Archive for Daily Fail

Opening Access – The Finch Report

Posted in Open Access with tags , , , on June 19, 2012 by telescoper

Just a quickie this morning for those of you who have been following the debate about Open Access to academic research. Yesterday saw the publication of the Finch Report which was commissioned by David Willetts at the end of 2011. Here’s part of the opening paragraph of the announcement:

The report of the Working Group chaired by Dame Janet Finch published on 18 June recommends a programme of action to enable more people to read and use the publications arising from research. Better, faster communication of research results will bring benefits for public services and for economic growth. It will also bring improved efficiency for researchers, and opportunities for more public engagement with research.

Sounds promising. Even more promising is the following statement you can find in the summary:

The principle that the results of research that has been publicly funded should be freely accessible in the public domain is a compelling one, and fundamentally unanswerable

However, it is a long report that also raises many difficulties, some real but many (in my opinion) imaginary. It will take a while to digest it and judge whether the momentum that seems to have been generated towards open access dissipates under pressure from the academic publishing industry, which has been lobbying vigorously in recent months. At first reading, however, I’m bound to say that it looks like a sell-out.

A particular worry is that the report favours the so-called “Gold” open access model in which authors pay up front to make their articles publicly available, rather than publishing them in journals to which access is restricted to subscribers. There’s a danger that this will simply provide the publishers with another way of profiteering and won’t save any money at all. In fact, as the Finch report says, phasing in such a system alongside the old one would cost an additional $50 million per year.

My favoured solution is to dispense with the academic journal racket altogether, and for researchers just to put their results on publicly accessible repositories, like the arXiv. Disciplines such as Physics and Astronomy could stop using journals immediately at no additional cost whatsoever, and with an enormous saving in library subscriptions. This option – the so-called “Green” Open Access – is favoured by most researchers but obviously not the academic publishing lobby. Of course this report could turn out to be an irrelevance, if UK researchers have the courage to go Green unilaterally.

I don’t really have time to do a full job on the Finch Report now, but fortunately you can find a number of commentaries already, including a blog piece by Stephen Curry, a piece by Alok Jha in the Grauniad, an item in the Times Higher, and an article on the BBC Website.

I feel I should also draw your attention to a related piece in the Daily Mail which, in a manner that’s typical for said organ, gets hold of the wrong end of the stick and proceeds to beat about the bush with it. At least it doesn’t claim that Open Access will have a devastating effect on house prices.

Anyway, I’m sure to return to this when I’ve had time to read the report thoroughly, but in the meantime please feel free to comment through the usual channel…

P.S. Let me also plug my recent piece on open access in the Guardian