Open access inaction | Jack Stilgoe | Science | theguardian.com
" ... I am in the process of publishing various bits of my research. The final destinations of my various thoughts say something about the mess that academic publishing is currently in … First, I've written a couple of chapters for this book, but it costs 90 quid. One of the chapters is given away on the website as a tease, but that only reinforces how odd it is that the rest aren't. Even though I'm in the book, I would advise my students not to buy it, but instead to ask the authors to email them their chapters. Second, I've published this paper in a journal called Science and Public Policy – a conventional way of being read by other academics. Except that whatever baroque negotiations have taken place between the journal's new publisher and the UCL library mean that, despite being a member staff at one of Europe's largest universities, I don't seem to have access to that journal. This piece of research, funded by British taxpayers, can't even be read by me. Third, I've recently submitted a paper to a purely open access journal, one of the PLoS stable, just to see what that's like. Fourth, I've just published this paper in a journal called Research Policy. Like many of its competitors, this journal has an open access option, which you pay for, but which releases your paper to the world immediately. Thanks to a new policy by the research councils, they have agreed to pay for so-called 'gold' access. UCL has some sort of clever agreement in which the university pays the journal directly so the money doesn't come through my pocket. On the surface, this all seems to work. But it doesn't take much scratching to see that, beneath this new system, the research councils are paying to publish something they have already paid for. This money could have been spent on more research. Instead, it is subsidising a rather large publisher, paying Elsevier more money on top of the subscription fees already coming from university libraries. The only reason I went for this option was because the journal has a ridiculous embargo period before it lets authors self-publish their papers (known as 'green' open access). My decision to go for gold seems to be rewarding the journal's intransigence. Finally, I am also on the editorial board for a journal called Public Understanding of Science, which publishes work on how scientists and members of the public talk to one another, but is itself closed. This has, quite rightly, attracted criticism. We have agonised about offering an open access option, but decided, perhaps wrongly, that it would penalise the many researchers and institutions who can't pay the $1,500 required (pdf). All of this leaves me perplexed. Occasionally I get angry, but not angry enough to join the valiant efforts of people like Tim Gowers, who led the boycott of Elsevier, Michael Eisen, who created The Public Library of Science, Peter Suber, who has dissected the issue in a new (open access) book, or Stephen Curry, of this parish, who reviews Suber's book here. And I haven't even started on the arguments for sharing the data and metadata that currently sits behind the clunky pdfs. I understand the arguments of the publishers that robust knowledge is expensive to curate. But mostly I think they should just get on with developing a model that works rather than profiteering from their own stubbornness. I hope that, in t10 years or so, we will look back on this period and see it as a historical blip. Science has, in the three centuries since the creation of the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions (probably the world's longest running journal), been ahead of the openness curve. It is currently lagging way behind."