Thursday, March 15, 2007

Open Access: The War in Europe

As the battle for Open Access (OA) to the scientific literature has intensified, so different fronts of conflict have opened up. With the proposed US Federal Research Public Access Act (FRPAA) on hold as a result of the American election, the main action in February was in Europe — where the European Commission (EC) announced a number of measures intended to support OA.

However, to the disappointment of OA advocates — and despite the recommendations of its own study — the EC chose not to introduce a mandate requiring all publicly-funded research to be made freely available in open repositories. Why did the EC step back from the brink, and where does this leave the OA Movement? Richard Poynder explores the issues.

The EC's long-awaited policy on Open Access was published as a Communication on 15th February, and formally announced at a conference on scientific publishing held in Brussels.

While the Commission has decided that it will encourage researchers to publish their papers in "author-pays" OA, or hybrid, journals it chose not to introduce a self-archiving mandate. Rather it will issue programme-specific "guidelines" for making publicly-funded research available on the Web after an embargo period. This, it says, will be done on a sectoral basis, taking into account the specificity of the different scholarly and scientific disciplines.

What this guideline approach will mean in practice, commented OA advocate Peter Suber in his March newsletter, is for the moment unclear. "It doesn't tell us when it will issue the guidelines, whether the guidelines will require or merely encourage OA … [or] … what the maximum permissible embargo will be … [However] ... It does tell us that the guidelines will vary by discipline and funding program; hence even if the rules in some areas are strong enough, others are likely to be weak."

Speaking to CORDIS News on February 17th, Horst Forster, director of digital content at the EC's directorate general for information society and media, confirmed: "We [the Commission] will not have a mandate on Open Access."

In other words, the EC seems inclined to adopt a voluntary, rather than compulsory, approach. The aim, Forster told CORDIS News, is to encourage experiments with new publishing business models that may improve access to and dissemination of scientific information, and to initiate a policy debate.

So why has the EC retreated from a mandate? …


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Anonymous said...

Dear Richard Poynder

Congratulations on your
"Open Access: The War in Europe"
. Your analysis of future implications is the best that I have come across. But I think that a bit more investigative journalism and critical comment is required vis-à-vis events in the European Commission, Council and Parliament. My comments follow.

N. Miradon

* * *

The European Council

The original initiative lay with the Council - specifically the letter from six Heads of State and Government dated 28 April 2005 and asking the Commission "to take necessary steps to improve access to Europe's cultural and scientific heritage". The OA movement should try to discover who it was who masterminded this letter, and acknowledge their debt to them.

The Commission's considered response to the letter is now with the Parliament, the Economic Social Committee and the Council. The original six signatories in the Council (Germany, France, Spain, Hungary, Poland, and Italy) will be particularly interested. Germany has the Presidency now. It should be easy to find out the degree of interest in Bonn, and also in Lisbon and Ljubljana (Portugal and Slovenia being the other two members of the triumvirate). Indeed the OA movement should now be preparing the Council discussion by tapping the ground in every capital - but I dont think that they are.

The European Parliament

And what of the Parliament? Is the OA movement doing anything to identify supporters, opponents and don't knows? Could the rapporteur be M. Philippe Busquin, (Socialist Group, ex Commissioner for Research, member of the EP Committee on Industry, Research and Energy)? Again, a little leg work is required.

The European Commission

Then there are questions regarding events in the Commission. The drift of the chapter "Activities of legislatures" in the Commission Staff Working Document [1] is strongly pro-OA. This was probably written by someone in the Directorate General for Information Society and Media. But the Communication had to be approved by all Directorates. Was it here that resolve was watered down; and instead of a draft Regulation, or a draft Directive, we ended up with the weakest instrument available - a Communication?

Quite apart from turf-wars inside the Commission, the response to last year's "Study on the economic and technical evolution of the scientific publication markets in Europe" will have shown the Commission services that they were stepping into a minefield.

It is therefore interesting that publication of the Commission's Communication, originally promised for December 2006 [2] was put off until the day before the Conference
"Scientific Publishing in the European Research Area – Access, Dissemination and Preservation in the Digital Age". Bad luck? or perhaps there was a touch of strategic manoeuvering?

Another remarkable fact is that during the Conference, not a single Commission person was fielded to answer questions or to engage in debate. Could it be that the Commission services had been told to keep their heads down?

The Open Access movement

The OA movement seem to have been blissfully unaware of all this; but the Commission services certainly knew about the OA Petition. The services must therefore have been mightily relieved when the Petition organisers naïvely wrote asking if they might be allowed to present their petition to Commissioner Potocnik, in private. The OA Petition organizers thereby missed any chance of photos, interviews, television footage, or headlines. They had passed up a golden opportunity to seize the initiative. They sold their supporters short.

