British Academy fears for humanities in open access world

RCUK rules may mean UK scholars seeking to publish abroad lose out, report warns

Source: Alamy

Closed book: copyright is a particular issue in areas such as art history

Research Councils UK’s open access policy poses “serious dangers for the international standing of UK research in the humanities”, a report by the British Academy has warned.

Open Access Journals in Humanities and Social Science, published on 17 April, examines the practical issues raised for these disciplines by the UK’s move to open access. Critics have said these fields will find the transition particularly difficult.

The report, whose lead author is Chris Wickham, British Academy vice-president of publications and Chichele professor of medieval history at the University of Oxford, says the level of compliance with UK open access policy by non-UK journals in English and modern languages may be as low as 20 per cent.

It suspects the same may be true for art history and music, where open access is hampered by copyright issues for images and scores. Only about half of non-UK journals in history, archaeology, philosophy, politics and drama are compliant.

The report says the open access policy for future research excellence frameworks recently finalised by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, which funded the report, will not prevent UK authors from publishing in non-UK journals. This is because it allows exceptions when permission for third-party content cannot be obtained or where a journal does not permit open access within the set embargo periods but is “the most appropriate publication for the output”.

However, the report says RCUK’s open access policy, which has no such exceptions, makes publishing in non-UK journals “very difficult” for the humanities as a whole, and “almost impossible” for literature, art and music-based disciplines.

“This has serious dangers for the international reach and thus standing of UK research in the humanities, and we urge that these figures be properly taken into account in RCUK’s independent review [of its open access policy, due later this year],” the report says.

It also urges RCUK to abandon its intention ultimately to halve its permitted open access embargo lengths in humanities and social science from 24 to 12 months. It finds that the typical “half-life” of humanities and social science articles – the period in which they accrue half of their eventual total number of readers – is 40 to 50 months. It notes that another recent study recorded a similar half-life for physical sciences articles, reducing to between 24 and 36 months for biomedicine.

“Although embargo periods do not map on to usage half-lives very closely, there is little need to be preoccupied by reducing embargo periods to 12 and even six months [for science],” the report says.

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