Open the floodgates

March 28, 2013

“Fools’ gold? (14 February) is an excellent and perceptive summary of the extant open-access proposals. Let me declare now that I am an editor of an Elsevier journal that currently runs on the traditional principles of publishing. The vast majority of papers submitted to my journal are from overseas, so if the supply of UK authors dried up, it would have little significant effect on us. The Finch report set out to achieve an end point, so did not look at a proper business plan and how the proposals would work in practice. Suggestions such as the need for a transition period are simply an attempt to fog minds, as they completely ignore the steady state thereafter.

As a recently retired academic, I do not have the funding to publish in open-access journals, so would have to pay for the privilege from my (meagre) taxed academic pension. Under this new egalitarian system, the rich can publish but the poor cannot. Great! At least the approach could have the benefit of slowing the flood of mediocre papers as universities would need to ration their publishing funds.

But there is a conundrum that no one has mentioned yet. Many journals have a rejection rate of 50 per cent or so. I know from my own experience that much of the work of publishing an article goes into refereeing and assessing the reports. So what happens if an article is rejected under the open-access plans? Is there to be a submission fee as well as a publication fee, or will the successful subsidise the unsuccessful? If a journal is running a bit low on funds, I can see a great temptation to accept anything, as long as it is paid for, thus bringing down the quality of publication.

With my editorial hat on, I would send the open-access concept paper back to the authors for thorough revision.

R. D. Adams
Oxford

 

Times Higher Education offers excellent commentary on open-access publishing, but your recent news article “Root-and-branch confusion over fees” (14 March) omits to discuss the impact of recent US initiatives on publicly funded research.

The bipartisan Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act, currently before both houses of Congress, proposes a six-month embargo period before articles are made open access. And the separate Obama Directive on open access, unveiled last month, also prescribes a six-month embargo.

Although both initiatives allow for consultation, the six-month rule is tightly specified.

As the US accounts for nearly half of all co-authored articles in science, technology, engineering and mathematics or medicine, it is difficult to see how “green” open access with a six-month embargo can be resisted, with “gold” becoming a minor route.

Research Councils UK should be revising its already revised guidance as I write.

Mike McGrath
Leeds

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