Counterattack: Hands Off Freedoms, Hands On Keyboards

The dons are absolutely right that dictating where they may or may not publish, and coercing them to pay to publish is an assault on academic freedom:

Open access plans are ‘attack on academic freedoms’ (Guardian Observer, & Telegraph, January 26)

But they are absolutely wrong that the fault lies with Open Access (OA), or with mandating OA.

The fault lies entirely with the way the UK government — RCUK, under the influence of the foolish and ill-informed recommendations of the Finch Committee — has proposed to mandate OA.

The Finch Committee has recommended weakening instead of strengthening the RCUK’s existing, 5-year-old OA mandate — which had allowed authors to continue publishing wherever they wished, and merely required them to make their final drafts OA within 12 months of publication by self-archiving them free for all online (“Green OA”).

Declaring the prior Green OA mandate a failure, the Finch Committee proposed instead to dictate to authors which journals they were permitted to publish in: only in journals that make their own published articles OA (“Gold OA”), with a CC-BY license, immediately upon publication, or in journals that formally endorse their authors providing Green OA within 6-12 months of publication. In addition, some scarce research money was to be diverted from research to pay publishers even more money, over and above what is already being spent on subscriptions, in exchange for Gold OA.

Authors naturally became incensed at the government dictating where they might or might not publish. (Nor did they appreciate money being diverted from dwindling research funds to pay publishers even more.)

Enough complaining. The error is easily corrected:

Let authors publish wherever they wish. Require them to deposit their peer-reviewed final drafts in their OA institutional repositories immediately upon publication.

Sixty percent of journals already endorse immediate Green OA. For the 40% that want OA embargoed, make the deposit Closed Access instead of OA during the embargo.

The repository has a Button for redirecting individual users’ reprint requests for Closed Access articles to the author, who can authorize the emailing of the reprint to the requester with one click if he wishes. This is not OA, but it is “Almost-OA” and is sufficient to tide over researchers’ access needs until embargoes die their inevitable and well-deserved natural deaths.

Meanwhile, 100% of articles are immediately deposited, 60% are immediately OA, 40% are Almost-OA, and authors retain their full right to choose their journals and not pay for Gold OA if they do not wish to.

They are strongly encouraged to make the deposit OA as soon as possible, but this is not a constraint on their freedom of choice of journals.

This is a strengthened version of RCUK’s prior Green OA mandate, without the Finch folly (nor the premature and unnecessary CC-BY requirement, which is not needed in most fields, not as urgent as free online access in any field, and only makes it gratuitously harder to mandate OA).

All this upgrade needs in order to make it optimal is:

(1) Funder mandates and institutional mandates should both stipulate convergent institutional deposit (not divergent, competitive deposit: institution-external repositories like EuPMC can harvest from the institutional ones).

(2) Institutions and funders should both stipulate that repository deposit is the only means of submitting publications for institutional performance review or national research assessment.

(3) Institutions should be designated to monitor and ensure that their researchers comply with both institutional and funder deposit mandates.

This optimized Green OA mandate is no more of an assault on academic freedom than the mandate to “Publish-or-Perish” is — in fact, it is merely a natural extension of P-or-P, for the online age.