News

Academics revolt over open access

Eleven leading academic associations have written an open letter condemning the government's plans for open access publishing as a “rushed policy” which poses a real threat to the “international standing of British Universities and research”.

The letter, signed by groups such as The Royal Historical Society, the Political Studies Association and the Council for the Defence of British Universities, and reproduced below in full,  called open access a "fundamental revolution" in academic life and expressed fears about the publication of papers now falling to university administrators.

The letter said: “As the leaders of a diverse group of learned societies, charitable organisations that exist to promote our respective academic disciplines, we support the idea of more open access to academic research.  There are, however, a number of problems with the rushed policy.”

The bodies blamed lack of consultation on the policy and said the "author processing charge" institutions will now pay to publish their academics' work increased financial burden on British universities. The letter also argued that the policy had been formed in response to the science, technology and engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines, and more consultation and “far fuller scrutiny” was needed by the government for the social sciences, arts and humanities (HSS) sector.

“We are glad that both the BIS Select Committee in the Commons and the Science and
Technology Committee in the Lords are now holding inquiries into the Government’s open access policy,” the letter said. “However, with no requirement for legislation, the Department is not bound in any way to take note of the reports of either inquiry. Hence we write to alert readers to this situation.  There are alternative routes to open access, but these too require close attention to their potential impact on the full range of disciplines.  We urge the government to work with us to develop a policy that will open access without sacrificing academic freedom or academic quality.”

Professor Howard Hotson, a fellow of St Anne's College, Oxford, who sits on the steering council for the Council for the Defence of British Universities, told the Guardian  that he was "flabbergasted" by the appetite of the coalition government to "pursue multiple radical changes simultaneously."

“It seems extraordinarily naive to suppose that on the basis of a few months of consultation, in a very short space of time, you can radically change the basic way in way academics communicate with each other without having a huge number of unintended knock-on consequences," he said.

Universities minister David Willetts has said that research papers on work subsidised by the British taxpayer will be free online for universities, companies and individuals anywhere in the world and will mean costs of publication will fall on universities, which will pay "author processing charges" each time they have work from their academics published.

However, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said important change was "always going to raise questions" and added Willetts would be giving an update to parliament next week.

A spokesperson said: "The academic publishing world is changing fast all over the world and it is essential that the interests of UK researchers, publishers and taxpayers are all taken into account as that change occurs."
 
The letter was signed by:
Professor Charlie Jeffery, Chair, Political Studies Association
Professor Peter Mandler, President, Royal Historical Society
Professor Stephen Hutchings, President, British Association for Slavonic and East European
Studies
Dr Graham Harvey, President, British Association for the Study of Religions
Dr Michael Brady, Director, British Philosophical Association
Professor Roy Gibson, Chair of Council, Classical Association
Professor Miranda Fricker, Director, Mind Association
Professor Thomas Schmidt, Chair, National Association for Music in Higher Education
Professor Andrew Beer, Chair Regional Studies Association
Professor John Beath, Secretary-General, Royal Economic Society
Professor Jill Jameson, Chair, Society for Research into Higher Education
 

The full letter can be viewed here.

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HANDS OFF FREEDOMS, HANDS ON KEYBOARDS

The dons are absolutely right that dictating where they may or may not publish, and coercing them to pay to publish is an assault on academic freedom.

But they are absolutely wrong that the fault lies with Open Access (OA), or with mandating OA.

The fault lies entirely with the way the UK government -- RCUK, under the influence of the foolish and ill-informed recommendations of the Finch Committee -- has proposed to mandate OA.

The Finch Committee has recommended weakening instead of strengthening the RCUK's existing, 5-year-old OA mandate -- which had allowed authors to continue publishing wherever they wished, and merely required them to make their final drafts OA within 12 months of publication by self-archiving them free for all online ("Green OA").

Declaring the prior Green OA mandate a failure, the Finch Committee proposed instead to dictate to authors which journals they were permitted to publish in: only in journals that make their own published articles OA ("Gold OA"), with a CC-BY license, immediately upon publication, or in journals that formally endorse their authors providing Green OA within 6-12 months of publication. In addition, some scarce research money was to be diverted from research to pay publishers even more money, over and above what is already being spent on subscriptions, in exchange for Gold OA.

Authors naturally became incensed at the government dictating where they might or might not publish. (Nor did they appreciate money being diverted from dwindling research funds to pay publishers even more.)

Enough complaining. The error is easily corrected:

Let authors publish wherever they wish. Require them to deposit their peer-reviewed final drafts in their OA institutional repositories immediately upon publication.

