Finch Group defends open-access evidence base

Review rejects MPs’ criticisms of gaps in its data

November 21, 2013

The Finch Group has hit back at claims that its preference for gold over green open access was based on flawed evidence.

The coalition-convened group, chaired by Dame Janet Finch, former vice-chancellor of the University of Keele, and containing representatives from publishers, learned societies, universities and funders, was responsible for the June 2012 report on which the UK’s open-access policy is based.

The report’s statement that a “clear policy direction” should be set in support of journal-provided gold open access was taken up by Research Councils UK, whose initial open-access mandate, unveiled in July 2012, was widely interpreted as requiring researchers to choose gold wherever possible.

Universities objected that this would be too expensive, given the article fees charged by journals, and the Finch Group’s review of progress in implementing its recommendations, published on 18 November, notes that many have adopted an explicit preference for repository-based green open access.

The review makes it clear, in line with more recent RCUK pronouncements, that this is permissible during the indefinite transition period to full gold open access.

It also endorses a “decision tree” produced by the Publishers Association that appears to suggest that whenever gold options are offered and funding is available, researchers must opt for it.

But Adam Tickell, Finch Group member and provost and vice-principal at the University of Birmingham, denied there was “much of a dissonance” in the report.

“Everyone is happy with [RCUK-] funded gold and the publishers are happy with green with embargoes that don’t undermine their sustainability. As such, the review codifies the agreements [regarding RCUK policy] that were reached in the spring,” he said.

The review also mounts a robust defence of the original Finch report.

In September, the Commons Business, Innovation and Skills Committee said that it suffered from “gaps in both the qualitative and quantitative evidence”. But according to this week’s review, the Finch Group commissioned its own economic analysis and took into account a “much wider and fuller” range of evidence than critics “have been prepared to acknowledge”.

The group also rejects the committee’s call for public subsidy of gold article fees to be restricted to fully open-access journals, which tend to charge lower fees than partly open-access “hybrid” journals.

It says that most “high quality” journals are still hybrid, while “learned societies in particular” have welcomed the opportunity to make a more gradual transition to open access.

It criticises the committee for “ignoring” the risk to learned societies posed by open access.

The review laments the lack of attention paid to its recommendation for extensions of licensed access to journals beyond higher education, and calls for a formal body to be set up by Universities UK to systematically monitor and coordinate efforts on implementing open access.

David Sweeney, director of research, innovation and skills at the Higher Education Funding Council for England, welcomed the review’s endorsement of the importance of author choice, which is also reflected in the funding councils’ draft open-access mandate for the research excellence framework.

“The review gives a much rounder description of the policy than the previous report and sits well alongside other international funders’ policies,” he said.

But Stevan Harnad, director of the University of Southampton’s Cognitive Sciences Centre and a long-time advocate of green open access, dismissed the “long, rambling, incoherent” review as a “selective rehash of opinions and opinion surveys, with nothing faintly resembling the objective evidence called for by the BIS committee”.

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Reader's comments (1)

HEFCE TO THE RESCUE See: "Finch Group reviews progress in implementing open access transition amid ongoing criticisms" LSE Impact (Nov 18) But David Sweeney is quite right. The Finch review now endorses the importance of author choice, which is also reflected in the funding councils’ draft open-access mandate for the research excellence framework." In fact, the HEFCE draft open-access mandate effectively fixes the Finch/RCUK mandate by requiring immediate institutional deposit, whether the author chooses gold or green, and whether or not access to the immediate-deposit is made immediately open access or CC-BY. This not only ensures that the RCUK open access mandate will be successful, but it immunizes it against the following "Publishers' Fantasy Scenario": (1) Do whatever it takes to sustain or increase your current revenue streams. (2) Your current revenue streams come mainly from subscriptions. (3) Claim far and wide that everything has to be done to sustain publishers' subscription revenue, otherwise publishing will be destroyed, and with it so will peer review, and research itself. (4) With (3) as your justification, embargo Green OA self-archiving for as long as possible, and fight against Green OA self-archiving mandates -- or make sure allowable embargoes are as long as possible. (5) Profess a fervent commitment to a transition to full 100% immediate OA -- but only Gold OA, and only on your terms, and on your timetable, in such a way as to ensure that you sustain or increase your current revenue streams. (6) Offer hybrid Gold OA and promise not to "double-dip." That will ensure that your subscription revenues segue seamlessly into Gold OA revenues while maintaining their current levels. (7) To hasten the transition, offer even Bigger Big Deals to cover subscriptions at the national level (as you had always dreamt of doing) until all payment is safely converted to (Gold) OA. (8) Encourage centralized, collective payment of Gold OA fees too, in even Bigger Deals, so Gold OA can continue to be treated as annual institutional -- preferably national -- payments rather than as piecewise payments per individual article. (9) Lobby governments to mandate, subsidize and prefer Gold OA (preferably hybrid) rather than mandating Green OA (10) Make sure Green OA is perceived as delayed OA (because of your embargoes!), so that only Gold OA can be immediate. (11) Mobilize the minority OA advocates who are in a terrible hurry for re-use rights (CC-BY, text-mining, republication) at all costs, to get them to support you in your promotion of Gold OA and your demotion and embargoing of Green OA. (12) Cross your fingers and hope that the research community will be gullible enough to buy it all. The compeletely effective HEFCE/RCUK prophylactic against this publisher fantasy is the following: (a) Research funders and institutions worldwide all adopt an immediate-deposit mandate, requiring, as a condition of funding, employment and evaluation, that all researchers deposit their final, peer-reviewed drafts in their institutional repositories immediately upon acceptance for publication, regardless of whether they are published in a subscription journal or a Gold OA journal -- and regardless of whether access to the deposit is made Green OA immediately or only after a publisher embargo. (b) Do not mandate or designate any extra money to pay for Gold OA: let that come from the subscription cancellation savings -- if and when Green OA actually releases institutions to cancel subscriptions. (c) To tide over research access needs during any embargo, make sure to implement the institutional repository's automated copy-request Button so that any user can request -- and any author can provide -- a single copy for research purposes with just one click each.


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