Few academic researchers and scholars deny the intellectual, scientific, economic and social benefits of open access to research findings. Yet, in the wake of the Finch report and the publication of the open access policies of most British funding bodies, open access has emerged as a hotly contested issue. Notwithstanding the vehemence of long-committed activists, the passionate nature of recent arguments belies the arcane and technical nature of the matter at hand. Open access has indeed become a battleground whereupon scholarly and scientific practises, public policy, copyright laws, market mechanisms and library services collide and pull researchers in opposite directions.
This is a very busy time of the year for academics and few of us have had the chance to investigate the issues raised by Gold Open Access and its imposition upon the UK research base.
In response to a colleague’s suggestion, I have listed some of the reasons why the profession should be very concerned about the proposed Open Access policy and mobilize against it – at once.
The report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings, chaired by Dame Janet Finch CBE was published in June 2012. Entitled Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications, it is commonly referred to as the “Finch Report”.
According to its terms of reference, the Working Group was asked to consider “how to expand access to the quality-assured published outputs of research” defined as journal articles, conference proceedings and monographs. The report largely ignores the latter two categories to concentrate on articles published in peer-reviewed journals. In keeping with conventional policy-making wisdom, it was also asked to adopt an evidence-based approach.
The following was written to inform the discussion and eventual response of the International Society for First World War Studies1. With over 300 members in 27 countries, the Society is the largest network of First World War scholars in the world2. Founded in 2001, this interdisciplinary organisation launched its peer-reviewed journal in 2010; First World War Studies is published by Taylor & Francis.
To ensure that scientific publications be free at the point of access, the report recommends that an Article Processing Charge (APC) be levied at the point of publication. In other words, authors will be required to pay a fee to publish their work. This mechanism is also referred to as Gold Open Access (Gold OA) and would replace the current model based on subscriptions.
The Report calls for a “ clear policy direction … towards support for publication in open access or hybrid journals, funded by APCs, as the main vehicle for the publication of research, especially when it is publicly funded” (97).
Many learned societies and professional organizations including the Royal Historical Society, the British Academy, the American Historical Association and the German History Society have expressed their serious reservations about the report. They have done so with more authority than I could ever muster and I do share their concerns. Though I am convinced, like many colleagues, that open access to research findings will bring undeniable intellectual, scientific, economic and social benefits, I don’t believe the Finch Report has drawn a convincing road map to a fairer and more efficient system of scholarly communication.