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Removing Paywalls
July 17, 2012 2:12 AM   Subscribe

U.K. Government to open up publicly funded research. In response to the report of the Working Group chaired by Dame Janet Finch (the Finch Report, Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications - pdf), the U.K. government has accepted all the report’s recommendations and looks to the Funding Councils and Research Councils to implement them in consultation with universities, research institutions, researchers and publishers.

The Government Response to the Finch Group Report: “Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications” concludes:

“Removing paywalls that surround taxpayer funded research will have real economic and social benefits. It will allow academics and businesses to develop and commercialise their research more easily and herald a new era of academic discovery. This development will provide exciting new opportunities and keep the UK at the forefront of global research to drive innovation and growth.”
posted by three blind mice (16 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Coalition government does good thing, I feel happy about this.

Cognitive dissonance, I know you now.

There's another shoe that may or may not drop; there's been talk of finally releasing English court judgments (currently considered copyright of the judges rather than of the Crown - because of this one is faced with a democracy with court judgments that often can't be shared without licencing fees).
posted by jaduncan at 2:20 AM on July 17, 2012 [5 favorites]


I was enthusiastic about this until I read this article. Um, "gold" open access where all the publishers' obscene profits are maintained by fees paid for by the university/researcher and none of this is offset by increased government money for research? Something seems wrong to me, somehow, and I think it's the refusal to stick it to companies like Elsevier.

As for the learned societies—there, I really do sympathize with the need for continued funding, but they need to stop making common cause with the for-profit crowd.

Anyway that's my sad-but-cynical take. I love the idea of open access and I think it has to be where academic publishing is headed, but this doesn't look like a great start. I'd be happy to be disabused of this, though, if my understanding of the proposal is wrong.
posted by col_pogo at 2:29 AM on July 17, 2012 [7 favorites]


I was enthusiastic about this until I read this article. Um, "gold" open access where all the publishers' obscene profits are maintained by fees paid for by the university/researcher and none of this is offset by increased government money for research? Something seems wrong to me, somehow, and I think it's the refusal to stick it to companies like Elsevier.

Cognitive dissonance gone, details are indeed less inspiring. Le sigh.
posted by jaduncan at 3:22 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


'Publish or Perish' is now to be assisted by 'Pay to Play' as aphorisms for academia in the UK, it seems. This will do wonders for working-class/poor access to the highest levels of academia, I'm sure - we simply shan't have to deal with them any more...
posted by Dysk at 3:34 AM on July 17, 2012


But... but.. Competition will bring the price down!

Same as Competition will make the NHS profitable and competition made the Railways cheaper and more efficient and competition made degrees more affordable and competition made the water and electricity systems cheaper and better and competition gave everyone a pony.

I don't understand why you're all so cynical about this?
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:40 AM on July 17, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's the worst of both worlds; since not everyone is OA, the library still has to pay for journal access anyhow.
posted by jaduncan at 4:09 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


They've accepted the principle, which it at least something, even if they're not doing it the right way.
posted by Jehan at 4:16 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Um, "gold" open access where all the publishers' obscene profits are maintained by fees paid for by the university/researcher and none of this is offset by increased government money for research?

Yeah, not as attractive as the NIH model (which is not perfect, either). However, there is nothing to say that researchers and administrations can't pursue policies that support publishing in journals without the same access charges, develop Harvard-style mandates, and so on to erode the market share of the large for-profit publishers.
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:20 AM on July 17, 2012


'Publish or Perish' is now to be assisted by 'Pay to Play' as aphorisms for academia in the UK, it seems. This will do wonders for working-class/poor access to the highest levels of academia, I'm sure - we simply shan't have to deal with them any more...

I have this horrible feeling that whenever I return to the UK it will basically be the 50s.
posted by Artw at 4:53 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


They've accepted the principle, which it at least something, even if they're not doing it the right way.

The risk is that the most prestigious journals require that you not release the research outside of their pages.
posted by jaduncan at 5:27 AM on July 17, 2012


The risk is that the most prestigious journals require that you not release the research outside of their pages.
Sure, there are worries around how the proposed system will work. But the idea that "public research should be publicly accessible" isn't something that can be put back into its box.
posted by Jehan at 6:05 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


The US system isn't ideal but it seems like a better (maybe better, anyway) intermediary. Publicly funded research can go into any journal, but must be archived into PubMed Central as open-access within a given period of time, somewhere around 3 to 6 months depending on the journal. The journals either do this automatically or make the researcher do the bulk of the work (guess which camp Elsevier falls in?). The key here is the fee system: You still have to pay to submit articles, but you aren't required to pay the exorbitant fees the publishers charge to make articles open access immediately. Elsevier charges $3000 for immediate open access, on top of other regular publication charges.

