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Dr Mike J Smith
Kingston University

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Finch report has landed

Tue, 19 Jun 2012

Well the Finch report in to increasing access to published research has finally landed. And perhaps the summarised conclusions (need to read in detail!) are none-too-surprising - "Our view is that the UK should embrace the transition to open access."

This has certainly generated plenty of press today - for example The Guardian, Reuters and BBC.

Interestingly virtually all the press focuses (at least implicitly) on Science - errr, there are a lot of subjects that aren't pure science and particularly physical or medical sciences. And obviously a lot of journals servicing them. And this is perhaps the crux of the issue that (from my brief scanning) appears to have been lost. Section 9 (Implementation) recognises that many learned societies that currently benefit from publication, reinvesting it in their subject areas, need to consider a phased plan for going OA.

But what about the subjects themselves?

As I've noted before, subjects are dramatically different, with some well funded and some.... well not. For those with no grant funding, how do you publish your research? A policy change could have a rapid and devastating effect on the actual subjects themselves. The players in this game are fighting over

1. the freedom of access to information
2. the burden of payment

Currently payment lies with the reader, principally universities. Now that the government no longer funds UK universities, this burden is paid for by student funding and research grants. Clearly universities would be more than happy to shift that cost elsewhere in order to make them more competitive and potentially more attractive (lower cost?) to students. They could also use this process to acquire more research funding from grant bodies to pay for research article submission - a nice double whammy, lose journal subscription costs and get more money from grant bodies!

OK, but what about everyone else actually submitting research articles who isn't funded to do so? For developing nations a similar "no cost" model (as there currently is for subscription) would need to be considered, whilst for subjects with limited research funding? There then becomes a tension in universities between going for large numbers of high quality outputs which they have to pay to submit in order to target a high REF outcome or..... well, not funding research submission and, by implication, recognising they donot wish to target research. Would we see some subjects become "teaching only" in the UK? Would current research quality in these subjects significantly diminish in the UK?

It's a tough set of options and I have no doubt the OA will become the de facto publishing model in many subjects (although alternatives are mooted). And maybe we'll see a far more mixed mode of operation that pays publishers a fair wage for a job well done and supports learned societies and the subjects they serve. Certainly at JoM we offer both subscription and OA models, the latter (perhaps not surprisingly at the moment) not being popular.

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