Going for gold, open access debate.

in open access, gold, STM, green

Update, audio of the meeting is now available on figshare

Last Thursday I attended the SciCommForum debate “Open access: going for gold?” held at Imperial College. Below are my notes from the event. The notes are fairly raw, and not comprehensive.

The debate is going to be looking at open access in the context of the RCUK policy, it is being hosted by Richard Van Noorden (RVN), Mark Thorley (MT) from RCUK, and Stephen Curry (SC).

MT opens by making the point that RCUK want to make research open to the largest number of people possible, including SMEs who might want to exploit the literature in order to drive innovation and growth. It’s clearly not just about being able to only read the literature. He mentions that the policy is being misinterpreted, in that some people say the policy says researchers must publish in Gold. They have a strong preference for Gold, but they don’t restrict publishing via the green route.

MT says they are going to announce the amount of money that they will be making available in the Autumn (probably not tonight then). MT says RCUK will make publishing the funding information of the published paper a requirement. (I recommend using the funding-group tag within the NLM tag suite).

SC steps up to discuss some of the potential issues about the policy. SC points out that most movements (EU, US), are mainly driving towards green (I didn’t know this). I think SC raises the reasonable question about wanting to know about the time-scale and costs for the transition. He does a good job of laying out the general contra argument.

Time for questions.

How will the money be paid?

The answer is pretty vague. The question of what happens when the money runs out also gets a pass. I suspect that the answers to these questions are just not known yet, but I think it is better to try this, then to not try it for lack of answers to some of these questions. MT stresses that the money will go to institutions, and those institutions will have the freedom to arrange matters as they see fit. It is noted that HEFCE is pro OA. OA is a very important thing that has to happen, and that there will be transition costs. They expect institutions to find the funding form within their research budgets.

SC asks if people have thought about how to manage the transition costs?.

He points out that in the long run an APC model will be cheaper because the costs will be transparent. We will get better value for money. I think he is implying that the moral imperative of getting to a system that is more efficient in terms of costs, means we need to have a plan to get over the transition hump asap.

Jan Velterop says if Uk negotiates on a national scale on subscriptions, that you might be able to negotiate.

He says that if a librarian walks away from a negotiation from a publisher, the librarian is in trouble. If a country walks away form a negotiation with a publisher, the publisher might be in trouble. (on the point of people who know how to negotiate, I always find the Dutch very good at this). JV makes the point that if you could bulk negotiate, the savings from this could pay for the transition costs. MT says that all of the data will be made open and available on the costs for APCs and which publishers will be getting which funds.

David Prosser asks If a researcher wants to publish in Journal X, and X is very expensive, and the researcher decides to go via the Green route, but the green option of that journal is not within the RCUK policy, then what happens?

MT says its clear, the researcher must use a compliant route. MT says they want to create a market in the APC market, up to now it has been a free route, it seems to researchers like there is a money fairy. By exposing these fees you expose the market.

There is a question about why they don’t tweak the policy to require Green after 6 months?

MT says that there will be unintended consequences of any policy, but obviously they don’t know what those would be, otherwise they wound not be unintended. The current version of the policy is a start of a journey, they will review the policy, but now they are not in a position to start tweaking their policy.

RVN says that in the UK there is no underlying green OA mandate.

This differs from outside of the UK, and that is seems to be downplaying the importance of repositories. The NIH has the policy that everyone must have their research in a repository.(I would say that PMC is not really a good representative of a typical “repository”).

MT says that he a Robert Kiley have written to the top 60 publishers, by volume of output from RCUK funding, to ask whether and how they will become compliant to the policy. About 50% have responded to date, and many have explained what they will do. Of those that have replied, 82% of the respondents will offer a CC-BY. One US publisher has said no to CC-BY, but will allow green after 6 months.

At this point in the evening I started to respond to some of the questions, so my notes do not give good coverage of the debate past this point.

An astrophysics researcher mentions the ArXiV. IMO a key issue of the ArXiV is that it raises the question of what value do the scoap3 charges actually provide. It seems naively obvious that they are only providing the stamp of peer reviewed publication, and that they are providing hardly any value on top of that.

The issue of success or otherwise of the institutional repository movement is mentioned, and it is proposed that the repository movement has not succeeded due to it not being around for a long time, but the comment was made in the context of preprints and preprint servers in the life sciences. IMO that preprints in life sciences have not worked is due to social and not technical reasons. .

Will RCUK monitor the quality of the journals that research will be published in?

No. It is not the role of the funder to check on this. It is up to researchers to publish in the most appropriate venues for their research.

What of repositories?

MT: We are not downplaying the role of repositories. They have a crucial and long term role to play.

There were some more interesting points raised, but at this point I was unable to keep up with taking notes, I believe that the audio of the debate will be published online.

My conclusions.

It seemed to me that two big questions came up throughout the debate. 1. what happens when the money runs out for supporting the policy? 2. What about repositories and green OA.

I think 1 is not answerable, and I think that any answer given now would need to be changed according to changing circumstances, and according to how the policy works out. We might like to have a nice roadmap and answers laid out, but the world is a messy place. I applaud RCUK for making this push. They will learn a lot more by trying this, than by almost any other action that they could take.

For 2, I have a hunch that what is going on here is that the decision comes out of a desire to create a transparent and more innovative market, ahead of almost any other concern. If one were to mandate green OA, out of the box, one would be putting an extreme distortion onto an existing marketplace, from outside. Now, I believe that this marketplace is ripe for disruption, and that STM publishers often fail to articulate exactly what value they bring to the table, but if you are a government that subscribes strongly to the view of market forces being the correct mechanism for driving innovation and efficiency, then you might want to look for a policy that expands the potential number of market players, and unleashes frees market competition to work effectively between the existing players. Mandating green OA does not place STM publishers in true competition with each other, in a way it meddles with an existing industry without offering robust alternatives, and it is possibly more interventionist that a conservative philosophy may stand to support.

One of the problems that the new policy begins to get to the heart of is the non-open nature of the STM market. This market is not an open and fair one due to confidentiality clauses between publishers and libraries over subscription fees. Driving towards an APC model resolves this, and starts to put publishers in direct competition with each other on the APC fees. Now they have to explain exactly why publishing in their journal costs twice or three times that of publishing in a competitors journal. The scientists may never actually pay these fees themselves, but perhaps they will start thinking about them.

Requiring content to be made CC-BY expands the potential numbers of players in the market who can offer services. I know that STM publishers have been working on bringing innovations to their content, but perhaps by having more players active, they will have to work a bit harder. The government has been making noises about the digital economy for a long time, and it might be no coincidence that this policy has opted for CC-BY licence while the UK is home to some of the best research groups on data mining, the semantic web, and has been the home of many innovative products in the STM space.