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News from the open access movement

Friday, April 24, 2009

New OA report from the RCUK

The Research Councils UK has released a new report, Open Access to Research Outputs (plus annexes).  The report is dated September 2008, but was only released yesterday.  From the announcement:

RCUK published today an independent study commissioned by the Research Councils into open access to research outputs. The purpose of the study was to identify the effects and impacts of open access on publishing models and institutional repositories in light of national and international trends. This included the impact of open access on the quality and efficiency of scholarly outputs, specifically journal articles. The report presents options for the Research Councils to consider, such as maintaining the current variation in Research Councilsí mandates, or moving towards increased open access, eventually leading to Gold Standard.

Welcoming the study, Professor Ian Diamond, Chair of the RCUK Executive Group said: "This excellent study sets out a way forward for the UK Research Councils in relation to open access, building on the extensive activities already supported through repositories such as UK PubMed Central and ESRC Society Today. The Research Councils look forward to working with their partners across the research community to consider the options."

In response to the study, the Chief Executives of the Research Councils have agreed that over time the UK Research Councils will support increased open access, by:

  • building on their mandates on grant-holders to deposit research papers in suitable repositories within an agreed time period, and;
  • extending their support for publishing in open access journals, including through the pay-to-publish model....

I'd include an excerpt from the report itself, but it's a locked PDF which has disabled cut/pasting.  (Why?  This is a report on OA from publicly-funded agencies committed to OA.)  I don't have time to rekey many of the results, but here are a few:

  • One key finding (#20) is that "In general, Open Access has had non impact on library subscriptions to date." 
  • Another (#23) is that 45% of authors publishing in fee-based OA journals had their fees paid by their funding agency.  Only 17% of authors paid a fee out of pocket.
  • Another (#36) is that authors who provided OA to their own work (apparently green or gold OA)ranked speed of dissemination as the most important factor in their decision.  OA for users came in second.  Funder and university mandates came in last; 66% said that mandates were not at all important in their decision.
  • Another (#46) is that "there is no inherent reason why [a move to OA] should jeopardise the position of existing publishers..., especially under a funded system of Gold [OA] publications.  the main caveat is that learned societies may find it difficult to adapt to a new business model and their general contribution to scholarly communication could be threatened."
  • Section 3 discusses three scenarios (#6.1):  (1) "A majority of world-wide funders move to a mandate similar to that taken by the Wellcome Trust and the MRC, and as a result the other research councils adopt a similar position", (2) "Business as Usual -- this scenario would see all RC's with mandates of one form or another -- some fairly tough and some more flexible and less monitored", and (3) "A majority of world-wide funders start to remove mandates because of pressure from various sectors e.g. publishers, academics, HEI's, Governments."
  • The findings are based on a review of the literature, consultations with stakeholders, and two online surveys, one of UK academic libraries and one of UK researchers funded by the RCUK. 


  • All 7 of the RCUK currently have green OA mandates in place.  The report does not recommend weakening or removing them.  Some of the RCUK are willing to pay publication fees at fee-based OA journals and some are not; the report does not recommend scaling this practice up or down.
  • The report incorrectly assumes (in #13) that most OA journals charge publication fees, when in fact most do not.  That's a very inauspicious sign about the thoroughness of its review of the literature and understanding of gold OA. 
  • As noted, the report finds that green OA mandates have not triggered TA journal cancellations (#20) and that "there is no inherent reason" why they should (#46).  It adds (#46) the "caveat...that learned societies may find it difficult to adapt to a new business model and their general contribution to scholarly communication could be threatened."  However, it does not cite the November 2007 study by Caroline Sutton and myself, which identified 425 societies publishing 450 full OA journals, and 21 societies publishing 73 hybrid OA journals.  (Caroline and I will soon release an update with even higher numbers.)  This too is an inauspicious sign of the study's thoroughness and depth.
  • The announcement --but not the report-- says that the leaders of the 7 individual Research Councils have agreed to "support increased open access, by extending their support for publishing in open access journals, including through the pay-to-publish model."  As long as they maintain their green OA mandates, and don't pay fees at journals with a double-charge business model, then I welcome this move.  Indeed, I hope the Research Councils will also find ways to support the majority of OA journals which charge no publication fees. 

Update (4/24/09).  Also see Stevan Harnad's comments:

Contrary to the suggestion of this RCUK report, there is no "Gold Standard" for OA except universal OA, and the way to universalize OA is to universalize Green OA self-archiving mandates to all institutions and funders globally, not to divert scarce research money -- pre-emptively and needlessly -- toward paying Gold OA publication fees at a time when subscription fees are still paying for publication worldwide and only 77 out of 10,000 institutions and funders have yet mandated Green OA. Green OA mandates are not failing to achieve compliance, as this RCUK report suggests: They have not yet been adopted by 99.23% of the world's institutions and funders!

Unlike "peer-to-peer" consumer "sharing" of creators' non-give-away commercial output, creators giving away their own peer-reviewed and public funded research output to maximize its uptake, usage and impact is not piracy but the sharing of a public good for public benefit. In contrast, publisher embargoes on research access are the hostage-taking of a public good -- and the way to counter that is immediate-deposit (IDOA) mandates coupled with the "Email EPrint Request" Button, not the payment of a gold ransom....

Update (4/29/09).  Also see ZoŽ Corbyn's article in THES on the RCUK report.  Excerpt:

...The study also reports that more than three quarters of 2,100 council-funded researchers surveyed were unaware of the councils' current mandates.

Paul Gemmill, chair of the research outputs group at Research Councils UK, said the next stage was to decide whether a specific model should be adopted. He said the process would involve learned societies, publishers and academics.

Open-access advocate Stevan Harnad, professor of electronics and computer science at the University of Southampton, said scarce research money should not be used to pay open-access journal fees, where the costs normally borne by the publisher are picked up by funders.

"If good sense were to prevail, funders and universities would just mandate repositories," he said....

Update (5/1/09). Also see Stevan Harnad's comments on Corbyn's article.