Haggling over the cost of gold (1 of 2)

July 5, 2012

As a funder dedicated to ensuring that the research we support generates the maximum possible benefit for society, the Wellcome Trust strongly supports the proposed direction set out by the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings. We believe that some of the criticisms of the findings are short-sighted and fail to appreciate the benefits that open access will bring ("Finch's open-access cure may be 'worse than the disease'", News, 28 June).

In particular, we believe it is wrong to suggest that the "green" open-access model, where authors self-archive papers in repositories after an embargo period of at least six months, is better than "gold" open access. Under gold, articles are fully open access (ie, they are made immediately available in return for article-processing charges and can be reused without restriction), unlocking the full value of the content and opening it up to text mining and other applications. While it may be correct that a 12-month embargo and use restrictions are "perfectly acceptable" to some professional society publishers, they are not acceptable to funders that wish to ensure that the research they invest in can be accessed as quickly and as widely as possible.

The proliferation of thinly populated institutional repositories across the internet is testament to the fact that researchers have a poor track record of self-archiving. Our experience of the UK PubMed Central Repository has been that only 11 per cent of the content is self-archived. Under green open access, many papers would never even reach repositories, with those that do getting there only after lengthy delays and in formats that limit their use.

Much of the criticism of the Finch report has focused on the additional costs that will be incurred during the transition period. While we believe there will be costs, whether they will be in the order of the report's headline figure of up to £60 million is harder to call. Indeed, the report even offers a "central case" model in which the transition to gold would be cost-neutral for academic institutions, and that overall the UK would realise savings of about £5.2 million a year.

Your news article also highlights concerns over the level of article-processing charges that journals will levy, and we accept that there are uncertainties in this area. However, the success of high-quality open-access publishers such as PLoS, the emergence of groundbreaking starts-ups such as PeerJ and eLife, and the transparency of the charges will help to generate downward pressure on costs.

Further, if universities take responsibility for managing the open-access publication budget, as envisaged by the Finch report, there will be added pressure to ensure that researchers consider processing charges when deciding where to submit their articles.

We believe the benefits that will emerge from opening up research literature will justify the extra costs during the transition to an open-access world. We understand that universities have concerns over the costs, and as funders we are committed to discussing how they can best be met. But we cannot settle for second-best. The research community has an obligation to the taxpayer and to society to ensure that it maximises the full value of knowledge; it should therefore unite behind the Finch report's long-term vision. The blinkered avoidance of short-term costs is in nobody's interests.

Robert Kiley, head of digital services

David Carr, policy adviser Wellcome Trust

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