Critiques and rebuttals continue in UK open access debate

September 1, 2005

Brussels, 31 Aug 2005

The controversy in the UK over whether to make research papers available on the Internet free of charge has heated up over the summer, following an announcement by the UK research councils (RCUK) that it intends to make free access a condition of funding grants.

The announcement has drawn critiques and counter critiques from the research community. Leading the argument against the proposal is the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) a non-profit publishing association. RCUK has many supporters however, including leading academics such as Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the world wide web.

The RCUK proposal is intended to increase the impact of UK research worldwide by making it more accessible, and thus increasing the number of citations that it gets. But publishers fear that open access will lead to a drop in journal sales, and damage the UK's 25 per cent share in the learned journals market.

In a letter from ALPSP, Executive Director Sally Morris claims that the arrangement would have 'disastrous consequences' for journals. In a letter of rebuttal from a number of academics, the claim is rejected as 'all objective evidence is contrary to this dire prediction'. The letter contains a point-by-point rejection of all of ALPSP's concerns.

While ALPSP argues that a policy requiring universities to self-archive their research articles in freely accessible repositories would cause libraries to cancel subscriptions, leading to the collapse of scholarly journals and the quality control and peer review process, the signatories of the letter of rebuttal believe the opposite to be true. '[N]ot only do journals thrive and co-exist alongside author self-archiving, but they can actually benefit from it - both in terms of more citations and more subscriptions,' reads the letter. They cite the Institute of Physics in the UK and the American Physical Society, neither of which have identified a loss of subscriptions as a result of self-archiving.

The letter urges RCUK to implement its self-archiving mandate without further delay, and then to pursue discussions with stakeholders on how institutional repositories can collaborate with journals and their publishers.

A recent international survey also found that over 80 per cent of researchers would be willing to submit their articles to institutional open access repositories.

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