Saturday, June 30, 2012

The UK Publishers Association comments on the Finch Report

The eagerly awaited Finch Report was published on 18th June. The Finch Committee, headed up by Dame Janet Finch, a sociologist at the University of Manchester, was set up last year by UK Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, and tasked with establishing how access to research could be expanded.
Grayam Taylor of the Publishers Association

After due deliberation, the Committee concluded that all publicly funded research should be made freely available on an Open Access (OA) basis, and that the traditional journal model — which currently sees most research locked behind a subscription paywall — should be gradually discontinued.

The Finch Report has been welcomed by publishers and their trade associations (e.g. here, here and here), and by research funders (e.g. here and here). 

However, it has been received with a mixture of frustration, disbelief, and anger by some UK research universities, and by many OA advocates (e.g. here, here and here).

What has dismayed critics is that in recommending the so-called gold route to OA (where researchers pay to publish in OA journals), rather than the green route (where they continue to publish in subscription journals at no cost, and then self-archive their papers in an institutional repository) the Finch Report appears to have condemned the research community to having to find an additional £50-60 million a year to publish its research, at a time when university budgets are under severe pressure.

Since much of this additional money is expected to go into the pockets of publishers, some have charged the Finch Committee with succumbing to lobbying.

Others maintain that if the Finch recommendations are implemented the number of research papers published will have to be rationed.

What do publishers make of the criticisms? To find out, I contacted Graham Taylor, Director of Educational, Academic and Professional Publishing at the UK-based Publishers Association. Our email Q&A is below.

On lobbying

RP: The Finch Report recommends that all publicly funded research be made freely available on an Open Access basis, and that the traditional subscription model be phased out. The Publishers Association has welcomed the Report, describing it as a “’balanced package’ of recommendations for extending access to research outputs within the UK”.

By contrast, many in the OA movement have greeted the Report with dismay. Stevan Harnad, for instance, has described it as a product of “strong and palpable influence from the publishing lobby”, and a “fiasco”. Meanwhile, David Price, Vice-Provost (Research) at UCL, commented to me that, “The result of the Finch recommendations would be to cripple university systems with extra expense”. He added, “Finch is certainly a cure to the problem of access, but is it not a cure which is actually worse than the disease?”

What is it that critics of the Report like this are not seeing that publishers do see?

GT: In fact the report recommends that “a clear policy direction should be set towards support for publication in open access or hybrid journals, funded by APCs, as the main vehicle for the publication of research, especially when it is publicly funded”. In proposing that the UK “should embrace the transition to open access”, the report recognises that “the process itself will be complicated” and that “no single channel can on its own maximise research publications for the greatest number of people”.

Monday, June 25, 2012

The Finch Report in a global Open Access landscape

Last week I published an interview with David Price, Vice-Provost (Research) at University College London (UCL).  

Commenting on the interview on the Liblicense mailing list Anthony Watkinson said, “My impression is those pressing for OA, at least among the library sector and even within UCL, have moved on. A roadmap has been produced by the information officers of the League of European Research Universities (LERU). This organisation is chaired by none other than Paul Ayris of UCL, an Open Access advocate.”

Watkinson is a former Wiley-Blackwell publisher, a consultant to the Publishers Association, and now a part-time senior lecturer in the Department of Information Studies at UCL.
Paul Ayris, Direct of UCL Library Services
My curiosity piqued I contacted Paul Ayris, Director of UCL Library Services, and asked him if he thought the LERU Roadmap was at variance with what Price had said to me in the interview?

Ayris replied, “UCL’s position, as outlined in your interview with Professor Price, is to my mind in line with the LERU Roadmap, whose composition I co-ordinated. True, the Roadmap does not mention National Licensing approaches, but it does show the benefits and challenges of the Gold and Green routes to Open Access and the requirements that both lay on Universities.”

Ayris offered to write a guest post aligning the Finch Report with the LERU Roadmap. I agreed, and publish it below. 


The Finch Report in a global Open Access landscape
By Paul Ayris 

The Finch Report, which was  recently published in the UK, has caused a storm of comment, even controversy. Responses have been lined up behind the barricades of either Green or Gold Open Access (OA), and predictions have been made about the destruction of the UK publishing industry. 

Universities and research funders rightly worry about the implications of the funding burden that full implementation of the Finch recommendations would lay on them. There is much heat, but where is the light?

The Finch Report is, in many ways, an academic study of what the authors feel is the future trajectory of scholarly publishing to support research, teaching and learning, public engagement and enterprise. It’s a laudable and important attempt to establish a leadership role for the UK in Open Access a country that produces around 6% of the global research output. 

