Open Access Juggernaut Hits London

Everyone’s talking about open access (OA). It has been a year of dramatic developments in the drive to liberate access to the research literature and the blogosphere is buzzing with excited chatter.

Well, perhaps not everyone and not even the whole of the blogosphere. It’s important not to get too carried away. I wonder how much in the online discussion has spilled over into common rooms and group meetings around the world? I fret sometimes that the online activity on this topic masks a lack on interest on the ground among researchers too focused on their next grant, next paper, next lecture or next committee meeting to devote time to the issue.

For that reason that I’m grateful to the Science Communication Forum at Imperial for organising, a discussion meeting next Thursday evening on open access, and in particular on the implications of the new RCUK OA policy. Mark Thorley of RCUK will present the new policy and then Richard van Norden will chair a discussion between Mark and myself and the rest of the audience. Also in attendance will be representatives from HEFCE, RLUK, NERC, Wellcome Trust, MRC, NIMR and the Imperial College Library


The new RCUK policy is a marked improvement on the current one. But although it surpasses some of the more tepid recommendations of the Finch report, the policy still falls short in some eyes of the ideals and declared goals of the open access movement, recently re-stated by the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI).

If you’re in or near London next week, please come along — it promises to be a good session. As I wrote recently, people who know are asking are some important questions of the RCUK policy and its implications. The event is free to attend but you will have to reserve a place.

To get yourself in the mood, you could do worse than to peruse the BOAI statement, which defines the goals of the OA movement for the next ten years. It reveals a different set of emphases compared to Finch, with greater focus on the role of universities to mandate and facilitate the use of green OA routes.

The document is clearly laid out and easy to read, though it does come across as a little dry. For a more palatable alternative that provides additional context, allow me to point you towards this excellent interview by Richard Poynder with Alma Swan, one of the central architects of the statement and an expert and thoughtful advocate for OA.


This entry was posted in Open Access and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Open Access Juggernaut Hits London


    QUESTION 1: For hybrid subscription journals that offer both Gold OA (CC-BY) for a fee and Green OA (6-12) for free, why does RCUK require authors to pick and pay for Gold? Why not leave the choice to the author?

    RCUK Policy:

    “…papers must be published in journals which are [RCUK]-compliant… journal [is RCUK-]compliant… if…(1)… journal offers [Gold OA, CC-BY].. Or (2) where publisher does not offer option 1… journal must allow… [Green OA, 6-12]”

    QUESTION 2: If the RCUK official policy really means “RCUK authors may choose Green or Gold” rather than “RCUK authors may choose Green only where Gold is not offered”, then why does it not say “RCUK authors may choose Green or Gold” rather than “RCUK authors may choose Green only where Gold is not offered”?

    QUESTION 3: Are Finch/RCUK not bothered by the fact that the new policy that “RCUK authors may choose Green where Gold is not offered” (if that’s what it means) would be in direct contradiction with the recommendations of BOAI-10 to institutions (see excerpt at end of this posting)?

    QUESTION 4: How many UK research fields urgently need CC-BY today? Have Finch/RCUK not confused the re-use needs of research data (Open Data) with the need for free online access to articles? What percentage of all research fields needs and wants CC-BY (machine data-mining and re-publication rights) for its articles today, compared to the percentage that needs and wants free online access to its articles? What is the relative urgency of these two needs today (and the price worth paying to fulfill them)?

    QUESTION 5: What good does it do UK industry to have BIS subsidize Gold OA for the UK’s 6% of worldwide research output (out of the UK’s scarce research funds) when the rest of the world is not doing the same (and unlikely to afford or want to) for the remaining 94% of worldwide research output? Does UK industry need Open Access only to the UK’s own research output, in order to “create wealth”?

    QUESTION 6: Is RCUK not concerned that a policy requiring UK authors to choose Gold over Green would simply induce subscription publishers to offer a pricey hybrid Gold option and to increase their Green embargoes (for all authors worldwide) so as to ensure that all UK researchers must pay for Gold? Won’t that make it tougher for other others (94%) to provide and mandate Green OA worldwide?

