Open Access and the PSABy Andrew Massey on 19 March 2013
The issue of Open Access (OA) has moved from being an obscure topic of conversation debated on blogs devoted (mainly) to STEM subjects, to an issue that has become the focus of attention for Humanities and Social Science, since the acceptance by the Government of the recommendations of the Finch Report in the summer of 2012. These have now been widely debated and the Government has stated that its aim is for all tax-payer (RCUK) funded research to be available via Open Access as soon as possible, with Gold being the goal within five years. The PSA has been involved in discussing these issues with the Department of Business Innovation and Skills (BIS), since the Autumn and has also presented evidence to the House of Lords inquiry and to the forthcoming House of Commons BIS Select Committee inquiry into the topic.
In addition to this, the PSA has also given evidence to the RCUK call for pre-consultation and that of HEFCE. Both organisations were criticised by the Lords for their previous lack of consultation. They had both come out strongly in favour of Gold OA for all publicly funded research and the use of the CC-BY license for the copyright of that material. The PSA (along with a large number of learned societies) took the view that there had been insufficient consultation and that the CC-BY license has defects when applied to HSS subjects that lack the patents most STEM research obtains prior to publication; in other words the intellectual property of authors is insufficiently protected. CC-BY effectively means authors lose control over their product once it has been published. In other words, academics are expected to pay an article processing charge (APC) to a publisher of up to $3,000, and then there is the possibility of additional page charges. After that, under CC-BY they have no further claim on that work and it is up to others to commercially exploit it if they wish. This includes overseas institutions, individuals and entrepreneurs. CC-BY is the product of the Creative Commons, a US organisation that was established to provide the product of research free at the point of delivery. It has a liberal libertarian perspective in much of what it does. Its founders were heavily influenced by the STEM model and it fails to take full account of the different perspective in social science. For example, it does not take account of third party usage. It is likely that international publishers, especially those of US journals will not take UK papers shackled with a CC-BY license, thus preventing UK academics from accessing world-class journals. It is even likely UK based journals owned by learned societies will similarly respond in order to protect their intellectual property and that of their authors.
Despite now calling for consultation, RCUK and HEFCE have still not moved away from Gold to Green OA for HSS. Furthermore, the implication of RCUK comments suggest that they are in favour of a hierarchy of approved publications, something which is a direct attack on academic freedom and which the PSA opposes. Gold also promises to make it harder for newer members of the profession to actually publish. It is unlikely most post-docs will have sufficient funds to publish their own papers and the money taken from research and awarded to universities to pay for APCs is woefully inadequate. This will force academics down the ‘Green’ route, but the short embargo times advocated by RCUK and HEFCE do not allow a feasible business model for publishers. If libraries cancel subscriptions publications will fold and the access into the discipline needed by colleagues will become by very expensive Gold by default.
Another unforeseen consequence of the rush to OA, especially as defined by HEFCE, is the requirement of all academics’ outputs to be OA compliant for the REF after this one. Given that the rest of the world is not going OA (despite what HEFCE and RCUK would have us believe) this will act as a brake on the ability of universities to recruit the globally best academics, something that will further negatively impact on UK competitiveness.
The dash for open access, therefore, overlooks a plethora of elements essential to academic quality in HSS. There is no recognition of the role of referees in high quality journals, or of the different way in which peer review works to that of STEM. For example, provided there is an adherence to accepted methodology and ethics, a STEM paper can be published in OA journals. In HSS a very different set of criteria are applied and the move to OA will threaten that important quality control. The PSA has lobbied to address these issues and seeks to ensure the research outputs of the discipline don’t transmogrify into simple blogs and vanity publishing.