A two-day conference organised by the Academy of Social Sciences, kindly sponsored by the THE, Routledge, Wiley Blackwell and SAGE, looked at the implementation of the recommendations of the Finch Review for Open Access publishing in the UK.
Open Access publishing is a rapidly developing issue within social sciences and humanities so it was no surprise that this seminal conference attracted enormous interest from far and wide. 140 people packed the main hall of the Royal Statistical Society in London on each day to hear a range of expert speakers consider the many facets and implications of the move to open access publication of academic work, as discussed by Professor Dame Janet Finch AcSS and the working party she led at the request of David Willetts and in the report bearing her name: Accessibility, Sustainability, Excellence: how to expand access to research publications (pdf).
Dame Janet set the conference in context, congratulating the Academy for staging such an important and valuable event. She noted that there were many common misconceptions and some misinformation about the issues.
Her group was commissioned by government to be independent, not simply writing what Ministers had already decided. She said she was confident that the government did not already have advice on this. The group was asked to advise on whether there was a way of expanding access within a diverse and complex ecosystem; there was no easy answer so it was a question of how to move forward. The group was not to debate ‘if’ nor to destablise the situation.
The specification also related to peer reviewed publications from research. Data was not part of the group’s remit, although this has been considered by the Royal Society separately.
The discussions were confined to publicly funded research as part of the transparency agenda. The government felt it to be important for citizens and organisations to have access to data and research, with a belief that this will help drive economic growth and improve the quality of life. Most academics would agree that there are ways in which research would be useful and help change the world. The government finds it strange that research outputs are not freely available. As a result, nothing was said about research that was not publicly funded, nor about independent researchers – of which she is one herself. The focus was on those with a job in a university, paid for by public funds with a research requirement in their contract – this is ‘publicly funded research’.
We need to recognise the change already underway. The complex ecosystem is not stable. The internet has largely brought this about, changing expectations. Research publications are lagging behind. 10% of publications globally are already author pays, and the number is growing. Experimentation is going on, with different forms of publication and of peer review. There is potential for anarchy if the situation is not identified and grasped. Essentially, it’s a question of electronic access, so the Group decided to make recommendations only about journals as most academic monographs are not electronic, However, ultimately, the same issues do apply.
The system is currently breaking down. The Group wanted to recognise change, embrace it and map out an orderly transition.
There are many different interests, so it is very difficult to reconcile it all. Some differences are within sectors: the effect on universities varies by proportion of researchers publishing in academic journals.
Some voices say publisher profits are too high and they should be reduced. But the same voices can say that learned societies need to keep their profits high to fund their activities. This is contradictory and incompatible with a way forward. So, the Group agreed that it was looking less for a solution as for a practical way forward; it won’t be perfect for everyone but will be the best fit for the success criteria and will provide a solution everyone can live with.
Dame Janet wished to correct some misunderstandings about the recommendations. The main recommendation was for a mixed economy between ‘author pays’ and subscriptions. She envisaged the balance between the two would shift over time and did not recommend a swift move to Gold Open Access. Neither did she expect everything to be published by Gold OA ever, but rather that we should expect a mixed economy for the foreseeable future. Gold OA requires a different business model. A sustainable business model for all in the ecosystem offers greater opportunities for experimentation; some is already happening. University presses will probably play a greater role in the future.
The transition needs to be gradual; if it isn’t the situation will be destabilised. BioMed is already largely Gold OA but, in Humanities and Social Science (HSS), Gold OA is a small fraction. Disciplines will move at different speeds to achieve change. It is important that HSS are not harmed by the transition and that the quality of research and publications are not undermined; however, it is also important, they are not left out of the changes. Dame Janet hoped that the conference would help encourage policy and implementation.
Finally, she noted that the OA movement is a ‘Broad Church’ with several evangelical wings believing different things. We need to engage on a practical level, trying not to lose the big picture whilst delving into the detail.
Other speakers were:
Professor Dame Lynne Brindley DBE, Member of AHRC Council and former Chief Executive, The British Library, on ‘The transition to Finch – the implications for the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences’.
Professor Tim Blackman AcSS, Pro Vice Chancellor (Research, Scholarship and Quality), The Open University and Professor Robert Dingwall AcSS, Director, Dingwall Enterprises on ‘The transition to Finch – the implications for individual researchers, both within and outside of HEIs’.
Paul Hubbard, Head of Research Policy, HEFCE, on ‘The transition to Finch – the implications for REF 2020’.
Maureen Duffy, Author, President of Honour, British Copyright Council and Professor Charlotte Waelde, Professor of Intellectual Property Law, University of Exeter on ‘The transition to Finch – the implications for author rights and IPR’.
Dr Jude England AcSS, Head of Social Sciences, The British Library, on ‘The transition to Finch – the implications for academic libraries’.
Panel Discussion on visioning the future for publishing learned society Journals – the implications for the arts, humanities and the social sciences:
- Dr David Green AcSS, Global Journals Publishing Director, Routledge
- Philip Carpenter, Vice-President and Managing Director for Social Sciences and Humanities, Wiley Blackwell
- Ziyad Marar, Global Publishing Director, SAGE
Dr Felice J Levine, Executive Director, American Educational Research Association, on ‘The transition to Finch – the perspective of the USA – will they follow suit?’
Sally Hardy AcSS, Chief Executive of the Regional Studies Association and Professor Stephen Bailey, Professor of Public Law and Head of the School of Law, University of Nottingham, and Vice President elect of the Society of Legal Scholars on ‘The transition to Finch – learned societies and the uses of publisher income’.
Dr Rita Gardner CBE, Director of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG), member of the Finch Group and Chair of the Academy of Social Sciences learned societies working group on Open Access, on ‘The transition to Finch – the implications for Learned Society business models’.
Chair of second day: Professor Martin Hall, Vice Chancellor, University of Salford, member of the Finch Committee and Chair of the JISC OA implementation group
All conference sessions were recorded, thanks to additional sponsorship from SAGE.
Session one: Dame Lynne Brindley pn the implications for the arts, humanities and social sciences
Session two: Professor Tim Blackman and Professor Robert Dingwall on the implications for individual researchers, both within and outside HEIs
Session three: Dame Janet Finch’s opening remarks; Paul Hubbard on the implications for REF 2020; Maureen Duffy and Professor Charlotte Wealde on the implications for authors rights and IPR; Jude England on the implications for academic libraries
Day two: opening remarks from Professor Martin Hall; The future for publishing learned society journals with Dr David Green (Routledge), Philip Carpenter (Wiley) and Ziyad Marar (SAGE)
Session two: Dr Felice Levine on the perspective of the USA
Session three: Sally Hardy and Professor Stephen Bailey on learned societies and the uses of publisher income; Dr Rita Gardner on the implications for learned society business models; and speaker panel with David Green, Philip Carpenter, Ziyad Marar, Sally Hardy, Stephen Bailey and Rita Gardner