What to do with Open Access funding in Physics and Astronomy
I’ve been too busy to keep up with the ongoing activity relating to Open Access recently, and I don’t really have time today to do anything other than a brief post on the topic because I’m in the middle of yet another recruitment process and am exhausted by the day’s interviewing.
I do have time to say just a couple of things. One is that it appears that RCUK may be about to back-pedal on its poorly thought out guidelines on Open Access. I hope the new guidance is a significant improvement on the old policy.
Open Access reared its head during a meeting I attended yesterday. RCUK, which is the umbrella organisation for the United Kingdom’s seven research councils, last year announced that it will set aside £17 million next year, and £20 million the year after that, to pay for Gold Open Access publication of the research it sponsors. These funds will be made available to universities in the form of block grants to enable researchers to pay the infamous APCs (“Article Processing Charges”). The average cost of an APC has been taken from the Finch report (estimated as £1727 plus VAT). Yesterday I was informed of the allocation of funds for Open Access to the School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences at the University of Sussex arising from these block grants. The cash sum involved is too small to pay for Gold Open Access for more than a handful of papers produced within the School, so difficult decisions would have to be made about who is allowed to pay the Author Processing Charges if this pot of money is used in the way RCUK envisages.
Of course, what RCUK should have done was given universities and other research institutions funds to set up and maintain their own Green Open Access databases or international repositories like the arXiv. Throwing money at Gold Open Access is disastrous way of proceeding. It’s not only ruinously expensive but also unsustainable. In a few years’ time it is inevitable that the traditional academic publishing industry will be bypassed by researchers doing it for themselves. All the money spent propping up the fat cats in the meantime will have been wasted.
Instead of splashing money around for Gold Open Access, I think RCUK should mandate that all its research be published in Green Open Access mode. As I’ve mentioned before this would cause considerable fallout not only for the academic publishing industry but also for the learned societies, which largely survive on the income generated subscriptions to their range of overpriced journals.
Nevertheless, we have the RCUK funds and, as Head of School, I’m supposed to decide how to spend them. Even if I could force myself to grit my teeth and agree to fork out out the money in APCs to the Academic Publishing Racketeers, I can’t think of any sensible basis for deciding which papers should be published this way and which shouldn’t. In any case, at least in particle physics and astronomy, most papers are compliant with the RCUK policy anyway because they are placed on the arXiv. I therefore propose not to pay out a single penny of the RCUK OA funds for Gold Open Access, but simply to donate the entire sum as a contribution to the running costs of the arXiv.
I urge Heads of Physics and Astronomy departments elsewhere to do the same with their allocations.Follow @telescoper