UK Gov’t Supports Open Access Plan

The UK government releases its recommendation that open access be “the main vehicle for the publication of research,” though it warns of the costs that could entail.

By | June 19, 2012

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Early last month, the United Kingdom’s Science Minister David Willets announced a plan to switch scientific publishing in the country to an entirely open access model. Now, the government has issued a report agreeing that open access journals should be “the main vehicle for the publication of research,” though the change could cost $80–90 million per year in publication charges and other costs, ScienceInsider reported.

“This comprehensive report will make a vital contribution to the development of policy on open access, which we will be setting out in the near future,” Willetts said in a statement.

Though the report was just released today (June 19), it has already drawn mixed reviews from the community. While many welcomed the report’s support of the open access movement, others are concerned that it is “more concerned with the openness issue than with making a serious attempt to reduce costs,” mathematician Timothy Gowers of the University of Cambridge told ScienceInsider.

An estimated $175 million are paid annually in subscription fees in the U.K., and much of that cost would have to be absorbed (largely by the authors) if journals abandoned that business model in favor of disseminating research free of charge. The panel that issued the report, which consisted of university researchers, representatives from funding agencies, and publishers, estimated that open access publishing fees would total about $60 million a year, though it warned that this was a very rough estimate.

It would also be costly to develop the repositories needed to house and share the freely available research on the Web, and because “subscription-based journals will remain a key channel for the publication of research results from across the world for some years to come,” the report noted, there will also be a cost to continue accessing those articles.

“My main concern here is that I do not see a convincing mechanism for keeping APCs [article processing charges] down,” Gowers told ScienceInsider. “Every mathematician I know finds the idea of APCs of around £1400 [around $2200] ludicrously high.” This could limit publication in high-quality journals to only the most well-funded scientists. Plus, Gowers added, “it means that publishers have complete control over prices, which is not obviously an improvement over the stranglehold that they have at the moment.”

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