Render unto the public?

April 11, 2013

The undue haste with which the government is imposing its open access publication regime on the UK’s research community is the clearest example in years of policy-based evidence rather than evidence-based policy. It is being implemented even before meaningful consultation in the wake of the Finch report.

It must be virtually unprecedented for two parliamentary inquiries to be launched before the commencement date of a new government policy. The report of the Lords Committee on Science and Technology was highly critical, and that of the Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, which is now hearing evidence, may well follow suit.

One crucial broader issue has, however, escaped attention. The shift from journal subscriptions to article publishing charges represents a rapid move from the consumer-pays principle to that of producer-pays. This is unprecedented in a broadly capitalist system.

The government justifies its policies on the grounds that publicly funded research should be universally available free of charge to all. As responses to the Higher Education Funding Council for England’s consultation on embedding open-access requirements in future research excellence framework exercises were being drafted recently, the government announced the latest £2 billion subsidy to the UK aerospace industry “to safeguard jobs”. Absent was any requirement that its products be made universally available free of charge. There is also no requirement that all output of firms in receipt of regional development assistance or other forms of state funding supply their goods, services and intellectual property for free.

Why is academic and related research therefore being singled out? Might this perhaps be a pioneering experiment in socialism by this Conservative- led coalition?

David Simon
Royal Holloway, University of London

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