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Researchers ‘should be given leeway’ on open access

UK researchers should be permitted to publish in top international journals even if those journals are not compliant with open-access mandates.

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This is the view of John Neilson, college secretary and registrar at Imperial College London.

He told Westminster Higher Education Forum’s Implementing Open Access Policy conference on 5 November that although the progress made in the UK on open access was worthy of celebration, open access must not be attained at the expense of research excellence.

“We are not going to stop the best researchers wanting to publish in the world’s leading journals and we shouldn’t, so if these international journals don’t quite conform to the UK’s particular policies on the availability of gold or green options there mustn’t be any kind of sanctions from [the funders].

“We mustn’t descend to saying you have to publish in second-rate journals that do comply,” he said.

He also urged the government to carry out as soon as possible a full cost-benefit analysis on open-access policy so the document can inform the funding councils’ open access mandate for the 2020 research excellence framework, which is currently out for consultation.

He noted that the government had pledged to carry out such an analysis in its response to February’s report on open access by the Lords Science and Technology Committee which criticised the fact that it had not done so before announcing its policy.

The Lords’ call was repeated in a report on open access by the Commons Science and Technology committee, published in September.

In its response, published in May, the government said it would “commission a full review of the literature on the economic impacts of open access policy and on the best methods for estimating and monitoring the impacts of the policy”, which would report by “early 2014”.

But Mr Neilson said that the government was “still saying [it is] examining the feasibility” of carrying out the analysis.

“We need to have a proper debate about how much the UK should pay to be playing a leadership role in open access,” Mr Neilson said. “It mustn’t be a bottomless pit, especially when research budgets are flat and declining in real terms. The consequence of paying higher access charges is less research.”

He said that Imperial’s current policy, given the scarcity of funding for gold open access, was to prefer green whenever it was available.

He also warned policymakers to be “very careful” about unintended consequences of open-access policy.

“Was it a surprise that after some [funders] said gold was the way forward many charges for gold increased significantly? Has an incentive been created for publishers to lengthen embargo periods for green [open access] perhaps even to the extent that they exceed the [permitted] length [in mandates] so that only researchers who pay the higher gold charges become compliant?” he asked.

paul.jump@tsleducation.com

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  • Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.

    "John Neilson, college secretary and registrar at Imperial College London [...] told Westminster Higher Education Forum’s Implementing Open Access Policy conference on 5 November that although the progress made in the UK on open access was worthy of celebration, open access must not be attained at the expense of research excellence.

    “We are not going to stop the best researchers wanting to publish in the world’s leading journals and we shouldn’t”."

    Neilson is confusing cause with effect. Even if we accept the dubious assumption that "leading journals" contain the best research, then that research appears in those journals because it's good; it doesn't become good by appearing in those journals.

    So requiring researchers to publish their work open access rather than in paywalled "leading journals" doesn't in any way compromise research excellence. To think that it does -- to judge research by the journal it appears in rather than by its intrinsic quality -- is to make the same mistake as judging a person by what label clothes they wear. I'd hope that senior academics were past that.

    Nielson continues:

    " “So if these international journals don’t quite conform to the UK’s particular policies on the availability of gold or green options there mustn’t be any kind of sanctions from [the funders]”."

    What an extraordinary statement. "Yes, we will accept the money you're giving us, but we won't give you back what you ask for in return". If I paid a plumber to do a job for me, and he didn't do that job, then there would most certainly be sanctions -- at the very least, I wouldn't pay him again the next time I have a job that needs doing. Why on earth would we researchers be so arrogant as to think that the same shouldn't apply to us?

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  • Mike Taylor hits the nail on the head.

    The comments by John Neilson are, I suppose, what one might expect from Imperial, which has a track record of mismeasuring its staff by silly metrics (e.g see http://www.dcscience.net/?p=182 ). Is John Neilson not aware that the number of citations a paper gets (itself a dubious criterion) is independent of which journal it is published in?

    The least one can expect from a college secretary and registrar is that he should refrain from damaging science.

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  • Stevan Harnad

    NOT ALL THAT GLITTERS

    1. Professor Neilson was not arguing against Open Access (OA) mandates; he was arguing against constraints on authors' choice of journal.

    2. The ones that need to comply with funder OA mandates are fundees, not journals.

    3. The way for fundees to comply with funder OA mandates is to publish in their journal of choice and to provide OA to the publication.

    4. The two ways to provide OA are for the publisher to do it (Gold OA) or for the author to do it (Green OA).

    5. Most publishers (of UK authors' journals of choice) provide Gold OA only if paid to do it.

    6. Professor Neilson argued against this Gold OA payment not only as a constraint on author choice, but also as a constraint on the UK research budget: hence his call for a cost/benefit analysis -- not of OA or OA mandates, but of Gold OA and Gold OA mandates.

    7. That leaves Green OA, which can be provided by authors for any journal they choose: Gold or tolled.

    8. Some journals (c. 60%) embargo Green OA; the allowable embargo length is still under debate, but hovers around 12 months.

    9. The BIS Committee's and HEFCE's recommendation (not mentioned in Paul Jump's article, though Committee Chair Adrian Bailey also spoke at the Westminster Forum), is to mandate immediate deposit, whether or not access to the deposit is made OA immediately.

    10. Adrian Bailey, like Professor Neilson, recommends further evidence-based analysis before diverging from the original 2004 Select Committee Recommendation to mandate Green but not Gold.

    11. It is through the Green course set by the 2004 Select Committee that the UK had been leading the world toward OA till 2012, when the Finch committee abruptly recommended -- without evidence -- preferring Gold.

    12. BIS and HEFCE have since recommended staying the course until and unless there is evidence to the contrary.

    13. What is certain is that the rest of the world (US, EU, Australia) is following the Green Course set by the UK, irrespective of any evidence-free 2nd thoughts the Finch Committee may have since had about it.

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  • I'm disappointed in the response from Stevan Harnard.

    Access with an embargo of 6 or 12 months is next to useless. It is not open access in any common-sense interpretation of the term.

    Certainly every paper with a press release must be available for anyone to read. How else would they separate spin from reality?

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  • Stevan Harnad

    David: Patience! I don't like embargoes any more than you do. The sensible way to treat them is to ignore them, as physicists have done in Arxiv since 1991. But for the rest of the scholarly sheep, who have not done likewise in over 2 decades, mandates are necessary. And the optimal mandate is immediate deposit (ID), whether or not embargoed. Once ID becomes universal, embargoes will all die their well-deserved, natural, inevitable deaths and Fair Gold will ensue. But till then there is nothing more foolish or wasteful than to pay pre-emptively for Fool's Gold now, instead of just providing Green OA. The ID mandate is the strongest and most effective OA mandate (and the cheapest); all OA mandates have compromises. IDOA has the least. And without mandates, authors will not provide OA. -- Patience!

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