Tuesday, 10 July 2012

The Finch Report

I'm probably a couple of weeks behind most by commenting on The Finch Report. It is a government-commissioned report suggesting that the best route to open access is via the gold route, where funding bodies and/ or libraries pay Article Processing Charges (APCs) in order for academics to publish their research. Institutional repositories would, in turn, be used more for grey literature such as reports and theses. Although the report is long (140 pages) the executive summary (11 pages) gives a good overview.

The reason it's taken me a couple of weeks to blog my thoughts on the report is that I wanted to have some time to read it, and try to come to a relatively unbiased opinion, before I read the immense amount of e-mails that had coming flooding into my in-box on the topic.

I'm not going to repeat any of the explanations or (rather lengthy) arguments here in any depth, as enough people have done that already. What I will do is point you towards what, I think, are some of the most useful sources and blog posts that have appeared so far.

As ever, The Times Higher Education Supplement is probably one of the best places to go for a good short overview of the report, a relatively balanced opinion, and no incorrect media spin. A more recent article gets opinions from both sides - a publisher who is pro gold open access and a vice-provost for research who is pro green open access (and if you don't really understand the difference between gold vs. green, you'll probably have a much better understand after reading any response at all to The Finch Report).

Some posts that are somewhat more biased, but reflect my own opinions on the subject, come from UCLs Vice-Provost for Research, David Price. It's admittedly written from a Russell University perspective, but effectively argues the reasons university have concerns about the Finch report.  UKCoRR (UK Council for Research Repositories) has also blogged a response detailing the possible impact the report could have on repository managers. It is, of course, a very repository-focussed article looking at the pluses and minuses of the Finch report. As a repository manager I do, of course, agree with the UKCoRR stance- but also acknowledge that it doesn’t cover all of the issues that may be present in such a complex open access debate.

Finally, this Guardian piece includes a lot of misunderstandings and half truths (especially amongst the comments), but I couldn't not point out the very final comment, which I love! These are all comments I've heard from other academics working in physics and maths, so I don't think it's too far from the truth.

Having said I wouldn't repeat any of the arguments above, I'm now going to include a few of my initial thoughts upon having read the report. It's probably worth mentioning here that I'm a Repository Manager at a university, so my viewpoint is likely to be rather biased...

•Fundamentally universities (and their libraries) are paying publishers for work their researchers/ employers are doing - people they are paying to do this work in the first place.

•Charging APCs is all well and good, but it should only cover the cost of the administrative effort put in by the publisher. Yes, they organise peer review - but they don't carry it out. The researchers do this for free - often over and above their other work, and outside of their normal working hours (my hubby is an academic and regularly reviews papers at the weekend or midnight)

•Where are all these savings for HE/ other sectors coming from? The report keeps mentioning savings, but not where they will come from

•The report does have some good suggestions. I have no problem with repositories promoting grey literature, or with journals being the ones to make articles open access and freely available - if this is a sustainable practice that doesn't force universites, and their libraries, to spend even more money that they don't have. However, the good suggestions are hiding some pretty controversial ones that will cost the government, and publically funded services, more money.

•Publishers are a corporate enterprise and need to move with the times; not force government services to pay them for the privilege of doing things that aren't necessary

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