Sixty percent of journals already endorse immediate Green OA. For the 40% that want OA embargoed, make the deposit Closed Access instead of OA during the embargo.

The repository has a Button for redirecting individual users' reprint requests for Closed Access articles to the author, who can authorize the emailing of the reprint to the requester with one click if he wishes. This is not OA, but it is "Almost-OA" and is sufficient to tide over researchers' access needs until embargoes die their inevitable and well-deserved natural deaths.

Meanwhile, 100% of articles are immediately deposited, 60% are immediately OA, 40% are Almost-OA, and authors retain their full right to choose their journals and not pay for Gold OA if they do not wish to.

They are strongly encouraged to make the deposit OA as soon as possible, but this is not a constraint on their freedom of choice of journals.

This is a strengthened version of RCUK's prior Green OA mandate, without the Finch folly (nor the premature and unnecessary CC-BY requirement, which is not needed in most fields, not as urgent as free online access in any field, and only makes it gratuitously harder to mandate OA).

All this upgrade needs in order to make it optimal is:

(1) Funder mandates and institutional mandates should both stipulate convergent institutional deposit (not divergent, competitive deposit: institution-external repositories like EuPMC can harvest from the institutional ones).

(2) Institutions and funders should both stipulate that repository deposit is the only means of submitting publications for institutional performance review or national research assessment.

(3) Institutions should be designated to monitor and ensure that their researchers comply with both institutional and funder deposit mandates.

This optimized Green OA mandate is no more of an assault on academic freedom than the mandate to "Publish-or-Perish" is -- in fact, it is merely a natural extension of P-or-P, for the online age.

----

HANDS OFF FREEDOMS, HANDS ON KEYBOARDS

The dons are absolutely right that dictating where they may or may not publish, and coercing them to pay to publish is an assault on academic freedom.

But they are absolutely wrong that the fault lies with Open Access (OA), or with mandating OA.

The fault lies entirely with the way the UK government -- RCUK, under the influence of the foolish and ill-informed recommendations of the Finch Committee -- has proposed to mandate OA.

The Finch Committee has recommended weakening instead of strengthening the RCUK's existing, 5-year-old OA mandate -- which had allowed authors to continue publishing wherever they wished, and merely required them to make their final drafts OA within 12 months of publication by self-archiving them free for all online ("Green OA").

Declaring the prior Green OA mandate a failure, the Finch Committee proposed instead to dictate to authors which journals they were permitted to publish in: only in journals that make their own published articles OA ("Gold OA"), with a CC-BY license, immediately upon publication, or in journals that formally endorse their authors providing Green OA within 6-12 months of publication. In addition, some scarce research money was to be diverted from research to pay publishers even more money, over and above what is already being spent on subscriptions, in exchange for Gold OA.

Authors naturally became incensed at the government dictating where they might or might not publish. (Nor did they appreciate money being diverted from dwindling research funds to pay publishers even more.)

Enough complaining. The error is easily corrected:

Let authors publish wherever they wish. Require them to deposit their peer-reviewed final drafts in their OA institutional repositories immediately upon publication.

Sixty percent of journals already endorse immediate Green OA. For the 40% that want OA embargoed, make the deposit Closed Access instead of OA during the embargo.

The repository has a Button for redirecting individual users' reprint requests for Closed Access articles to the author, who can authorize the emailing of the reprint to the requester with one click if he wishes. This is not OA, but it is "Almost-OA" and is sufficient to tide over researchers' access needs until embargoes die their inevitable and well-deserved natural deaths.

Meanwhile, 100% of articles are immediately deposited, 60% are immediately OA, 40% are Almost-OA, and authors retain their full right to choose their journals and not pay for Gold OA if they do not wish to.

They are strongly encouraged to make the deposit OA as soon as possible, but this is not a constraint on their freedom of choice of journals.

This is a strengthened version of RCUK's prior Green OA mandate, without the Finch folly (nor the premature and unnecessary CC-BY requirement, which is not needed in most fields, not as urgent as free online access in any field, and only makes it gratuitously harder to mandate OA).

All this upgrade needs in order to make it optimal is:

(1) Funder mandates and institutional mandates should both stipulate convergent institutional deposit (not divergent, competitive deposit: institution-external repositories like EuPMC can harvest from the institutional ones).

(2) Institutions and funders should both stipulate that repository deposit is the only means of submitting publications for institutional performance review or national research assessment.

(3) Institutions should be designated to monitor and ensure that their researchers comply with both institutional and funder deposit mandates.

This optimized Green OA mandate is no more of an assault on academic freedom than the mandate to "Publish-or-Perish" is -- in fact, it is merely a natural extension of P-or-P, for the online age.