Questions for Mark Thorley, Convenor of RCUK Research Outputs Network

Mark Thorley, RCUK Research Outputs Network (RON):

“I am very aware of the criticisms of the policy made by Stevan Harnad and others. However, the ?corrections? he proposes would dilute our policy so that it was no longer able to deliver the level of open access which the Research Councils require. We not only want research papers to be ?free to read? but also to be ?free to exploit? ? not only for text and data mining to advance scholarship as we detail in this blog-post, but also to drive innovation in the scholarly communications market itself. And, we are very clear that those who read research papers come from a much wider base than the research community that Harnad considers will be satisfied through the use of repositories and green OA. Therefore, there are no plans to revise the RCUK policy, just to satisfy the interests of one particular sector of the OA community.”

Mark Thorley’s response is very disappointing:

MT: “the ?corrections? [Harnad] proposes would dilute our policy so that it was no longer able to deliver the level of open access which the Research Councils require.”

The proposed corrections very explicitly include a correction to “the level of open access the Research Councils require.”

To reply that this “level” is incorrigible and nonnegotiable is tantamount to saying our minds are made up, don’t trouble us with further information.

The points requiring correction are very specifically those concerning the “level of open access” (Gratis or Libre; immediate or embargoed) that is actually needed by UK researchers today, and at what price, both in terms of price paid, out of scarce research funds, and, far more important, in terms of Green OA lost, in the UK as well as in the rest of the world (to whose research, RCUK needs to remind itself, UK researchers require open access too).

These matters are not resolved by asserting that Finch/RCUK has already made up its mind a-priori about the level of OA required.

MT: “We not only want research papers to be ?free to read? but also to be ?free to exploit? ? not only for text and data mining to advance scholarship? but also to drive innovation in the scholarly communications market itself.”

All OA advocates are in favour of text-minability, innovation/exploitation potential, and as much CC-BY as each author needs and wants for their research output, over and above free online access to all research output. But the benefits from those further re-use rights over and above free online access certainly do not from providing them for some small fraction of research output. And they are certainly not worth having at the expense (in both senses) of free online access to all worldwide research output (of which the UK only produces 6%).

Yet it is precisely for the token UK 6% today that Finch/RCUK are insisting, needlessly and counterproductively, upon restricting UK researchers’ journal choice today, and redirecting scarce UK research funds to pay publishers even more, at the expense of the local UK tax-payer.

Even more important, this costly and superfluous pre-emptive re-use right for the UK fraction of worldwide research output is also purchased at the expense of global Green OA (94%), which is needed far more urgently by UK users than “exploitation rights” for UK’s 6% output:

For the RCUK/Finch policy provides a huge incentive to subscription publishers worldwide to offer paid hybrid Gold while at the same time increasing their Green embargoes to make cost-free Green an impermissible option for UK authors. This not only deprives UK authors of the cost-free Green option, but it deprives the rest of the world as well, thereby depriving UK users of open access to the rest of the world’s research output, and makes it much harder for the rest of the world to mandate Green OA.

(I don’t doubt that some of the members of the Finch committee may even have thought of this as a good thing: a way to force the rest of the world to follow the UK model, whether or not they can afford it, or wish to. But is this not something that may require some further thought?)

MT: “And, we are very clear that those who read research papers come from a much wider base than the research community that Harnad considers will be satisfied through the use of repositories and green OA. Therefore, there are no plans to revise the RCUK policy, just to satisfy the interests of one particular sector of the OA community.”

It seems to me Mark has it exactly backwards. The “wider base,” in all scientific and scholarly research fields, worldwide, wants and needs free online access, now, and urgently, to all research, in all fields (not just UK research output). It is only in a few particular subfields that there is an immediate and urgent need for further re-use rights (and even there, not just for UK’s 6% fraction of the world’s total research output).

How urgent is CC-BY and text-mining of the UK’s 6% of world research output, compared to free online access to all of the world’s research output?

And what are these urgent text-mining and other Libre OA functions? All authors need and want their work to be accessible to all its intended users, but how many authors need, want or even know about Libre OA, or CC-BY?

(Researchers are not only the producers of scholarly and scientific research, but they — not industry — are also its primary consumers, in the production of further research. Research applications are certainly crucial, but they only constitute a tiny fraction of the annual uptake of research — and many research domains have no industrial applications at all. OA was conceived as the remedy for access-denial, and the “wide base” that is the victim of access-denial is researchers themselves, hence scholarly/scientific research progress, not the R&D industry.)

And, Mark, can you elaborate rather specifically on the urgent “innovation/exploitation market potential” that will resonate with all or most researchers as a rationale for constraining their journal choice, diminishing their research funds, and possibly having to find other funds in order to publish at all, today, when they do not even have free online access to the research output of the 94% of the world not bound by the RCUK policy?

Stevan Harnad