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RCUK fails to end ‘green’ embargo confusion

Revised open-access guidance leaves unanswered questions

Man hugging a tree

Source: Kobal

Lingering, confusing ‘decision tree’: RCUK, publishers, BIS and minister have different takes on what it means

Confusion and controversy continue to abound over the length of time before research must be made freely available through the “green” open-access route, despite Research Councils UK’s publication of revised policy guidance last week.

The guidance was issued following criticism by the Lords Science and Technology Committee of what peers called an “unacceptable” lack of clarity about the original policy, published in July.

During the Lords inquiry, it emerged that RCUK had adopted a “decision tree” based on the Publishers Association’s reading of the government’s response to the Finch report, on which UK open-access policy is based.

The tree, which is endorsed by the government, makes clear that where no funding is available to pay “gold” open-access article fees, the embargo length for papers made available via the repository-based green route should be 12 months for science and 24 months for other subjects, rather than the six and 12 months stipulated in RCUK’s policy.

Rick Rylance, RCUK chief executive, told the committee that the shorter embargoes would not be enforced during a five-year transition period to open access, and that the revised guidance would make this clear. However, the guidance reiterates that the shorter embargo periods remain RCUK policy except where funding for gold has run out.

It also makes clear that while RCUK prefers gold to green, the choice ultimately lies with researchers and institutions.

An RCUK spokeswoman confirmed that even when funding for gold is still available via universities’ RCUK-provided block grants, researchers could still choose the green option with its shorter embargo periods.

But this reading of the decision tree was disputed by a spokeswoman for the Publishers Association. She insisted that if funds and gold options were available, researchers should choose gold.

“The only instance in which green with six/12-month embargoes would be countenanced is where the publisher does not offer gold,” she said.

The association’s chief executive, Richard Mollet, also expressed concern over RCUK’s continued insistence on a six-month embargo for work funded by the Medical Research Council, even when no gold funding is available.

RCUK pointed out that this had been MRC policy since 2006, but Mr Mollet said it was “at odds with the Finch recommendations and government policy”, and was unsustainable for most medical titles.

In a hearing of the Lords committee, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, described RCUK’s shorter embargo periods as “the nirvana of which they dream” rather than the policy reality.

However, a spokeswoman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills supported the position set out in RCUK’s revised guidance. She said that although the government and RCUK had a “strong preference” for gold if the funds were available, researchers were not compelled to choose it.

Another senior publishing source, who did not want to be named, said it was the “clear understanding of all publishers” that the decision tree entailed that the shorter embargo periods applied only if gold funding was unavailable.

“The only measure of availability…is whether it is available to the author for a specific paper in a specific journal, not whether there is funding available in the institution’s publication fund,” he added.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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  • Stevan Harnad

    KEYSTROKE MANDATES

    What a mess! With publishers eagerly pawing at the Golden Door, and RCUK hopelessly waffling at Green embargo limits and their enforcement.

    But relief is on the way! HEFCE has meanwhile quietly and gently proposed a solution that will moot all this relentless cupidity and stupidity.

    HEFCE has proposed to mandate that in order to be eligible for the Research Excellence Framework (REF) the final, peer-reviewed drafts of all papers published as of 2014 will have to be deposited in the author's institutional repository immediately upon publication: no delays, no embargoes, no exceptions -- irrespective of whether the paper is published in a Gold OA journal or a subscription journal, and irrespective of the allowable length of the embargo on making the deposit OA: The deposit itself must be immediate.

    This has the immense benefit that while the haggling continues about how much will be paid for Gold OA and how long Green OA may be embargoed, all papers will be faithfully deposited -- and deposited in institutional repositories, which means that all UK universities will all be recruited, as of 2014, to monitor and ensure that deposit is made, and made immediately. (Institutions have an excellent track record for making sure that everything necessary for REF is done, and done reliably, because a lot of money and prestige is at stake for them.)

    And one of the ingenious features of the proposed HEFCE/REF Green OA mandate is the stipulation that deposit may not be delayed: Authors cannot wait till just before the next REF, six years later, to do it. If the deposit is not immediate, the paper is ineligible for REF.

    And, most brilliant stroke of all, this ensures that it is not just the 4 papers that are ultimately chosen for submission to REF that are deposited immediately -- for that choice is always a retrospective one, made after looking over the past 6 years' work, to pick the four best papers. Rarely will this be known in advance. So the safest policy will be to deposit all papers immediately, just in case.

    This is precisely the compliance assurance mechanism the RCUK mandate so desperately needs in order to succed but the RCUK policy-makers have not yet had the wit to conceive and adopt. Well, HEFCE/REF have done it for them, bless them.

    But immediate-deposit is not immediate-OA you say? Indeed it is not. It does, however, overcome OA's most formidable hurdle, which is getting all those papers into the institutional repositories, and right away: keystrokes. It is those keystrokes that have stood between the research world and OA for over over two decades now.

