Finch Group defends open-access evidence base

Review rejects MPs’ criticisms of gaps in its data

The Finch Group has hit back at claims that its preference for gold over green open access was based on flawed evidence.

The coalition-convened group, chaired by Dame Janet Finch, former vice-chancellor of the University of Keele, and containing representatives from publishers, learned societies, universities and funders, was responsible for the June 2012 report on which the UK’s open-access policy is based.

The report’s statement that a “clear policy direction” should be set in support of journal-provided gold open access was taken up by Research Councils UK, whose initial open-access mandate, unveiled in July 2012, was widely interpreted as requiring researchers to choose gold wherever possible.

Universities objected that this would be too expensive, given the article fees charged by journals, and the Finch Group’s review of progress in implementing its recommendations, published on 18 November, notes that many have adopted an explicit preference for repository-based green open access.

The review makes it clear, in line with more recent RCUK pronouncements, that this is permissible during the indefinite transition period to full gold open access.

It also endorses a “decision tree” produced by the Publishers Association that appears to suggest that whenever gold options are offered and funding is available, researchers must opt for it.

But Adam Tickell, Finch Group member and provost and vice-principal at the University of Birmingham, denied there was “much of a dissonance” in the report.

“Everyone is happy with [RCUK-] funded gold and the publishers are happy with green with embargoes that don’t undermine their sustainability. As such, the review codifies the agreements [regarding RCUK policy] that were reached in the spring,” he said.

The review also mounts a robust defence of the original Finch report.

In September, the Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee said that it suffered from “gaps in both the qualitative and quantitative evidence”. But according to this week’s review, the Finch Group commissioned its own economic analysis and took into account a “much wider and fuller” range of evidence than critics “have been prepared to acknowledge”.

The group also rejects the committee’s call for public subsidy of gold article fees to be restricted to fully open-access journals, which tend to charge lower fees than partly open-access “hybrid” journals.

It says that most “high quality” journals are still hybrid, while “learned societies in particular” have welcomed the opportunity to make a more gradual transition to open access.

It criticises the committee for “ignoring” the risk to learned societies posed by open access.

The review laments the lack of attention paid to its recommendation for extensions of licensed access to journals beyond higher education, and calls for a formal body to be set up by Universities UK to systematically monitor and coordinate efforts on implementing open access.

David Sweeney, director of research, innovation and skills at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, welcomed the review’s endorsement of the importance of author choice, which is also reflected in the funding councils’ draft open-access mandate for the research excellence framework.

“The review gives a much rounder description of the policy than the previous report and sits well alongside other international funders’ policies,” he said.

But Stevan Harnad, director of the University of Southampton’s Cognitive Sciences Centre and a long-time advocate of green open access, dismissed the “long, rambling, incoherent” review as a “selective rehash of opinions and opinion surveys, with nothing faintly resembling the objective evidence called for by the BIS committee”.

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