Twelve months after the publication of the Finch Report, during which the new RCUK policy on open access has been published, dissected, debated (including by committees in both Houses of Parliament), revised and implemented, it seems an apposite moment to step back and take stock.
A collection of essays published today under the title Debating Open Access presents one attempt to do just that. Given that the essays have been produced under the imprimatur of the British Academy there is an emphasis on the perspective from the humanities and social sciences — I am the only natural scientist among the eight contributors. This is healthy in my view, since the open access debate often appears to be dominated by scientific interests. That domination may simply be due to the fact that money talks — the natural sciences take the lion’s share of funding from the UK Research Councils — but, as Rita Gardner points out in her essay, around half of all UK academics are from the humanities and social sciences.
I have read most of the essays in the collection and so far they seem to me to provide measured and meditative contributions from different stakeholders in the open access debate, even though it is clear that major tensions remain. The essays usefully dissect various aspects of the issue, including the challenges faced by learned societies (Rita Garder), opportunities to take a fresh look at peer review (Martin Paul Eve) and the pertinent differences between disciplines (Ziyad Marar). I particularly appreciated Stuart Shieber’s forensic analysis of scholarly publishing and his identification of support for hybrid journals as a key weakness in current UK policy.
I don’t by any means agree with all that I have read — I confess I struggled to see the world from historian Robin Osborne’s point of view — but am pleased nevertheless to have the arguments and counter arguments laid out in such thoughtful terms. I hope the slender volume will find a wide readership. That should be achieved easily since there are no barriers to access — the essays are available as free PDF downloads, either singly or as a complete collection.