On Robert Kiley (Wellcome Trust) on Finch Report and RCUK Mandate

Robert Kiley [Wellcome Trust] wrote in GOAL:

My reading of the RCUK policy is somewhat different to Stevan?s. In short, I see clear parallels between what Finch recommended (disclosure ? I sat on the Finch Working Group) and the RCUK policy…

Finch recommended gold OA and flexible funding arrangements to cover OA gold costs. RCUK have released a policy that allows for gold publishing, and provides flexible funding (via block grants to HEI?s) to support these aims.

Finch said when publishers didn’t offer a mechanism to pay for OA gold, it was reasonable for funders to demand an embargo period of less than 12 months. [See paragraph 9.10 of the Finch Report]. The RCUK have followed this.

Finch said that support of OA publications should be supported by policies to ?minimise restrictions on the rights of use and re-use?. RCUK have followed this, and indeed pushed further to require than when an APC is levied the article must be published under a CC-BY licence. This is identical to the policy change the Wellcome Trust announced at the end of June….

There were a long string of posts on this forum at the end of last week calling for an end to the counter-productive squabbling over the minutiae of differences between green and gold, the obsession with costing models, etc. The RCUK policy is entirely compatible with the recommendations of the Finch Report, and continually rubbishing Finch seems counter-productive on many levels.

In response to Robert, let’s keep it simple and go straight to the heart of the matter:

1. Ever since the historic 2004 Report of the UK Parliamentary Select Committee which made the revolutionary recommendation to mandate (what has since come to be called) Green OA self-archiving as well as to fund (what has since come to be called) Gold OA journal fees, RCUK (and later the EC and other funding councils worldwide) have been mandating Green and funding Gold.

2. The Finch report recommended phasing out Green and only funding Gold.

3. RCUK and EC declined to follow the Finch recommendation and reaffirmed (and strengthened) their Green OA mandates.

That’s the substance of the “squabbling over the minutiae of differences between green and gold”.

The Finch Report is “compatible with the recommendations of the Finch Report” only in the sense that -A & B is more “compatible” with A & B than with A & -B. (RCUK could, I suppose, have retained its Green mandate but dropped its Gold funding, contradicting its own prior policy, but it did not?)

The Wellcome Trust’s pioneering historic lead in OA has since 2004 alas hardened into rigid dogma, at the cost of much lost growth potential for OA (as well as of much potential research funding).

The 2004 UK’s Parliamentary Select Committee’s prescient recommendation eight years ago had been this:

?This Report recommends that all UK higher education institutions establish institutional repositories on which their published output can be stored and from which it can be read, free of charge, online. It also recommends that Research Councils and other Government funders mandate their funded researchers to deposit a copy of all of their articles in this way… [T]o encourage? experimentation? the Report [also] recommends that the Research Councils each establish [an experimental] fund to which their funded researchers can apply should they wish to pay to publish…?

CC-BY is not nearly as urgent and important as “Gratis” OA (free online access): not all authors want it, most users don’t need it, and it would immediately make endorsing un-embargoed Green ruinous to subscription publishers: so demanding it today, pre-emptively leads to less OA and longer embargoes (just as demand for pre-emptive Gold does). See: “Overselling the Importance and Urgency of CC-BY/CC-BY-NC for Peer-Reviewed Scholarly and Scientific Research.”

(Lest it sound as if I am lauding the pre-emptive funding of Gold today: I am not. It was historically important to demonstrate that fee-based Gold OA is conceivable and viable, in order to fend off the publishing lobby’s doomsday contention that OA would destroy publishing. So the early Gold OA proof-of-principle, especially by PLOS-Biology and PLOS-Medicine, was very timely and useful. But the subsequent mindless Gold Rush, at the expense of neglecting the enormous power of cost-free Green OA mandates to accelerate the growth of OA, not to mention the needless waste of money diverted from research to fund Gold pre-emptively, have been exceedingly detrimental to overall OA growth. The simplest way to summarize the underlying logic and pragmatics is that pre-Green-OA pre-emptive Gold OA, at today’s inflated asking prices and while subscriptions still prevail, is extremely bad for OA progress: wasteful, unscalable, and unsustainable, it generates very little global OA, very slowly. In contrast, post-Green-OA, downsized Gold OA, once Green OA has prevailed globally, making subscriptions unsustainable and forcing journals to downsize and convert to Gold OA for peer review service alone, at a far lower cost, paid out of subscription cancelation savings instead of scarce research funds, will be affordable, scalable and sustainable)

Stevan Harnad