The Finch vision is for a fully Gold OA world, where Green OA repositories take on a role as a supporting player for grey literature and to support University marketing. National licences to commercial content are suggested as a short term win, to bring about equality of access across UK HE, and to embrace new sectors such as the NHS and SMEs.

Where does the Finch view sit in a global OA world? A new report by John Houghton and Alma Swan, financed by the JISC and to be published imminently, takes a different look at the OA debate. 

Houghton and Swan have undertaken detailed economic modelling, something missing from Finch, to compare the costs of Green and Gold Open Access if a university unilaterally opted for either of these routes, or if the whole world changed to either Green or Gold. 

Their analysis tells us a lot about the difficulties of transition to a fully OA environment. Their conclusion is that, for universities, at the present time the most cost effective route is for a University to opt for Green OA. Should the whole world turn OA, then their modelling supports Finch, in that the biggest saving for a University would come from Gold (Chart 23 in the forthcoming Report).

This is an important recognition of the difficulties of transition. One of the weaknesses in Finch is that it does not adequately model the transition to OA or the time it might take to achieve. 

Another recent publication, which also acknowledges the difficulties of transition, is the LERU Roadmap Towards Open Access. This document was published in June 2011 by the League of European Research Universities as an Advice paper for its members, and indeed for all European Universities. 

The Roadmap was well received in Germany, with a glowing tribute in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. The document identifies signs and pathways for both the Green and Gold routes to OA, and the benefits and challenges of all approaches. 

A survey of European research universities found that Green approaches were more deeply embedded there than Gold. The Roadmap therefore paints a realistic picture of what faces a European research university in their attempts to embrace OA.

In this context, what is the significance of the Finch Report? It is visionary, bold and well-intentioned. But there are gaps. It fails to appreciate the difficulties of transition to OA here and now. 

Taken with the Houghton and Swan, and the LERU work, a different trajectory for the future of OA can be said to emerge. This is more nuanced than Finch suggests. 

In the short term, a scaled up version of Green OA, linked to extended national licencing, would help solve the problems of access to content that Finch quite rightly is trying to address. 

In the longer term, the Gold OA vision of Finch (the Goldfinch) may well become the predominant model. But for this to work, the whole of the world needs to turn OA, and that is not going to happen tomorrow, nor any time soon.

The Finch Report is therefore an important marker on the road to OA, but in itself it is not the whole story.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Finch Report: UCL’s David Price Responds

The much-awaited report from the Finch Committee was published today. The Committee, headed up by Dame Janet Finch, a sociologist at the University of Manchester, was set up last year by UK Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts, and tasked with establishing how access to research could be expanded.
David Price, UCL Vice-Provost (Research)

The good news: the Report recommends that all publicly funded research should be made freely available on an Open Access (OA) basis, and that the traditional model — which currently sees much research locked behind a subscription paywall — should be phased out.

The bad news: the Report estimates that this will require the higher education sector to find an extra £50-60 million a year to disseminate its research.  

The bulk of this extra money will be needed in order to pay for researchers to publish in so-called Gold OA and Hybrid OA journals. Instead of billing readers for access to research papers, as subscription journals do, OA journals bill authors, or their funders or institutions, for publishing papers — by means of article-processing charges (APCs).

These charges range from $305 to $3,930 per article, and are the price publishers demand for making research papers freely available on the Internet.

Some have greeted the Report with enthusiasm. Sir Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust, the world's second largest private funder, commented. “We are delighted that the Finch Report encourages the UK to embrace open access, something that we at the Wellcome Trust feel very strongly about. There is a real groundswell of opinion in support of open access in the UK, the USA, Europe and beyond and this is a real opportunity for the UK to lead the way.”

Others are far less enthusiastic, arguing that by failing to support and promote Green OA (aka self-archiving), the Committee missed an important opportunity to push for a more cost-effective solution.

With Green OA, authors continue to publish in subscription journals (without payment), but make their papers freely available on the Internet by self-archiving them in an institutional repository — usually after an embargo period intended to allow the publisher to recoup the publication costs through the subscription.

Many OA advocates believe that Green OA is a much less costly route to OA. Publishers dislike it intensely.

