The Christmas holiday has unmoored me. End of year exhaustion segued into a bout of ‘flu that knocked me onto my back, where I lay and ached, semi-detached by illness and medication as around me my family made preparations for a celebration that came and went. Even now, although I am recovering, a filmy phlegm clings to my throat, indifferent to coughing, and slides into my stomach while I sleep to nauseate my mornings.

Through enforced inactivity the days have blurred. Still, I know the year’s end is upon us and sense that around the corner the unseen work of the year to come is taking shape. I don’t yet have the strength to face that low beast, but let me try to gather myself first by looking back on a year that is about to close. I may be drifting unsteadily through the holidays but perhaps I can find a hold on the tiller.

Lane (B&W), Ballymena

Let’s keep this short. Twenty-twelve was, more than anything else, the year of open access. I picked up on the issue back in January, incensed by Elsevier’s machinations over the Research Works Act, and haven’t let go since. It has been a long learning curve as, over the course of 32 blog posts, I covered debates, speeches, the Finch Report, the new RCUK policy and the ongoing ructions about how exactly it is going to be implemented. Along the way I wrote two of my most popular blogposts — they are still attracting traffic to this day — the first about an argument over PLOS ONE and the second, an impassioned plea for the end of impact factors.

These blogposts stimulated a valuable discussion in the comment threads, from which I learned a great deal, but they also triggered invitations to contribute articles, to be interviewed on radio and TV and to speak at meetings and debates. Without ever intending to I have become a sort of mouthpiece. That’s not to say that my views are mature and ripe for dissemination to the wider world; they are very much still in gestation. I frankly don’t know how the UK’s declaration for gold OA (while still allowing green) will play out. Resistance to Finch has, if anything, grown since the release of the working group’s report in the summer and the RCUK’s announcements of its mode of implementation; the latest salvoes have come from the Humanities and Social Sciences, history journals in particular having set themselves against the winds of change.

The open access issue may seem vexed in many quarters but I remain optimistic. I never expected the Finch working group — and nor I suspect did they — to be able to produce proposals that would satisfy all parties. They have certainly shaken things up a bit and nobody knows how they will settle out. Only one thing is clear: there is more work to do and there are more arguments to be had in 2013.

Open access wasn’t the only science policy issue on my mind in 2012. The ongoing travails of the declining UK science budget were never far away, nor was the persistent question of what sort of science merits public funding (answer: all sorts). I was delighted in November to be elected onto the Board of Directors at the Campaign for Science and Engineering and look forward to continuing my education at the interface between science and politics (a frictive junction that has produced considerable heat and just a little light of late).

I was more delighted still to witness back in May the introduction to parliament of a bill to amend the law on defamation in England and Wales. This was the culmination of the libel reform campaign, which had kicked off in 2010 as Simon Singh was fighting off the erroneous claims of the scientifically illiterate British Chiropractic Association. The campaign has wide, indeed cross-party, support but the reform is not yet a done deal. The bill is presently at the committee stage in the House of Lords but still needs work to bolster the public interest defence. The government has recently offered some concessions on this but the campaign would like to see more wrung out before finally, hopefully, the new law is enacted. Watch this space.

London 2012 - as it will be seen

There is life beyond campaigning — thank goodness. In August Occam’s Typewriter set up an Occam’s Corner shop on the Guardian Science Blogs. Though terrifying at first — and though I’ve yet to find the right voice for this new venue and audience — it’s remarkable how quickly you can get used to things. I am enjoying the new surroundings and have started to have a little fun, at least with Simon Jenkins and DNA.

I had even more fun at Matilda — I’m not big on musicals but it was sublime — and at the Edinburgh Festival where my personal highlights (apart, of course, from my daughter) were Pappy’s Last Show Ever and Tony Law’s Maximum Nonsense (follow the links and you can catch them too). On the scientific front, Jim Al-Khalili’s Order and Disorder was the most wonderful thing on television, while the transit of Venus gave me a moment of purest astronomical joy.

And that is quite enough words for now; I think I can see the outline of the shore.


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3 Responses to Year

  1. rpg says:

    Mind the rocks, Stephen, sounds like you could do with a good harbour pilot.

  2. Ugh, sorry to hear that Stephen – being ill at Christmas is particularly miserable. I hope you feel better soon as you gear up for another year of fighting the man 🙂

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