Finch Committee: Update

I reported before on the notes from earlier meetings of the Finch Committee, which was set up by Science Minister David WIlletts to formulate proposals for making publicly-funded research more accessible. The notes of their latest meeting, held on 27th April, are now available so I wanted to add an update. I’ve uploaded a highlighted PDF for anyone who wants to read all four pages.

The more recent discussions bring out some of the tensions between the academic and publishing members of the committee. The circulation of a revised draft policy on open access by RCUK was a point of contention. According to the notes, Mark Thorley (RCUK):

stressed that the draft policy, as it stands, does not constitute a formal RCUK position. Disquiet had been expressed about circulating it widely in anticipation of the conclusions of the Working Group, and it was argued that this had been premature. RCUK stressed that the issuing of the document at this stage was essentially a means of testing out ideas. 

He added that there had been much positive feedback. That was certainly the tenor of my submission to RCUK (see here for my reaction to the draft proposals).

Publishers were dismayed with the RCUK’s proposal for a maximum 6 month embargo on scientific papers following the green route to open access:

Publisher members of the Working Group were unhappy about this, and were perplexed about the rationale specifically for a six-month period, which did not appear to be based on any analysis of the half-life of articles. RCUK’s view, however, was that the six-month span had been suggested because it was deemed right and appropriate.

It looks like RCUK wants to stick to its guns. To facilitate this, the organisation seems to be moving to a more flexible position on payment of author processing charges (APCs) — the so-called gold open access route which provides immediate availability:

Mark Thorley reported on the new RCUK position on meeting costs of APCs. Under this, researchers would be allowed to include APCs in directly-incurred costs for research grants; the payments could be placed in an institution’s publication fund. Research Councils would show flexibility when matching payments to publications. This stance was welcomed by all around the table. 

I’m not certain yet whether this proposal quite matches the Wellcome Trust’s easy mechanism but it looks to be a move in the right direction.

There was also tension over text-mining:

Publishers were also apprehensive about the proposals relating to text mining. RCUK’s view is that it wishes to see all research outputs from its funding placed in the public domain, and feels that the suggested approach to text mining addresses this need.

Again – good to see RCUK holding its ground.

The discussion then moved on to look at cost implications. There are some details given but the analysis remains to be completed. Nevertheless, at the time of the meeting, the committee agreed the following principles as it now moves to finalise its report:

  • Maximum access at the point of use should be set out at the outset as a fundamental principle, with APCs presented as a key vehicle for this, but not the only vehicle.
  • The recommendations of the Working Group will relate to all research, not just publicly-funded activity – but clearly it will have less influence over the policies and practices outside the public sector.
  • There is a need for clarity about what licences should cover, given the distinction between read-only and re-use rights. Here too, sustainability is an important factor. Nonetheless, the Group felt that the policy should stress that there should be as few restrictions as possible for use and re-use, including text and data mining. 
  • An emphasis on the need for sustainability and competitiveness should replace references to distribution to publishers’ shareholders.

What does that last point mean exactly? Not sure, it does at least point to the potential for competition between publishers to drive some cost savings. It is to be hoped that a new market in publishing might generate some hungry and innovative new entrants.

These meeting notes are now a few weeks old (the committee met again today for the last time). But it is good to read that they were also planning have meetings with the “Nr 10 Policy Unit and with representatives from the European Commission”, before finalising their report. That latter get-together is particularly significant in the light of today’s news that the Commission will be expecting any researchers funded under the EU’s massive €80bn Horizon 2020 program (which will run from 2014 to 2020) to publish under the open access model.

This tanker is slowly turning.

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4 Responses to Finch Committee: Update

  1. David says:

    There appears to be an assumption from the publishers that citation and usage half-lifes guide us in setting embargoes. However, nobody as yet has shown any evidence for a correlation between half-live and a library’s willingness to cancel journals. Until they do then we are are dealing with nothing more than speculation.

    (And I would argue that just because articles are valued over a long period it does not automatically follow that they are less valued immediately – imagine a librarian saying to a Shakespeare scholar – ‘sorry, we cancelled that journal but come back in a year and you can have the article’.)

  2. I’m sorry to hear that they are still considering that concealment of results for 6 months is a possible option. The time is surely past for unsatisfactory compromises like that.

    From now on it is true open access, instantly, or nothing. The fact that some mathematics journals manage it without charging either authors or readers is surely what we should be aiming for. I have no doubt that publishers will charge far more than is necessary for open access, in an an attempt to keep up their profits. Well, sorry but the game is up.

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