    Once the institutional repositories are reliably being filled to 100%, does anyone with the slightest imagination doubt what will follow, as nature (and human nature) takes its course?

    First, the repositories will facilitate sending reprints to those who request a single copy for research purposes, with one click each. Sending reprints is not OA; researchers have been doing it for a half century. But they used to have to do it by reading Current Contents or scanning journals' contents lists, mailing reprint requests, and then waiting and hoping that authors would take the time and trouble and expense to mail them a reprint, as requested (and many did). But now the whole transaction is just one click each, and almost immediate, if both parties are at the wheel.

    But that's just Almost-OA. Once immediate-deposit is mandated, however, about 60% of the deposits can be made immediately OA, because about 60% of journals already endorse immediate, unembagoed Green OA. (RCUK has already succeeded is bringing that figure somewhat closer to 50/50 with its perverse preference for Gold, inspiring hybrid Gold publishers to offer Gold and increase Green embargo lengths to try to force UK authors to pick Gold over Green.

    But that's about half immediate-OA plus half Almost-OA to tide over researcher needs during the embargo. Does anyone have any doubt about what will happen next? As OA and Almost-OA grows, and the research community tastes what it's like to have half immediate-OA and half Almost-OA, all the disciplines that have not yet had the sense to do what almost 100% of physicists have been doing for 20 years now without so much as a moment's hesitation or a "by your leave":

    That last remaining keystroke, once a paper is written, revised, accepted and deposited -- the keystroke that makes the paper OA -- will be done more and more, and sooner and sooner, until the embargoes with which publishers are trying to hold research hostage will all die their natural and well-deserved deaths and the research community does the obvious, optimal and inevitable, in the online era.

    (Nor will peer-reviewed journal publishing die, as publishers keep warning menacingly: It will simply convert to Gold OA -- but only after the pressure from Green OA has forced journals to phase out all obsolete products and services and their costs: that means phasing out the print version and the online version, and offloading all access-providing and archiving onto the global network of Green OA institutional repositories. Then, instead of double-paying for Gold OA, as Finch folly and RCUK recklessness would have us do -- subscriptions plus Gold OA fees -- post-Green Gold OA will just be a fee for the peer review service, at a fair, affordable and sustainable price, paid for out of a fraction of institutions' annual subscription cancellation windfall savings instead of out of scarce research funds, over and above subscriptions, as now.)

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  • I agree with Stevan that the proposed HEFCE/REF Green OA mandate is a very positive development and a thankful step away from the confusion of the last 8 months. One small point to make about the RCUK decision tree: where there is no paid OA option in your journal of choice, you can be compliant with the RCUK policy via the Green Route of repository deposit with an embargo of 6-12 months. However, where the publisher DOES offer a paid APC option but there is no money to cover the APC, the embargo appears to get expanded to 12-24 months.

    Without a subvention from other sources, it is estimated that the RCUK block-grant will cover 45% of UK publishing costs for its funded research in year one of the five year programme. But what of the other 55%? By the rationale of the decision tree these outputs will have their embargo times doubled. I've blogged about it here [
    http://darkrepository.net/blog/garret/implementing-the-uk-open-access-policy-the-embargoes-for-green ].

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  • Stevan is absolutely correct in his analysis. It's high time now that RCUK changed its policy in the light of HEFCE's sensible decisions on a future REF.

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  • The truth here is terribly simple. The is no justification for embargoes of any length on accepted manuscripts, ever. Publishers do not fund research, nor peer-review. Up to the point where a manuscript is accepted for publication, they have made no contribution, and it's an nothing short of an outrage they current policies allow them any say in what happens to the work that has been done that point.

    After a paper has been accepted, then the publication begins. That is when publishers add their own value, through copy-editing, formatting, typesetting, etc. It is perfectly reasonable that they should have some say in what happens to the final formatted papers which they have contributed to.

    But that's all. Every accepted manuscript should be immediately made freely available with no embargo.

    Any publisher that argues against the policy is saying that the value they add after this point is inadequate. Under a zero-embargo system, libraries would still subscribe to journals if they felt that the value added by publishers was worth what they charge for subscriptions. Publishers that do a good job at a good price would not be harmed. The only publishers that could conceivably be harmed by such a policy are incompetent or exploitative ones. When did it become the government's job to protect them?

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  • I totally agree with you Mike but there is one basic point that means they can demand what they like. If you want to be published in their journal then you do what they say.
    Of course that just means people would/should go elsewhere but for various reasons you might have to publish in certain journals, or indeed it might be the only journal willing to publish your article atall.
    Luckily things are changing but if a journal is THE place to publish then you have to do what they say. If your funding body lets you of course.

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  • Nobody has yet mentioned the US double initiative on Feb 22 - FASTR (legislative)and the 'Obama directive' (executive). Both stipulate Green OA with a six month embargo max. As US co authors account for nearly haf of all papers in STEM and about 25% of all authors it is difficult to see how the Gold route can survive. peter Suber, as always has an excellent analysis of both initiatives in his latest b=newslettr.

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