A hard place

“The Finch Report is a successful case of lobbying by publishers to protect the interests of publishing at the expense of the interests of research and the public that funds research,” argues University of Southampton cognitive scientist Stevan Harnad. “The Finch Report proposes doing precisely what the US Research Works Act (RWA) — since discredited and withdrawn — failed to do: to push ‘Green’ OA self-archiving (by authors, and Green OA self-archiving mandates by authors’ funders and institutions) off the UK policy agenda as inadequate and ineffective and, to boot, likely to destroy both publishing and peer review — and to replace them instead with a vague, slow evolution toward ‘Gold’ OA publishing, at the publishers’ pace and price.”

Whatever one’s views about the conclusions reached by the Finch Committee, and whatever one feels about the relative merits of Green and Gold OA (see here for instance), if the Report’s recommendations are implemented it will put UK universities in a hard place. For it is they who will have to find much of the extra money needed, at a time when their budgets are already under huge pressure.

Unsurprisingly, therefore the Vice-Provost (Research) at University College London (UCL) David Price is not best pleased. “The result of the Finch recommendations would be to cripple university systems with extra expense,” he told me. “Finch is certainly a cure to the problem of access, but is it not a cure which is actually worse than the disease?”

Price’s message to David Willetts is simple: more work needs to be done to find an adequate solution. “Listen to UCL’s response to Finch and carry on talking to get the best transitional model from where we are now to a fully OA world,” he suggests. “The Finch recommendations are only part of the answer.”

For more of Price’s views read on.

Friday, June 08, 2012

A New Declaration of Rights: Open Content Mining

In a recent investment report, analyst Claudio Aspesi concluded that a new front had opened up in the Open Access (OA) debate. Writing in April, Aspesi noted that academics are “increasingly protesting the limitations to the usage of the information and data contained in the articles published through subscription models, and — in particular — to the practice of text mining articles.” Aspesi is right, and a central figure in this battleground is University of Cambridge chemist Peter Murray-Rust. A long-time advocate for open data, Murray-Rust is now spearheading an initiative to draft a “Content Mining Declaration”. What is the background to this?
Peter Murray-Rust
When I interviewed Peter Murray-Rust in 2008, he expressed considerable frustration at the difficulties he was experiencing in trying to extract and reuse the data published in scholarly journals — even where his university had paid an electronic licence to access the content. 

What Murray-Rust wanted to do, he explained, was to capture the “embedded data” contained in the tables, charts, and images published in science papers, along with the “supplemental information” that often accompanies papers. To do this, he had developed a variety of software tools to mine large quantities of digital text. Having extracted the data he then wanted to aggregate them, compare them, input them into programs, use them to create predictive models, and reuse them in a variety of other ways.

However, he was having huge problems achieving this, not because of any technical issue, but because of uncertainty over copyright and publishers’ insistence that a licence to read journals does not encompass the right to mine them with software.

To add to Murray-Rust’s frustration, many of his colleagues were either unsympathetic or uncomprehending. Even more galling, the Open Access movement — which should have been a natural ally — was more interested in making papers freely available to eyeballs, than to software. Even papers published in OA journals, he noted, are often released under licences that do not come with reuse rights.

In pursuit of his dream, Murray-Rust became a formative voice in the creation of the open data movement. Open data, Murray-Rust explained to me in 2008, is data “free of any restraint on access and on reuse.”  Recently, however, governments have tended to lead the way in urging for open data, spawning a generation of data wranglers; open scientific information has often lagged behind, but is now beginning to be seen as a central issue.

Four years later Murray-Rust is still frustrated. He is not, however, a man to give up, and he continues his advocacy today under the rubric of “open content mining”. Essentially, this is text mining plus. As Murray-Rust explains today, he views the mining of scholarly journals as a hierarchical activity, with content mining encompassing not just the mining of text and data, but other types of content too, including images, tables, graphs, audio, and video.

Simply using the term “text mining”, he adds, “might imply that anything other than text should be protected by the ‘content provider’. However, I and others can extract factual information from a wide range of material.”

The good news is that the research community is finally beginning to understand what Murray-Rust has been “banging on about” for all these years, as are research funders and governments, and Murray-Rust believes the door to what he wants is finally beginning to open.

However, he says, it is imperative that text mining advocates push hard at that open door if they want to achieve their objectives. To this end, Murray-Rust recently convened an ad hoc group of interested parties to draft what he calls a “Content Mining Declaration” (disclosure: I am a member of the group).


If you wish to read the rest of the article, and a short Q&A with Murray-Rust, please click on the link below. 

I am publishing the interview under a Creative Commons licence, so you are free to copy and distribute it as you wish, so long as you credit me as the author, do not alter or transform the text, and do not use it for any commercial purpose. 

To read the rest of the text (as a PDF file) click HERE.