    QUESTION 7: Has anyone troubled to do the arithmetic on the UK subsidy for Gold? The UK publishes 6% of worldwide research output. The UK presumably also pays 6% of publishers’ worldwide subscription revenue. Most publishers today are subscription publishers. So, in response to the current policy that “RCUK authors may choose Green only where Gold is not offered”, would it not make sense for all subscription publishers worldwide simply to add a hybrid Gold option, so that their total subscription income can be increased by 6% for hybrid Gold, subsidized by the UK tax-payer and UK research funds? Has it not been noticed by Finch/RCUK that even if publishers made good on the promise to lower their subscription fees in proportion to any increase in their Gold OA revenue from the UK, the UK would only get back 6% of the 6% it double-pays for hybrid Gold?

    QUESTION 8: The Finch Report (cited also by RCUK) claimed that Green OA had failed, and suggested it should be downgraded to just preservation archiving. But is it not rather the prior RCUK Green OA mandate that failed, because it adopted no compliance verification mechanisms? Green OA mandates with effective compliance mechanisms (integrated with institutional mandates) are succeeding very well elsewhere in the world. Why does the new RCUK again focus only on confirming compliance with Gold, rather than with Green?

    ANSWER: RCUK already has a Green OA mandate. If the UK wants 100% OA within two years, it need only add the following simple, cost-effective compliance verification mechanism: (1) Deposit must be in the fundee’s institutional repository. (This makes each UK institution responsible for monitoring and verifying timely compliance.) (2) All articles must be deposited immediately upon acceptance for publication. (Publisher embargoes apply only to the date on which the deposit is made OA.) (3) Repository deposit must be designated the sole mechanism for submitting publications for UK research assessment (REF).


    — 1.1. Every institution of higher education should have a policy assuring that peer-reviewed versions of all future scholarly articles by faculty members are deposited in the institution’s designated repository…

    — Deposits should be made as early as possible, ideally at the time of acceptance, and no later than the date of formal publication.

    — University policies should respect faculty freedom to submit new work to the journals of their choice.

    — University policies should encourage but not require publication in OA journals…

    — 1.3. Every research funding agency, public or private, should have a policy assuring that peer-reviewed versions of all future scholarly articles reporting funded research are deposited in a suitable repository and made OA as soon as practicable.

    — Deposits should be made as early as possible, ideally at the time of acceptance, and no later than the date of formal publication…


    The RCUK fundee is actually faced with not one but two semi-independent choices to make in order to comply with the RCUK OA mandate: the between-journals choice of a suitable journal, and the within-journal choice of a suitable option.

    These two semi-independent choices have been (inadvertently) conflated in the current RCUK policy draft, treating them, ambiguously, as if they were one choice.

    Both choices are nominally GREEN versus GOLD choices.

    Let’s quickly define “GREEN” and “GOLD,” because they mean the same in both cases. I will use a definition based on the current RCUK policy draft:

    GOLD means the journal makes the article OA with CC-BY (“Libre OA”), usually for a fee.

    GREEN means the author makes the article OA (“Gratis OA”) by depositing it in a repository, and making it OA within 0-12 months of publication.

    These two definitions are not what is in dispute here.

    But now the GREEN versus GOLD choice applies to two different things:

    (1) the author’s choice of which journal is an RCUK-suitable journal to publish in (this is the between-journals choice)

    and then, if the journal offers both the GREEN and GOLD option:

    (2) the author’s choice of which option to pick (this is the within-journal choice).

    A perfectly clear and unambiguous way to state the intended policy would be:

    An RCUK-suitable journal is one that offers

    (i) GREEN only or (ii) GOLD only or (iii) BOTH (i.e., hybrid GREEN+GOLD).

    An RCUK author may choose (i), (ii) or (iii).

    If the choice is (iii), the RCUK author may choose GREEN or GOLD.

    That would dispel all ambiguity.

    (It is not clear why the clause “Where a publisher does not offer option 1 above” was ever inserted in the first place, as the logic of what is intended is perfectly clear without it, and is only obscured by inserting it. The only two conceivable reasons I can think of for that gratuitous and misleading clause’s having been inserted in the first place are that either (a) the drafters half-forgot about the hybrid GREEN+GOLD possibility, or (b) they were indeed trying to push authors (and publishers!) toward the GOLD option in both choices: the between-journal choice of GOLD versus GREEN journal and the within-journal choice of the GOLD versus GREEN option — possibly because of Gold Fever induced by BIS’s Finch Folly.)

Comments are closed.