Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Harvard publishing conference and institutional funds to pay publication fees

Matthew Cockerill has blogged some notes on the Harvard conference on Publishing in the New Millennium: A Forum on Publishing in the Biosciences (Cambridge, November 9, 2007).  Excerpt:

...Much of the afternoon’s discussion revolved around open access and associated issues. The benefits of open access were clearly laid out in an opening keynote by Harold Varmus, Nobel Laureate and former Director of the NIH. A campus-level perspective on open access was then provided by Stuart Shieber, Professor of Computing at Harvard and Isaac Kohane, Director of Harvard Medical School’s Countway Library - both strong open access advocates.

Something which came across clearly at this forum, and in related discussions with administrators and faculty at Harvard and its neighbour MIT, is that open access is no longer simply a matter for discussion. The question has become how best to achieve it, and concrete steps are being taken.

As one example, Kohane mentioned that, in the light by the low rate of compliance by authors with NIH’s currently voluntary Public Access Policy, Harvard Medical School would be actively helping the process along by assisting faculty with the upload of  manuscript versions of their published articles to NIH’s open access archive, PubMed Central. On another front, as reported in the Harvard Crimson, Stuart Shieber has put forward a motion to the Faculty Council of Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences calling for a faculty-wide mandatory policy of open access. Over at MIT, similar moves are afoot.

More broadly, there is increasing recognition that moves towards open access will require a fundamental shift in how the communication of research findings is paid for. If full and immediate open access is to become the norm,  then publishers' subscription revenues will have to be replaced with other revenue streams. The cost of the research publication process may best  be seen as an integral part of the cost of carrying out, and then disseminating, the research, rather than being a 'content acquisition' cost payable by the library. At Harvard, there is talk of creating an Office of Research Communication that could help plan for and manage such a transition.

As previously noted on this blog, the UK Research Councils late last year issued a guidance note on the payment of publication fees, which paved the way for institutions such as Nottingham University to set up central open access funds, paid for using a share of indirect cost funding (payments received by universities from research funders to cover infrastructural expenditure etc).

Central funding of publication costs has an important role to play in facilitating the growth of open access publishing. If subscriptions are centrally supported (through library budgets), yet open access publication costs are not, authors may be put off by financial obstacles to open access publication, even when open access journals offer a demonstrably more efficient and better value service.  BioMed Central’s experience confirms that institutions which put in place a central payment schemes (such as BioMed Central membership) see an increased rate of growth in the uptake of open access publishing, as compared to when authors are expected to pay publication charges directly from their own grant funds.

To date, the National Institutes of Health, the largest funder of biological and medical research in the United States, has not yet issued any guidance regarding the applicability of indirect research funding for the central payment of research communication costs such as publication fees. Explicit confirmation from NIH, and other major US funders, that indirect costs can be used in this way could help to accelerate the growth of open access at Harvard, MIT and other US campuses, by facilitating  the creation of central open access funds. We see this as an important next step in the overall shift towards a sustainable and scaleable open access publishing model.