A major new report calls on the UK to improve its "mistaken" OA policy.

The UK House of Commons Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) just issued a major report on the current national open-access (OA) policy in the UK. The new report makes all the right criticisms of the current policy, and all the right recommendations for improving it. It's carefully done, long overdue, and I hope the Research Councils UK (RCUK) will revise its policy in light of it

The report vindicates those of us who share the goal of a rapid and complete transition to OA, but deplore the approach taken by the Research Councils UK (RCUK). See for example my lengthy article from last year (September 2012) analyzing the UK policy and spelling out its weaknesses and perverse incentives. 

Although the report came to many of the same conclusions as my article, I have no reason to think that the article influenced the report. Many others came to the same conclusions as well, including many in the UK. Indeed, there has been a growing consensus for what used to be the common sense of the matter, that green OA can be mandated and gold OA cannot. Credit goes to the astute members of the House Committee itself, and the well-informed witnesses at its April 2013 hearing, especially +Martin Eve, +Stevan Harnad, +Cameron Neylon, and Alma Swan. We owe them our thanks.

Here are the report's major recommendations (quoting the press release):
* "The Government take an active role in promoting standardisation and compliance across subject and institutional repositories", 25 (numbers refer to report paragraphs, not pages)
* "RCUK reinstate and strengthen the immediate [green OA] deposit mandate in its original policy and improve the monitoring and enforcement of mandated deposit", 31
* "The Government and RCUK revise their policies to place an upper limit of 6 month embargoes on STEM subject research and up to 12 month embargoes for HASS subject research", 50
* "The Government mitigate against the impact on universities of paying Article Processing Charges out of their own reserves", 64
* "If the preference for Gold is maintained, the Government and RCUK should amend their policies so that APCs are only paid to publishers of pure Gold rather than hybrid journals to eliminate the risk of double-dipping", 77

Here's my personal short-list of the most important facts that the Committee understood better than the Finch Group and RCUK:
* the fact that all previous OA mandates worldwide have been green, 32-33, and that the UK itself has an exemplary record in using green OA mandates, 20, 24, 93 (again, numbers refer to report paragraphs, not pages)
* the fact that the RCUK policy allows double-dipping hybrid journals, and creates incentives to raise fees, 36
* the fact that Finch Group used inflated estimates of the average article processing charges (APCs), 40, 52-59
* the fact that high APCs do not correlate with high quality, 40
* the fact that green OA can be immediate, and needn't be embargoed, 42-43
* the lack of evidence for publisher claims that short embargoes increase cancellations, 44-45, 49
* the fact that the RCUK policy creates incentives for publishers to drop their green options, by increasing embargoes beyond the RCUK maximum (and the fact that this has now occurred), 46-49, 74, 
* the fact that that government money allocated to pay APCs would not suffice to cover all RCUK-funded authors, 60
* the fact that, even though insufficient to meet demand, the money allocated to pay APCs was much more than the nation could afford, 61-64
* the fact that green OA supports a less expensive transition to OA than gold OA, 61, 66, 70
* the fact that the policy was based more on consultations with research sellers than research users, 72, 91

The BIS Committee has no formal or legal control over BIS policies, including the OA policy. But its report is a major political blow to the current policy. The government will either have to justify the current policy, in the teeth of the evidence produced by the Committee, or make concessions. One reason is simply that this is the relevant oversight committee in Parliament. But another is the Committee's careful documentation. The current policy relied on a report that overlooked or misrepresented a host of key facts. The committee has done its homework, unearthed the facts, documented them, and drawn the right conclusions from them. In the name of evidence-based policy-making, as well as the public interest in open access to publicly-funded research, the government should acknowledge the weight of the evidence and modify its policy.

#oa #openaccess #rcuk #uk #bis #finch_report
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