RCUK: Don’t Follow the Wellcome Trust OA Policy Model!

Appended after my own overview below is a focused and insightful posting by Fred Friend: As RCUK re-thinks its policy draft, and makes the requisite corrections to ensure that all papers are deposited in an OA repository (Green OA), RCUK should on no account emulate the Wellcome Trust’s policy of (1) paying publishers to deposit in the (2) Europe (formerly UK) PubMed Central Repository.

(1) The parties bound by an RCUK OA mandate are RCUK fundees, not publishers. Deposit itself (Green OA) should be a requirement, as a condition of RCUK funding, to be performed by the fundee, not something extra (Gold OA), to be paid extra for, and performed by, a 3rd party, the publisher.

In other words, deposit is self-archiving, by the funded. Moreover, verification of fundee compliance with the RCUK Green OA requirement can and should be focused on the fundee, not on a 3rd party that is not bound to comply with RCUK funding conditions, but simply paid for a product.

The incoherence of the present RCUK OA policy – a direct legacy of the Wellcome policy that RCUK is obviously using as its model — is, as usual, the result of conflating Gold and Green OA, and putting all the emphasis on Gold OA. This policy definitely has not been an unmitigated success for the Wellcome Trust and is certainly not scalable to all of UK research, for all the reasons Fred mentions below (and many more besides). The Wellcome model should not be imitated by RCUK.

(2) Europe (formerly UK) PubMed Central (EPMC) is an OA collection of European biomedical articles. That’s fine. Let there be many such OA subject collections, in many fields, and also global collections, across multiple fields, and across multiple countries. But such collections should on no account be the locus of direct deposit for authors complying with RCUK (or EU or US or individual institutions’) self-archiving mandates.

The locus of deposit for complying — once, and only once — with either funder or institutional OA mandates should be the author’s own institutional OA repository, from which central and global collections can then harvest. This engages institutions in monitoring and ensuring the compliance of their own researchers with both funder and institutional OA self-archiving mandates (Green OA), and it keeps publishers (and publisher payment for Gold OA, a separate matter) out of the loop.

(If an author wishes to pay to publish in a Gold OA journal, and has the funds to do it, that’s fine. Then the Gold OA version can be the one the author deposits, rather than just the author’s peer-reviewed final draft. But the deposit is in any case done by the author, in the author’s institutional repository; and the compliance with the deposit mandate is monitored and verified by the author’s institution, whether the mandate is from RCUK or from the institution itself, or both.)

To understand the dynamics, remember that no one deposits anything directly in Google: Google (and Yahoo, etc.) harvest from local websites. That’s exactly the way it needs to be for central subject-based or country-based OA collections too, for the sake of compliance-verification by the RCUK fundee’s institution and funder and to ensure that authors only ever have to self-archive their papers once: institutional deposit, automatically harvestable by (multiple) central collections (e.g. EPMC).

Stevan Harnad


?Admitting that RCUK was “thinking about” mandatory repository deposit, Mr Thorley said that one idea was to expand the Europe (formerly UK) PubMed Central repository, which currently covers only biomedicine, to encompass all subjects to help publishers automate deposits.? [Mark Thorley of RCUK quoted in an article by Paul Jump in ?Times Higher Education? of 4 October 2012.\

Fred Friend (posted on JISC-REPOSITORIES):

I wonder whose idea this was! I can make one or two guesses, but whoever suggested it, it is a bad idea! I welcomed the development of UK PubMed Central, until the point when Wellcome Trust started to pay some publishers to make the deposit on behalf of authors and funders. I do not know whether Wellcome will disclose the sums paid to publishers, but my impression is that whatever is being paid more than covers the cost of making the deposit and is in effect a payment to publishers for open access and re-use rights. When people I know who are not in academia ask me about my work and I explain that I am working for open access to taxpayer-funded research, this is welcomed by whoever I am speaking to ? until I say that many publishers are asking to be paid by taxpayers for making articles open access, at which point the welcome from my listener turns to incredulity. Even more incredulity if I mention the level of payments being requested for APCs. So, if RCUK were to go down the road of paying publishers to deposit in Europe PubMed Central, they should be prepared for challenges on such a mis-use of public money, especially if the deposit payment were to be in addition to the payment of an APC. Presumably the existing funders of UKPMC ? some of them charities ? would also expect a contribution from the non-biomedical RCs towards the high cost of running Europe PMC. This ?idea? could cost a lot of money.

I suspect that there will also be objections from subject groups who see their repository needs as being very different from those of the biomedical community. How many times in my long career have I heard that other such all-embracing proposals will not work for subject x or y! UKPMC is a wonderful service for the biomedical community, a service for which they are prepared to pay and have the resources to pay, but its design will not fit all subjects without major modification. Already I hear some concern about the undue influence of the biomedical community and Wellcome in particular upon the Finch Report and thus upon Government policy. The suspicion is that the open access policy of the Wellcome Trust, which works very well for the Trust and for the biomedical community, is being adopted for all UK research outputs without consideration of the way the Trust?s open access decisions can be applied within other very different academic structures.

