Monday 10 February 2014

Kurt Paulus on ALPSP International Conference 2013: Part 3 - State of play for journals open access

Fred Dylla from the American Institute of Physics
This is the third in a series of reflections on the 2013 ALPSP International Conference by Kurt Paulus, former Operations Director at the Institute of Physics, and long time supporter of ALPSP. Our thanks go to Kurt for capturing the sessions. If this whets your appetite, make sure you save the date for this year's conference on 10-12 September 2014.

State of play for journals open access

So you thought journals open access was all sorted? Not if you attended the session on negotiating with governments chaired by Fred Dylla of AIP. Fred has been closely involved in negotiations about open access models in the USA, Steve Hall of IOPP, as a member of the Finch working group is similarly placed in the UK and Eric Merkel-Sobotta of Springer filled in the picture for the European Union. The aspiration is familiar: everyone wants research results to reach the widest possible audience, and even increasingly acknowledges that this wish has to be paid for in a viable way. The contention is over the How?

In quick succession in the UK in mid 2012, the Finch Report recommended Gold open access as the preferred long-term option, agreed by all stakeholders with Green as the route to this destination. It also made recommendations about funding mechanisms, ways to increase access to the 96% of research published overseas, and experimentation on open access to monographs. The government accepted the report in principle, with Gold as the aim, but no extra money. Job done? Not so fast. Research Councils UK initially, though it is said with inadequate consultation, supported Gold and payment of APCs, but had to retreat, being out of step with what appeared to be happening in other countries, and was criticised by Parliament’s Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, though the latter did not escape criticism itself.

“Throwing things against the wall and hoping you’ll be able to clean up the mess later on seems a poor substitute for evidence-based reasoning” David Crotty, Scholarly Kitchen

The Higher Education Funding Council for England is consulting and appears to be veering towards Green. University policies are still evolving and there is no consistency within the Russell Group of universities, with Gold being favoured by only a very small minority. Most publishers are offering Gold as an option but a pragmatic approach seems the order of the day.

“Status of implementation in UK: Green is the new Gold” Steve Hall

Steve Hall from Institute of Physics Publishing
Let’s go to Brussels then: the Commission’s Horizon 2020 aims to optimize the impact of publicly funded scientific research on economic growth, better and more efficient science and improved transparency, with open access as the general principle, and a mix of Gold and Green: all principles but no practical implementation so far.

In Germany an initial 18-month consultation came out for Gold but an alliance of small publishers, Börsenverein (organizer of Frankfurt Book Fair) and large funders scuppered the initiative. There has been some progress in other countries but it has been difficult to approach the momentum achieved in the UK and USA.

There is some urgency at the European Union level as there will be a new Commission within about a year, and the work may have to start all over again if no solid consensus emerges before then. Eric Merkel-Sobotta urged all his listeners and their associations – ALPSP, STM and others – to build up much more of a presence in Brussels and articulate a coherent argument for the place of publishers in the value-added chain, to defeat the still current clichĂ© of the greedy, rip-off publisher.

“Continue to engage constructively in the debate and increase the volume” 
Eric Merkel-Sobotta

By now the atmosphere in the great marquee was perhaps a little subdued: here we are all ready for new business models for journal publishing, but why is it so difficult? Fred Dylla’s review of the US experience was perhaps a little more positive. There is a clear policy on the part of the Office of Science and Technology Policy for increasing access to the results of federally funded research. Funding agencies have been asked to come up with proposals for achieving this, due about now. Most agencies have not yet publicly responded though the National Institutes for Health are ahead of the game with the offer to open up PubMedCentral to other agencies.

Eric Merkel-Sobotta from Springer
About 70 publishers together with CrossRef have offered the option of CHORUS, a multi-agency, multi-publisher portal and information bridge that identifies articles and provides access, enhances search capabilities and long-term preservation, with no cost to the funding agencies. The universities have offered SHARE, an approach scaled up from existing repositories. This offers potential for collaboration with CHORUS.

Fluid is perhaps the best word to describe the state of play in respect of public access policy, with a fairly systematic approach in the USA, some hope in the UK and head scratching in the rest of the EU. Expect another session at this conference a year from now. Meanwhile, keep up to date with posts on the Scholarly Kitchen and elsewhere.

Kurt Paulus, Bradford-on-Avon

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