Open Access: The Good, The Not So Bad and The Ugly?
Posted by infokelele on August 22, 2012
In May and June 2012, two significant Open Access recommendations came hot on the heels of one another. Many people may not have noticed. Industry insiders however took note.
The first was the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) and the Publishers Association’s joint report titled “The potential effect of making journals free after a six month embargo’’. The report warned quite unflinchingly that only 1 out of 2 journal subscriptions currently would survive a six month Open Access embargo mandate.
The picture above fits like a T for Scientific, Technical and Medical publications according to this report. Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences publications would suffer even worse. They would retain only about 3 out of their 10 current subscriptions. The long and short of the report was that a 6-month embargo period applied universally for all journal publications would imperil the publishing industry to the point of driving them out of business. (In ‘plainspeak’, an embargo policy means that peer reviewed journal articles become free for online access after a certain predefined period of sales).
The ALPSP/AP report essentially took a cynical stand on the long term reliability of institutional repositories. Open Access enthusiasts smelling that their goose may be targeted for cooking did not take this lying down. Predictably, they cast the publisher’s group as self-serving interested only in defending their status quo of higher profits and low marginal costs.
The second set of recommendations came from the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings otherwise known as the Finch report. This report underlined the potential social, economic and political benefits of expanding Open Access such as enhanced transparency in governance, more room for economic growth and increased public returns on research investments. It also enumerated the obstacles that impede Open Access’ adoption chief of which is the competing and sometimes deep conflicting interests of the different stakeholders. These mostly revolve around competing interpretations about costs, revenues, value and quality. This notwisthstanding, the Finch report still fell short of fully endorsing Open Access. Instead, it calls for further analysis on the best ways to expand Open Access globally.
Some in the Open Access movement have dismissed the Finch report as a diplomatic maneuver that could postpone or create systemic delays in the current momentum towards Open Access adoption but not everyone agrees with them. Others have seen it as being too lenient to the for-profit journal publishing industry! Yet still, others have viewed it as either too broad or too accomodating of the different stakeholders with the potential for decision paralysis.
Regardless, the report has not been without immediate impacts.
The Research Councils UK (RCUK) apparently reacting to the report, for instance, has updated its Open Access policies. Under the new policies, RCUK’s funded peer reviewed research papers must provide information on how to access the underlying research data among other provisions. The works must also be licensed to allow for use and re-use including for commercial purposes where publishers have been paid through article processing charges.
Additionally, the RCUK appeared to have taken a markedly different stand from the main recommendations of the Finch Report although I stand to be corrected on my understanding of this. While the Finch report favors Open Access through peer reviewed journals (what some people refer to as Gold), the RCUK prioritizes access through institutional repositories (in what is mostly referred to as Green). RCUK has a blog at http://blogs.rcuk.ac.uk/ for those interested in understanding more and or in engaging in discussions with the council about its Open Access policies.
What I however find missing in these reports is the broadband question which needs to be a key supporting pillar of the Open Access equation. The reports assume that there is already a widespread global information infrastructure that would support public information access. This is simply not the case for any given country. For many countries broadband has been strongly associated with significant growth in national GDPs and anecdotally with bridging of income inequalities. Without affordable broadband Internet access, Open Access will not deliver fully on its social, economic and political promises. For what goal would granting people access to research findings achieve if a majority of them remain fundamentally unable to access those results in the first place?
So what do you think? Did you learn or discover something new about Open Access? Did it help improve your understanding of the findings in the reports and their coverage? What would you add to the Open Access debate?
Blogger’s note: Open Access as referred to here are scientific literature that undergo the usual rigorous peer review process made available online for access without charge under specific licensing arrangements.