RCUK: please think again! It is good that you are considering mandatory repository deposit, but there are other repositories which can provide better value for the service you need.

Fred Friend

Finch Fiasco in Figures

The Finch Report, under strong and palpable influence from the publishing lobby, instead of recommending extending and optimizing the UK’s worldwide lead in providing Green OA, cost-free, through institutional and funder self-archiving mandates, has recommended abandoning Green OA and Green OA mandates and instead spending extra money (£50-60 million yearly) on paying publishers’ Gold OA fees as well as a UK blanket national site-license fee to cover whatever is not yet Gold OA (i.e., all the journals that UK institutions currently subscribe to, rather like the “Big Deals” publishers have been successfully negotiating with individual institutions and consortia):

Finch on Green: “The [Green OA] policies of neither research funders nor universities themselves have yet had a major effect in ensuring that researchers make their publications accessible in institutional repositories? [so] the infrastructure of subject and institutional repositories should [instead] be developed [to] play a valuable role complementary to formal publishing, particularly in providing access to research data and to grey literature, and in digital preservation [no mention of Green OA]?”

Finch on Gold: “Gold” open access, funded by article charges, should be seen as “the main vehicle for the publication of research”? Public funders should establish “more effective and flexible arrangements” to pay [Gold OA] article charges? During the transition to [Gold] open access, funding should be found to extend licences [subscriptions] for non-openaccess content to the whole UK higher education and health sectors?

Now here are some of the actual figures behind the above assertions. Let readers come to their own conclusions about the relative success, cost, benefits, cost-effectiveness, growth potential and timetable of mandating Green OA vs funding Gold OA:


1. Mandated vs. Unmandated Green OA (20% vs 70%+):


2. Rise of Green Mandates:


3. Rise of Green OA, 2009-2011:


4. Rise of Gold OA 2003-2011 (from Nature, 2012)
(N.B.: Re-scaled at right for accurate comparison with rise of Green, above):


5. Projected rise of Gold OA (70% in 2020 or 2026; 100% in 2022 or 2029):


6. Relative Green and Gold OA Worldwide in 2010


7. Relative Green and Gold OA in United Kingdom in 2010 (from Nature, 2012)


8. The OA Citation Impact Advantage: (OA vs. non-OA)


9. The OA Economic Advantage for the United Kingdom:


Gargouri, Y., Hajjem, C., Lariviere, V., Gingras, Y., Brody, T., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2010) Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research. PLOS ONE 5 (10) e13636

Harnad, S. (2007) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition. In: Anna Gacs. The Culture of Periodicals from the Perspective of the Electronic Age L’Harmattan. 99-106.

Harnad, S. (2010) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16 (7/8).

Harnad, S. (2010) The Immediate Practical Implication of the Houghton Report: Provide Green Open Access Now. Prometheus 28 (1): 55-59.

Harnad, S. (2011) Gold Open Access Publishing Must Not Be Allowed to Retard the Progress of Green Open Access Self-Archiving Logos: The Journal of the World Book Community 21(3-4): 86-93

How Elsevier Can Improve Its Public Image

Along with the majority of publishers today, Elsevier is a Green publisher: Elsevier has formally recognized immediate (unembargoed) institutional Green OA self-archiving by its authors ever since 27 May 2004.

Recently, however, a new clause has been added to “Authors’ Rights and Responsibilities,” the document in which Elsevier formally recognizes its authors’ right to make their final, peer-reviewed drafts Open Access immediately upon publication (no embargo) by posting them on their institutional website (Green Gratis OA). The new clause is:

but not in institutional repositories with mandates for systematic postings.”

The distinction between an institutional website and an institutional repository is bogus.

The distinction between nonmandatory posting (allowed) and mandatory posting (not allowed) is arbitrary nonsense. (“You retain the right to post if you wish but not if you must!”)

The “systematic” criterion is also nonsense. (Systematic posting would be the institutional posting of all the articles in the journal; but any single institution only contributes a tiny, arbitrary fraction of the articles in any journal, just as any single author does; so the mandating institution is not a 3rd-party “free-rider” on the journal’s content: its researchers are simply making their own articles OA, by posting them on their institutional website, exactly as described.)

This “systematic” clause is hence pure FUD, designed to scare or bully or confuse institutions into not mandating posting, and to scare or bully or confuse authors into not complying with their institutional mandates. (There are also rumours that in confidential licensing negotiations with institutions, Elsevier has been trying to link bigger and better pricing deals to the institution’s agreeing not to adopt a Green OA mandate.)

Elsevier’s public image is so bad today that rescinding its Green light to self-archive after almost a decade of mounting demand for OA is hardly a very attractive or viable option.

And double-talk, smoke-screens and FUD are even less attractive or viable.

It will hence very helpful in helping researchers to provide — and their institutions and funders to mandate — Open Access if Elsevier drops its “you may if you wish but not if you must” clause.

It will also help to improve Elsevier’s public image.

Stevan Harnad