UK government promoting open access to research it funds?

The UK government has done something or other, according to The Register.  But it’s not as clear as one might like:

Universities will be provided with funding to ensure that their academics’ research papers are made more widely available, the government has said.

The government broadly backed recommendations contained in a report by the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings in its policy aimed at supporting ‘open access’ to research.

The seven UK Research Councils will provide universities that establish ‘publication funds’ with grants in order that the organisations can pay publishers an ‘article processing charge’ (APC) to publish their work.

Erm, this sounds complicated.  Why not simply require that government-funded work is open access?  No open access, no funds?

“Where APCs are paid to publishers, the government would expect to see unrestricted access and use of the subject content …”

… Under the policy wholly or partially publically funded peer reviewed research papers will be required to be published in journals that comply with its open access policy and detail information such as how the “underlying research materials such as data, samples or models can be accessed”.

Wow.  Complicated.  And:

Willetts said that the government was happy to enable publishers to put embargoes that restrict access to content in certain circumstances. He said publishers should be able to protect the value of their work where their funding is not mainly reliant on APCs but that length embargo periods may not be justified in the public interest.

“Embargo periods allowed by funding bodies for publishers should be short where publishers have chosen not to take up the preferred option of their receiving an Article Processing Charge,” Willetts said.

Um, “embargo periods”?

It sounds very complicated, and expensive for the tax payer.

Let’s hope that underneath all this verbiage is a clear simple commitment that the tax payer should not pay for material which the tax payer cannot access.

UPDATE: It seems that I am not alone in being sceptical about this announcement.  Bishop Hill comments:

All scientific research funded by the UK taxpayer is to become open source, according to an article in the Guardian. It seems that academics will be required to pay the fees to make their papers freely available.

Since few journals will solely publish papers by UK academics, this presumably means that the scientific publishers will retain the library subscriptions which are the bedrock of their profits, while gaining a massive windfall in the shape of open access fees for much of their content.

A good day to be a scientific publisher I think.

I suspect so.  The Guardian article contains some sensible words by Stevan Harnad:

“The Finch committee’s recommendations look superficially as if they are supporting open access, but in reality they are strongly biased in favour of the interests of the publishing industry over the interests of UK research,” he said.

“Instead of recommending that the UK build on its historic lead in providing cost-free green open access, the committee has recommended spending a great deal of extra money — scarce research money — to pay publishers for “gold open access publishing. If the Finch committee recommendations are heeded, as David Willetts now proposes, the UK will lose both its global lead in open access and a great deal of public money — and worldwide open access will be set back at least a decade,” he said.

The phrase that springs to mind is “crony capitalism”, where the government is in the pocket of the vested interests.  Yet this is OUR money being spent!

Tellingly the Register says:

The UK Publishers’ Association welcomed the plans.

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