If I worked in the UK under the Finch proposal, I'd now be out $3k - just had a paper acepted by an Elsevier journal. Which means going forward, if I expect to publish 3 papers a year, I now need to start figuring that into my research budget. You know how many rats I can buy for $9k? How many reagents? How many kits, consumables, etc.? Those are all things I need to actually DO the research, and grant money isn't exactly falling from the sky these days.

If immediate open access is required, and a gold option is pushed, less research is going to get done unless more science funding is approved. (And if you Brits figure out how to get more science funding through government, let us in North America know how, because I like being employed.)
posted by caution live frogs at 11:52 AM on July 17, 2012


It's interesting that the UK Govt is announcing this on the same day that the EU Commission announces that:
The European Commission today outlined measures to improve access to scientific information produced in Europe.
[...]
As a first step, the Commission will make open access to scientific publications a general principle of Horizon 2020, the EU's Research & Innovation funding programme for 2014-2020. As of 2014, all articles produced with funding from Horizon 2020 will have to be accessible...
...i.e. exactly the same requirements and target date for EU-funded research, announced on the same day. I'd be intrigued to know whether the Finch committee worked closely with the EU Commission, or if the EU is pressuring the UK to adopt this policy and accepting Finch's recommendations is just a way for them to portray it as domestic policy, avoiding the appearance of bowing to Brussels and taking any positive publicity for their own. I really hope that the former is true, but it's weird that Finch's report doesn't seem to mention the EU Commission and the EU Commision doesn't seem to mention Finch.

Either way, yay! It's not perfect, and not even a particularly radical step, as other big-ish funding sources like Cancer Research UK and The Wellcome Trust have had exactly this policy for years. Hopefully though, the government's funding agencies, possibly working alongside other agencies with similar policies, will have enough clout to negotiate a reduction in the open publication fee that's payable to journals. After all, a big journal can afford to lose the submissions of one or two authors who're making a principled stand and still fill their issue, but a boycott enforced by the bodies who fund a big chunk of the highest-quality work could really hurt them.

To me, one of the most surprising things in the response letter was this:
v. the current discussions on how to implement the proposal for walk-in access to the majority of journals to be provided in public libraries across the UK should be pursued with vigour, along with an effective publicity and marketing campaign;
The Government welcomes this imaginative and valuable initiative by the publishing industry. We encourage the working group that has already been set-up to address it, which includes public library representation, to press ahead and implement the proposed two-year pilot scheme at the earliest
Of course they'll have a job finding a library that's still open, and I hope that the publishers' fees for this won't be too extreme. But it'll be fantastic if they can pull it off.

'Publish or Perish' is now to be assisted by 'Pay to Play' as aphorisms for academia in the UK, it seems. This will do wonders for working-class/poor access to the highest levels of academia, I'm sure - we simply shan't have to deal with them any more...

Er, pardon? I don't see how this has anything to do with working class/poor access to academia. This isn't about requiring scientists to pay a fee to the journals out of our own pockets. They're saying that, in a government-funded research project, part of the project grant should be used to pay the journal's fees. If anything, your hypothetical poor, self-funded researcher will be better off because more good research articles will be free to read.
posted by metaBugs at 11:52 AM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


col_pogo is right. The UK plan will seriously limit funding for research for the sole benefit of the outrageously expensive private publishing industry. Elsevier et al. will in effect receive a massive subsidy to continue their predacious ways.

There is a far, far better way. Our governments could simply fund open journals in which the research it funds would be published. We had something close to this in Canada for many decades until the devoutly anti-intellectual Harper government gave our publicly-funded journals away to good ol' private enterprise. The National Research Council's journals were independently edited. Canadians had open access to them online through a system funded by, I believe, the national library. Journals I could access at no cost before the giveaway now would cost me a total of more than $20,000 annually for a full set of subscriptions. This just to read the results of research for which I and my fellow citizens have already paid.

The UK system will be even worse, in effect funneling the people's cash directly into the pockets of looting publishers, while at the same time reducing funding for research that so often embarrasses governments.

I am continually surprised at how these crooks so openly rob us, yet still manage to convince us all that it is doing us a great deal of good.
posted by dmayhood at 3:15 PM on July 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


Cosmologist Peter Coles has one or two things to say on this. It certainly seems like this is a very bad idea for those of us in areas that essentially already have open access.
posted by edd at 7:42 AM on July 18, 2012


This is a total clusterfuck. I would expect nothing less.
posted by cromagnon at 10:17 AM on July 18, 2012


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