While the Commission knew that as soon as the Conference was over, responsibility would move to the Council and the Parliament, the OA camp never tumbled to the fact. Instead of using the Conference to dissect the Communication and the Staff Working Document and ask difficult questions, everyone politely stuck to their pre-prepared presentations. It was all a curious contrast with the quick-fire knockabout in Open Access forums. One could conclude that the Commission's strategy of softly-softly walking through the minefield had paid off, and lulled the OA camp to sleep.

Missed opportunities

The charge is that the OA camp failed to do their homework, and were lulled to sleep. Here are some examples of the failings

(1.) OA enthusiasts seem to think that the Commission's offer to consider reimbursing "Costs for publishing, including open access publishing" is something new. Actually it is not - ask anyone who has a current (FP6) research contract from the EU.

(2.) The timing of the OA Petition was wrong (FP7 draft paperwork is already on-line), its wording is timid, and it should not have been sent to the Commission, but to Ministers of Science in Member States, cc the Commission.

(3.) A question that should have been put to the Commission, but was not:- Why cannot the Commission follow the lead of other bodies that fund research (c.f. [3]), and post reports of all their projects on the internet? A little homework would show that the Commission has already done something similar - "The ERGO pilot catalogue currently holds more than 91.000 project records" [4]. But then we find "the European Commission has been unable, for procedural reasons, to extend ERGO beyond the pilot phase. As the ERGO pilot data is no longer up to date, access to the service has been withdrawn" [5]. What happened?

(4.) Another unasked question - What does the Commission do currently with all the reports from the research projects that it funds in FP6 and FP7? After all, these reports are mandated to "be of a suitable quality to enable direct publication and their submission to the Commission in publishable form indicates that no confidential material is included therein" [6]. Why did no one challenge the Commission simply to flip a bit in its archives and put all these reports ("grey literature") on the internet?


To your conclusions I would add "The OA army in this war has been let down by poor staff work and poor intelligence. They should regroup, reorganise, and read the literature - I would suggest starting with Jay (1972) [7]. They should do this long before the Communication surfaces in the European Council and Parliament - i.e. now."

Some references

[1]: (pdf)





[6]: (pdf)

[7]: "The Householder's Guide to Community Defence Against Bureaucratic Aggression". Antony Jay. pub London Jonathan Cape (1972). ISBN 0224007998. Several copies available on Amazon.

Stevan Harnad said...

Forging An OA Alliance With R&D Industries and Mobilizing University Mandates

Many thanks for M. Miradon's remarkable analysis and valuable advice.

(M. Miradon, I do not know who you are, but I infer you are a present or formal EU official with a great deal of experience with EU politics and a certain sympathy for OA. The OA movement is indeed indebted to you for your insights and insider information.)

The "OA movement" is really just a loose federation of mostly academics. It is not skilled in the area of political lobbying, alas. Some sectors (SPARC US and Europe, perhaps) might be in a position to become more sophisticated in lobbying, but the individual OA activists, being employed academics -- researchers first and activists only second -- are not.

The lobbying wings of industries are paid professionals. We have none of those. There is a hope, though, namely, a strategic alliance between the academic-researcher OA activists and the vast R&D industry that applies the fruits of research. The R&D industries are far bigger than the publishing industry. They need to be explicitly mobilized to our side (because they too have a strong interest in open access to research, not for themselves directly [which they can easily afford to pay] but for all researchers worldwide [who cannot]: It is researcher-to-researcher access and collaborative/cumulative research progress that supplies R&D industries with the research finding for their R&D applications.

But let me make a parallel point: OA is (fortunately) not doomed to wait for legislation, and for lobbying and convincing legislators, in order to prevail. Let us not forget for a minute that if researchers themselves had any sense, we would already have 100% OA, for they would simply self-archive spontaneously. They are too sluggish, busy and confused. Fine, so we need mandates from their research funders and institutions, who are merely busy and confused. Part of their confusion is that they cannot mandate (Green) OA because of something or other having to do with the publishing industry. (It is as vague as that!)

So the problem falls into the laps of legislators, who must mandate the researchers' funders and institutions to mandate the researchers to move their fingers. But legislators have not only laps, but bottoms, which they must protect -- from the many lobbying interests to which they are vulnerable.

So lobbying becomes the name of the game, for the legislative route.

But there is a parallel route, and it has already been engaged in the UK (first) and to an extent also in Europe and Australia: This is the research funding councils (RCUK, ERC, ARC), who can take a cue from the inclinations and interests of the research community, and proceed with a Green OA mandate even if the legislators are deadlocked. And they have begun. And so have individual universities and research institutions. See ROARMAP. And in that sector OA activists can be effective (and have been) without having to learn to navigate the corridors of legislative power.

So, in my view, the Brussels meeting was a way to display the will of the research community: the EC petition did that, and now it has given birth to a US petition too. Petitions, of course, will not generate mandates either. But they will help the OA movement "lobby" funders and universities directly, to mandate. Indeed, funders, universities, research institutions, academies and societies, and R&D industries are signing the petitions, officially, as organisations. There remains but a small step to point out that these organisations need not petition the legislators to mandate them to mandate: They can mandate directly themselves!

