29 July 2012

"Open Access"?

It seems that the research funders have capitulated to the pressure of the Finch report on scholarly publishing:

JISC and Wellcome Trust: Request for Proposals for a study into how best universities can be supported in dealing with new open access demands.

The Finch report has stated that universities will have to be increasingly efficient in the way they pay for open access publishing in the form of article processing charges (APCs).

In other words, author charging is now the officially accepted way of achieving so-called 'open access' which will be open only to those who can pay the vastly inflated charge to allow their papers to be viewed by all. And, given that commercial publishers are profit-oriented above all other considerations, we can guess that, if you can pay the fee, your paper will be accepted, with a nod to quality by finding referees who are prepared to say, "Well, it's not perfect, but..."

The signs that this is happening is found in the quality standards applied by those newly emerged "open access" publishers whose journals are filled with papers from the developing world, because the authors themselves or their institutions can find the dollars to exercise their feet in the academic rat race. The spam generated by these publishers is such that I have had to have delete filters in my e-mail to get rid of them—the spam filter doesn't catch them for some reason.

And who's to blame: ultimately, it is the timidity of the academic authors themselves. Instead of grasping the opportunity offered by the technology, they wait until someone does it for them; instead of collaborating to bring about change, they sit around and wait to be overwhelmed by it, instead of acting against the silliness of restricted journal lists for submission, imposed by their institutions or departments, they mildly grumble, but go along with it.

I consider myself very fortunate, as the Publisher and Editor of Information Research - a genuinely open access journal, to have gathered together a group of Associate Editors, copy-editors and referees, who contribute their services freely in return only for the personal satisfaction of aiding the open access movement. But ours is not the only field where this is possible: it can be done in any field and it will be to the eternal shame of academe if genuine open publishing does not take root.

Of course, the Finch working party is also to blame: with three members from the commercial publishing industry was the result going to be any different? And I must confess that I had never hear mention of Dame Janet Finch, either as an academic administrator or as a sociologist before this. Her field was family and kinship in modern Britain, and exactly how this fitted her to chair a Working Party on scholarly publishing is a mystery... or perhaps not, she is clearly one of the 'great and the good' who could be relied upon by Tory ministers to deliver the answer they wanted.

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