"Special Channels" on the 2012 Finch Committee and the 2004 UK Select Committee

Anthony Watkinson wrote on LIBLICENSE:

“…There were three publishers on the Finch committee (out of seventeen members)… [1]

“…I do not know of any evidence that they had a special line to Finch herself or any special privileges.
I do not know of any special influence that representative bodies for publishing might have had.
Does Professor Harnad?… [2]

“…Some years ago Professor Harnad had a lot of influence on the conclusions of a Parliamentary Science and Technology Committee in the UK.
Perhaps he expects the same special channel he had then[3] [boldface added]”

[1] Publishers on the Finch Committee

There were more than three publishers on the Finch committee — Learned Societies are publishers too — but three publishers would already be three publishers too many in a committee on providing open access to publicly funded research. (Besides, the lobbying began well before the Finch Committee, and already had a hand in how the Committee was constituted and where it was headed.)

Research is funded, conducted, refereed and reported as a service to research, researchers, their institutions, their funders, the R&D industry, and the public that pays for it all. Research is not a service to publishers: Publishers sell a service to research institutions, for which they are paid very handsomely. (I don’t think any of this ruckus is about journal publishers being underpaid, is it?)

[2] Influence of Publishers on Finch Committee Outcome

The recommendations of the Finch committee were identical to the ones for which publishers have been lobbying aggressively for years (ever since it has become evident that trying to lobby against OA itself in the face of the mounting pressure for it from the research community is futile and very ill-received by the research community).

The publisher lobbying has accordingly been for the following:

“Please phase out Green OA as inadequate, parasitic and likely to destroy publishing and peer review — and please provide extra money instead to pay us for Gold OA, if you want OA so much.”

The Finch outcome was already pre-determined as a result of publisher lobbying before the committee was even constituted:

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?”

But that’s all moot now, as both RCUK and EC have ignored it, instead re-affirming and strengthening their Green OA mandates the day after Mr. Willets announced the adoption of the recommendations of the Finch committee:

RCUK: “[P]eer reviewed research papers which result from research that is wholly or partially funded by the Research Councils… must be published in journals? [either] offering a ?pay to publish? option [Gold OA] or allowing deposit in a subject or institutional repository [Green OA] after a mandated maximum embargo period? of no more than six months? except? AHRC and? ESRC where the maximum… is 12 months?”

[3] “Special Channel” on 2004 Select Committee?

The 2004 recommendations of the Parliamentary Select Committee on Science and Technology were based on 23 oral testimonials and 127 written testimonials. Mine (part 1 and part 2) was one of the 127 written testimonials. If anything had influence on the outcome, it was evidence and reasons.

The 2004 Select Committee recommendation 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]he Report [also] recommends that the Research Councils each establish a fund to which their funded researchers can apply should they wish to pay to publish…?

At that time, despite the fact that the UK government (again under pressure from the publishing lobby) decided to ignore the Select Committee?s recommendation to mandate Green OA, RCUK and many UK universities adopted Green OA mandates anyway.

As a result, the UK became the global leader in the transition to Open Access.

If heeded, the Finch Committee recommendation to downgrade repository use to the storage and preservation of data, theses and unpublished work would have set back global OA by at least a decade.

Fortunately, the RCUK has again shown its sense and independence, reaffirming and strengthening its Green OA mandate. Let us hope UK?s universities ? not pleased that scarce research funds, instead of being increased, are to be decreased to pay extra needlessly for Gold OA ? will likewise continue to opt instead for cost-free Green OA by mandating it.

If so, the UK will again have earned and re-affirmed its leadership role in the global transition to universal OA.


Anthony Watkinson replied on LIBLICENSE:

“[In] 2003/2004 I was asked to be the expert adviser to the [UK Select] committee? and had a pleasant conversation with Ian Gibson, the member of parliament who was the committee chair. It seemed to me in our conversation that Dr. Gibson had already been lobbied by Professor Harnad or his disciplines [sic] and that his mind was already made up. I cannot remember now whether or not Dr. Gibson said that he had met Professor Harnad but it was definitely the impression I had.”

“I am impressed by the suggestion that Professor Harnad actually thinks that learned societies, organisations that represent the academic communities, should not be involved in decisions which will have such an impact on the said academic communities!”

I am flattered that Dr. Watkinson feels I had special influence on Ian Gibson and his Select Committee. I wish I had had!

But alas the truth is as I have already written (above): I was not one of the 23 witnesses invited to give oral evidence (several publishers were).

Ian’s parliamentary assistant Sarah Revell pencilled me in for a personal appointment on Wednesday October 13 2004 (depending on whether Ian’s jury duty ended in time: it did), but my recall of that breathlessly brief audience was that it was too compressed for me to be able to stutter out much that made sense, and I left it pretty pessimistic.

And my subsequent over-zealous attempts to compensate for it via email were very politely but firmly discouraged by the committee’s very able 2nd clerk, Emily Commander.

So my input to the Committee amounted to being one of the 127 who submitted written evidence, plus that tachylalic personal audience on the 13th.

The rest of the influence on the committee was from written reasons, not personal charisma.

I’m not aware of having had any “disciples,” to lobby the Committee at that time (though extra disciplines, as well as discipline, are always handy in lobbying for the interests of research and researchers).

My understanding, however, is that Ian Gibson was indeed pre-lobbied in favour of OA, and indeed that’s why the Committee was created. But that pre-lobbying in 2003 had been done by a Gold OA publisher, Vitek Tracz of BMC (and perhaps others), not by me; and the lobbying was not at all in favour of Green OA but in favour of Gold OA. This initial goldward bent is quite evident in the Committee’s original call for evidence in late 2003, which was the first I ever heard of the Committee’s existence:

“The Committee will be looking at access to journals within the scientific community, with particular reference to price and availability. It will be asking what measures are being taken in government, the publishing industry and academic institutions to ensure that researchers, teachers and students have access to the publications they need in order to carry out their work effectively…. What are the consequences of increasing numbers of openaccess journals, for example for the operation of the Research Assessment Exercise and other selection processes? Should the Government support such a trend and, if so, how?”

As a result, the Committee’s final decision to recommend that institutions and funders mandate Green and merely experiment with funding Gold was an unexpected surprise and delight to me. It also turned out to be a historic turning point and blueprint for OA worldwide.

As to publishers, and learned-society publishers: they are pretty much of a muchness in their fealty to their bottom lines. The only learned societies that could testify (for either the 2004 Gibson Committee or the 2012 Finch Committee) with a disinterested voice (let alone one that represented the interests of learned research rather than earned revenues) would be the learned societies that that were not also publishers.

Stevan Harnad