Dear Publishers Association
I ask that you amend the open access decision tree you created for incorporation into the guidance notes accompanying the Open Access (OA) policy announced by Research Councils UK (RCUK) in 2013. It may seem odd to ask for a correction so late in the day but my reasons for doing so are two-fold.
First, the Publishers Association (PA) decision tree has been problematic from the outset because it does not properly represent the RCUK OA policy. In particular, it suggests that if authors have access to funds from the RCUK to pay publisher’s article processing charges, they are required to publish by the gold OA route (see diagram below). This contradicts the RCUK policy and guidance (PDF) which states that “the choice of route to Open Access remains with the researchers and their research organisations” (see page 6).
I hoped that this message would have become clearly established in the past two years and that the faulty PA decision tree might therefore have fallen into disuse. However, this appears not to be the case since Gemma Hersh, a policy director at Elsevier, referred to it last week on Twitter as ‘the crucial tree underpinning RCUK’s policy’. When I queried the accuracy of this statement in light of the fact that the tree obscures the choice accorded by RCUK policy to authors, she was emphatic in defending the view that “it’s how the policy works in practice”. It is a matter of some concern that some publishers are spreading information about the RCUK OA policy that is not completely correct.
The second motive is the publication last week of the report of the first review of the RCUK’s open access policy (available as a PDF), which was chaired by Professor Sir Bob Burgess and also had the PA’s chief executive, Richard Mollet, as a member. As you will be aware, this review has made two recommendations that are important to the matter in hand.
The first (2.1) is that:
Further attention to communications surrounding the RCUK policy, in dialogue with the research communities, publishers and HEIs would help ease confusion and generate better awareness of the expectations of the policy.
I’m sure you agree this is sensible. Indeed, I am glad to see that the PA has highlighted the review’s point about the need for clarity in communications in its own summary of the review. As everyone who has worked on open access is aware, the policy landscape is complex. It is vital that messages to researchers are free from confusion.
The second recommendation (2.4) is that:
In communication during the transition period, the mixed model approach to open access is promoted to ensure that researchers are aware that they have a choice of how to publish.
The mixed model – that gold and green routes are both open and that the choice of which route to take is down to authors – is a central plank of the RCUK policy, but this is not communicated by the original version of the PA decision tree.
To help clarify matters, I have taken the liberty of creating a modified version of your decision tree that incorporates the requisite element of author choice (see below – a PowerPoint version can be downloaded here). I ask that it be used in place of the original, erroneous diagram and would be grateful if you could share it with your members.
If you disagree with my interpretation of RCUK OA policy, I would be happy to discuss.
Update (00:12, 31-3-15): I have made one further adjustment to the tree to reflect the fact that Medical Research Council embargo periods are restricted to 6 months. Thanks to @GeraldineCS for pointing this out.