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.

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.

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