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Weekly transmissions from the blogosphere

June 28, 2012

Open access has been a hot topic in the blogosphere of late, hotter still since the release of a government-commissioned report on expanding access to publicly funded research.

But although the report, produced by a committee led by Dame Janet Finch, former vice-chancellor of Keele University, suggests that open access is the future of academic publishing, the movement's advocates have been quick to note that it offers only cautious backing.

"A committee set up by government was never going to foment a revolution," writes Stephen Curry, professor of structural biology at Imperial College London, on his Reciprocal Space blog.

He says the report "starts out promisingly" by recognising the profound impact that the internet has had on established modes of publishing that have served science so well for so long.

"This, the committee recognises, has wrought a cultural change in [scientists'] relationship with information. Simply put, we want better and faster access. And the public deserves better access too," he writes.

He says a key statement in the report's summary is that publicly funded research should be freely accessible - a principle that is "fundamentally unanswerable". But Professor Curry is also quick to point to areas of the report that could rankle with open-access advocates, such as the statement that funders "wish to secure maximum impact for the research they fund, plus value for money", or: "The UK has played a leading role in promoting open access, but there are limits to what the UK can achieve alone."

He argues that some points, such as the "clear support for gold open access with proper funding mechanisms", look good. But another recommendation - on promoting walk-in access for the public to journals in libraries - "continues to make no sense to me in the age of the internet (now concurrent with an age of austerity that is seeing the closure of libraries across the UK)".

Concerning the development of university repositories to provide "a valuable role complementary to formal publishing", he thinks it is a good idea, but only if repositories can be "properly linked and indexed via the web".

"It remains to be seen if publishers will comply with this; at present they resist such added value," he writes.

Professor Curry asks whether the report is a "sop to publishers or a reasonable compromise".

"I think the key will be how research councils respond to the report and what conditions they will lay down on their funded scientists," he writes.

"I think - and hope it is not wishful thinking - that the committee has been wily enough to read the runes and push just hard enough at a door that is opening."

He is also gratified that some points he has made in the past have been adopted by the report.

"The step forward is smaller than many might have hoped for but all in all the report represents a positive move towards the goal of full open access," he concludes.

"There is the realistic appreciation that a shift to open access will not happen overnight, even now. But it is coming."

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