Finch access plan unlikely to fly across the Atlantic

Report draws US notice but experts say journals will not ‘play RCUK game’. Paul Jump reports

December 6, 2012

Felice Levine, executive director of learned society the American Educational Research Association, told the Academy of Social Science’s Implementing Finch conference last week that the Finch report on open access had been “noticed” in the US.

However, she said she did not expect its strong preference for author-pays gold open access over self-archiving green open access - which has been endorsed by the UK government and the research councils - to be echoed in US policy.

The report, which was headed by former Keele University vice-chancellor Dame Janet Finch, made clear that the speed at which other countries moved to implement gold open access would be crucial to minimising the cost of the transition in the UK. During the transition period, UK institutions would be required to pay article fees to publish their own research as well as subscription fees to access the research produced in other countries.

Dr Levine told the event, which was sponsored by Times Higher Education, that the Finch report had raised concerns in the US that “regulation may move faster than deliberation” in the UK, and had heightened sensitivities about “the complexities of transforming publishing business models” to an author-pays model.

However, she said the open-access movement was also gaining momentum in the US and her “best intelligence” suggested that the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy was likely soon to “move in the direction of a broader requirement on the principle of open access - but not to interfere in business models”.

Asked whether US journals would take pains to be compliant with Research Councils UK’s new open-access policy - which requires them to offer either a gold option or a green option with a relatively short embargo - she pointed out that her society’s journals already allowed researchers and institutions to post free versions of papers on their own websites. She said some social science journals were also experimenting with gold open-access models.

However, Robert Dingwall, an independent researcher affiliated with Nottingham Trent University, said that most prominent social science journals were US-based and, given the relatively low proportion of UK research they published, it would be “easy for them to say we won’t play the [RCUK] game”.

For the same reason, he said, US journals would not feel under pressure to reduce their subscription fees as the proportion of UK researchers taking up their gold open access options increased.

He said that, as editor of the US-based journal Symbolic Interaction, he would simply regard income from UK open access fees as “a handout from the British government”.

UK social science had been swept up in an open-access movement that was largely dictated by biomedicine, he added.

Dr Levine said she had been struck by the prevailing feeling at the conference that UK policy was not very sensitive to disciplinary differences. “Concern about a one-size-fits-all model in the UK is likely to become our mantra of the decade,” she said.

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