That is the next step: There was already a logical gap in 2002, between researchers (34,000) signing the PLoS petition to publishers, demanding OA, yet not moving their fingers to deposit their own papers. There is now a second logical gap in research funders and institutions signing the EU and US petitions to legislators to mandate Green OA globally, while they do not go ahead individually and mandate OA locally, for their own funding body or their own university!

The gap between fingers signing petitions, fingers adopting mandates and fingers depositing papers will be bridged now. It has become too glaringly obvious to be ignored, with all these somber OA declarations, initiatives and manifestos, signed, but no practical action!

We will keep pursuing the indirect legislative route for global mandates, yes, but we will also publicise and accelerate the direct research-community route of divide and conquer: Local mandates are fully within our own hands, especially at the university level.

See: Generic Rationale and Model for University Open Access Self-Archiving Mandate: Immediate-Deposit/Optional Access (ID/OA)

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum

PS The request to present the petition to the commissioner in public at the Brussels meeting was denied, but it was nevertheless presented (in private), the presentation was photographed (by Leslie Chan) and the photos were presented at the last session of the meeting, publicly, in Alma Swan's stirring Powerpoint series.

Anonymous said...

Richard Poynder’s article is extremely helpful in outlining the current status of OA. It will form the definitive record of how things were in the evolution of open access in 2007.

I read it from the point of view of researchers in developing countries and at the end I wondered whether OA-detractors are also opponents of resolving the global problems facing this interconnected world. Sharing research findings is clearly an essential part of meeting the challenges from climate change, emerging new infectious diseases, the list goes on…... Yet the perceived problems of the publishing industry are given priority by the EU.

I am interested to know how the EU commissioners felt well-informed enough to reject their expert committee’s recommendations. The unproven commercial losses of the publishing industry hardly compare in substance with the huge multidisciplinary developments from research output that are delayed through access restrictions. As Richard says, this resembles the rejection of the UK S&T Committee’s OA recommendations following lobbying - recommendations happily now adopted independently by the research councils’ OA mandates. I hope that the EURAB and other EU organisations can persuade the Commission to see beyond the perceived concerns of a service industry to the immense R&D benefits from research applications. The incredible support shown by the petitions should provide them with incontestable evidence of the support from the research world.

Turning to a specific point in Richard’s article, most OA journals do not require APCs. Moreover, NO developing country publisher charges authors, for very obvious reasons. Costs are recovered in other ways. Charges to authors are as divisive as charges to readers and current ‘hybrid’ journals merely indicate an additional revenue stream for publishers. Publishers of the future will surely be those that embrace the new technologies and adapt - as are the music, film, newspaper and telecommunications industries. As authors increasingly recognise the essential role their work plays in resolving global problems, they will vote with their feet by publishing in ‘green’ journals so that their work receives maximum distribution.

It is a sad time that has brought the publishers into conflict with their authors (many the good friends of the research community, which provides the knowledge, content and refereeing freely to the publishers). Sad, because it is unnecessary. The green route to OA changes little in established practices, requires the continuation of journals. There is no evidence as yet that the publishers will suffer from OA mandates; and if there ever comes a time when sales reduce, then publishers will adapt. The distribution of research information is hugely important to the planet, and increasingly urgent. The EU (and the US) should stand firm in support of the best policy for knowledge creation and problem-resolution.

Richard Poynder said...

Thank you all for the comments above. I will just make two points:

First, while I think Napoleon Miradon may have a somewhat exaggerated view of what the OA Movement is, and the level of resources it can deploy, I agree with him that it could be far more effective than it is in promoting the cause of OA.

As Stevan Harnad points out, currently it is, "just a loose federation of mostly academics". As I have argued in the past, I think this is a problem. I still believe that the Movement would greatly benefit were there an official OA organisation representing its interests, and which engaged more in lobbying activities.

Second, Barbara Kirsop argues that most OA journals do not require APCs.

This indeed was one of the findings of the 2005 Kaufman-Wills Group report. However, I am not sure how helpful it is to cite this, since it is hard to see how not charging APCs offers any kind of viable long-term model, unless revenues are earned by some other means.

Certainly this could be done — through, for instance, advertising, selling print subscriptions, reprint fees etc. (all the kind of things listed by D K Sahu of MedKnow Publications on AmSci).

And it could also be done (and is done) by means of the kind of consortial "membership" schemes utilised by OA publishers like BioMed Central.

The problem with this approach, however, is that, at a time when there remains considerable suspicion that publishers are inclined to overcharge for their services, it offers too little transparency.

OA advocates need to be saying to publishers: "Tell us exactly what it costs to peer review a paper, and why?" Whatever the failings of the APC, this was its intention: to provide a one-off service charge for peer reviewing a paper.

The next step, of course, is to establish whether the APC being asked for represents a fair price. But the more transparent the charging structure, the easier it should be to do this.