK Impact Group and RCUK representative on the National Working Group on Open Access commented: “As the bodies charged with investing public money in research, the Research Councils take very seriously their responsibilities in making the outputs from this research publicly available – not just to other researchers, but also to potential users in business; charitable and public sectors; and to the general public. Working with other funders such as HEFCE, DFID and the Wellcome Trust, this new policy signifies a move to a sustainable, affordable and transparent model of making outputs from the research that they fund more openly accessible.”

The new policy, which will apply to all qualifying publications being submitted for publication from 1 April 2013, states that peer reviewed research papers which result from research that is wholly or partially funded by the Research Councils:

  • must be published in journals which are compliant with Research Council policy on Open Access, and;
  • must include details of the funding that supported the research, and a statement on how the underlying research materials such as data, samples or models can be accessed.

Criteria which journals must fulfill to be compliant with the Research Councils’ Open Access policy are detailed within the policy, but include offering a “pay to publish” option or allowing deposit in a subject or institutional repository after a mandated maximum embargo period. In addition, the policy mandates use of ‘CC-BY’, the Creative Commons ‘Attribution’ license, when an APC is levied. The CC_BY licence allows others to modify, build upon and/or distribute the licensed work (including for commercial purposes) as long as the original author is credited.

The Research Councils will provide block grants to eligible UK Higher Education Institutions, approved independent research organisations and Research Council Institutes to support payment of the Article Processing Charges (APCs) associated with ‘pay-to-publish’. In parallel, eligible organisations will be expected to set-up and manage their own publication funds. The Research Councils will work with eligible organisations to discuss the detail of the new approach to funding APCs and to ensure that appropriate and auditable mechanisms are put in place to manage the funds.

Along with HEFCE and other relevant Funding Bodies, we shall monitor these policies actively, both to review their effects and to ensure that our joint objectives on Open Access are being met.

The RCUK policy on Access to Research Outputs is available here .

Although this seems like a victory for open access, it isn’t really. If it’s a victory for anyone it’s a victory for the  cartel of  ruthlessly exploitative profiteers that is the Academic Publishing Industry. For what the RCUK proposal involves is shifting the “cost” of scientific publishing from journal subscriptions to “Article Processing Charges”, which means authors will have to pay upfront to have their work  considered for publication. And when I say “pay”, I mean pay. It’s anticipated that the average APC for a paper will be around £2000. That’s why they call it “Gold” Open Access, I suppose.

An APC of this size  is indefensible. Scientific papers are nowadays typeset by the author and refereed by other academics. The cost to the publisher is tiny. That they need such an extortionate amount to maintain their profit levels just demonstrates the extent to which they’ve  been ripping us of all these years. Worse, having to pay up front  excludes scientists who don’t have access to the funds needed to pay these charges. This isn’t open access, it’s just a slightly different form of the old racket.

Moreover, I understand that no new money is coming to pay these charges. RCUK is finding the funds quoted above from its existing budget. That means that research somewhere will be cut to pay the additional cost of running the new system alongside the old. Better in my view to cut out the publishers altogether, and let universities and researchers do everything themselves. In astrophysics, we’re most of the way there already, in fact.

I for one have no intention of ever paying an Article Processing Charge. If the journals I publish in insist on levying one, I’ll just forget about the journals altogether and put my papers on the arXiv. I urge my colleagues to do the same.