Thursday, 3 May 2012

Jimmy Wales to advise government on open access to research

Interesting press coverage on the 2nd May 2012 that Jimmy Wales is to help the government ensure that all publically funded research is available freely online within two years. David Willetts made this announcement in a speech delivered to the Publishers Association on the evening of 2nd May.

Reading the OA lists, there’s a range of opinion from scepticism to warm welcome for his involvement. He’s certainly high profile and long been a proponent of open access. Remember, the 24 hour closure of Wikipedia in protest at the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation in the US. Celebrity involvement does guarantee that the press will take note.

On balance, UKCoRR believes that we should welcome the plans put forward today but there is a need to ensure that the government also listens to those who have been working in UK academia to promote and extend open access. It would seem a sensible approach to work with that resource and experience that already exists than simply starting from scratch and that existing projects and infrastructure are built upon.

According to the Guardian,

“This initiative is most likely to result in a central repository that will host all research articles that result from public funding. The aim is that, even if an academic publishes their work in a traditional subscription journal, a version of their article would simultaneously appear on the freely available repository. The repository would also have built-in tools to share, comment and discuss articles.”

There is a dearth of detail about implementation at the moment – understandably as the group convened by Dame Janet Finch won’t be reporting until June 2012. But it seems likely that the “central repository” won’t be a physical thing but will build on current infrastructure and projects. There has to be a pivotal role for Repository Junction which is “a standalone middleware tool for handling the deposit of research articles from a provider to multiple repositories” thus avoiding the thorny problem of duplicate deposit, which is understandably disliked by academics. See http://edina.ac.uk/cgi-bin/news.cgi?filename=2012-04-24-rjbroker-ori.txt

However, the bigger stumbling block is that old chestnut copyright. Simultaneous traditional publication and availability in an open access repository of publically funded research is restricted depending on the publisher’s policy’s, which can change in an instant. We repository workers all know the minefield that is journal copyright policies and the care which our host organisations take to avoid breaching them. The solution is to replace a practice where the author signs away their copyright with one where they give the publisher a non-exclusive licence to publish the article. Let’s get that in the two year plan and we’d really be making progress!

The text of David Willetts speech was published this morning and it makes interesting reading. He makes much reference to the gold road to open access but, given the context, this is not surprising. We might take issue with his definition of green: “Green means publishers are required to make research openly accessible within an agreed embargo period” but this is a minister telling the publishing industry that open access is here to stay. “Our starting point is very simple. The Coalition is committed to the principle of public access to publicly-funded research results. That is where both technology and contemporary culture are taking us. It is how we can maximise the value and impact generated by our excellent research base. As taxpayers put their money towards intellectual enquiry, they cannot be barred from then accessing it”.

Right at the end of the speech, there was a reference to the REF which indicates that open access is being considered for inclusion in the criteria for assessment: “HEFCE is also considering the issue. Peer review and assessment of impact are crucial to their allocation of research funding. The debate on open access will inform HEFCE's planning for the research excellence process that succeeds the current one which concludes in 2014. Open access could be among the excellence criteria for qualifying articles in the future”. This is really exciting stuff – it would really change academic’s practice and behaviour. Let’s keep this on the
agenda.

 All in all, a good day for open access.

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