Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, March 03, 2007

More reflections on the Brussels meeting

Steve Hitchcock, Lack of fizzle at EC Brussels meeting disguises progress on OA, EPrints Insiders, March 2, 2007.  Excerpt:

The much-anticipated Brussels EC conference (Scientific Publishing in the European Research Area: Access, Dissemination and Preservation in the Digital Age, 15-16 February 2007) came and went with an official communication....[T]his report from JISC gives an overview of proceedings, and Stevan Harnad and Peter Suber blogged comments on the meeting and the communication, respectively.

For repositories the significance of the meeting was anticipated to be a policy from the EC mandating open access to the results and publications of research that it funds. Instead of "Let's mandate OA self-archiving" (the EC's proposal (A1), January 2006), however, we got "let's keep talking" (see Comments to Harnad blog above).

Expectations of a mandate were probably over-inflated, so we should be careful not to apply too negative an interpretation to the result. The lesson is that while inspired politicians will see the case for OA, we should not expect governments to take the lead on OA policy decisions....

For politicians making a decision about OA is not instinctive. They have wider interests to represent, a different balance of priorities, and ultimately votes to consider. According to Suber, writing in his more reflective monthly newsletter, "the lack of fireworks looks deliberate. The two EC Directorates General most involved in OA policy-making -- Information Society and Media, headed by Vivian Reding, and Research, headed by Janez Potocnik -- are trying to find a diplomatic trail through a minefield. They are eager to show support for the concerns on each side and postpone the day when they will have to alienate one of them."

The economic interests of OA have been given powerful weight in earlier reports (e.g. Houghton J. and Sheehan, P., The Economic Impact of Enhanced Access to Research Findings, 2006). A glance at the Brussels programme reveals that these were not the economics under discussion. The interests of publishers and publishing were to the fore, and Brussels politicians know that in Europe journals publishing is big business. Here some balance and perspective is needed: "The publishing industry has so far been successfully representing itself as if it were the industrial dimension of research activity, and as if it were publishing-industry revenues that represent the wealth-creation benefits of research, whereas in fact they are nothing of the sort: The real industrial dimension of research is incomparably bigger than the publishing industry", Stevan Harnad is quick to point out....

"The Communication is not a policy but a pointer toward a future policy", Suber continued. "It sends two signals: first that the EC has been listening to arguments from both sides and second, that all things considered it wants to move toward OA. What it does not do is squarely accept or reject the EC report's recommendation A1 for an OA mandate."

So the follow-up to Brussels for OA will involve more petitions, polls, and politics....