Open Access

OA 43

Written evidence submitted by the Social History Society of the UK

Summary

We welcome the Committee’s decision to inquire into the Government’s policy regarding Open Access (OA). Important issues are at stake. These are not about the protection of vested commercial interests but concern intellectual values that lie at the very heart of the UK Higher Education’s outstanding achievement in the humanities and social sciences (HSS). Of Britain’s many learned societies, we are the largest to focus upon the expanding field social and cultural history. We argue below that:

· Government, research councils and HEFCE should extend the period over which the Finch recommendations are implemented.

· This period should be until the research funding allocation exercise after the current Research Excellence Framework (REF2014) is completed.

· The case for this extension rests upon the need for full consultation about the impact of the gold route to OA publishing on UK humanities research capability, and for detailed financial modelling of the potential consequences of ‘going for gold’.

· The applicability of OA publishing to the key research media of monographs and edited volumes needs detailed appraisal.

· The ‘green’, not the ‘gold’, route should be specified as the appropriate potential pathway for HSS journal publishing.

· That whatever OA publishing policy is eventually applied, it should be under a creative commons non-commercial non-derivative (CCBY NC ND) licence only.

1. Founded in 1976, the Social History Society has some 430 members. Like many UK learned societies, it publishes a refereed academic journal, Cultural & Social History. This is placed by the European Science Foundation in its top category, INT1, defined as ‘international publications with high visibility and influence among researchers in the various research domains in different countries, regularly cited all over the world.’ [1] As is common with such journals, subscription revenue from the journal funds the basic costs of editing and of rigorous peer review of submissions (the editors and their advisory board are unpaid). Revenue also helps fund the Society’s other activities, which include the provision of bursaries and an annual prize for postgraduate researchers, and the organisation of a substantial annual conference, attracting researchers from across the world to the UK.

2. The Society fully supports initiatives to make scholarship as widely and freely available as possible. High subscription charges are a barrier to the flow of information. Thus OA looks attractive. However, the regime proposed by the Finch Report (and endorsed by the UK research councils, HEFCE and the Government) threatens to replace this barrier with another, no-more conducive to enhancing the pace at which knowledge accumulates and which has the potential to undermine an academic culture that currently makes the UK a world leader in arts and humanities research.

3. The arts and humanities are fields where the UK ‘punches above its weight’, in terms both of the volume and the quality of work published by researchers. A powerful factor underpinning UK performance in HSS is the work of a plethora of learned societies. ‘The Finch Report’, in the fourth of its Key Actions clearly called for ‘the position of learned societies that rely on publishing revenues to fund their core activities, the speed with which they can change their publishing business models, and the impact on the services they provide to the UK research community’ to be kept under review. It is a matter of regret that, until now, little attention has been paid to the position of learned societies. The headlong pace at which policy to introduce OA is being developed by the Government, HEFCE and the research councils paradoxically threatens the ‘complex ecology of research’ recognised by the Finch Report.

4. The ‘gold model’ advocated in the Finch Report, along with the Article Processing Charges (APCs) upon which it depends, is being driven through more forcefully than the Finch Report advocated. It is essentially geared to the research culture and modus operandi of medical and natural sciences and has limited compatibility with the arts and humanities, where journal subscriptions are typically lower, and articles have a longer ‘half-life’, impacting for longer on their discipline.

5. APCs for HSS journals will not be negligible. Data on the average cost of APCs is presently unreliable but, as the Royal Historical Society pointed out in its submission to the recent House of Lords Science & Technology Select Committee’s short inquiry into OA (Lord Kreb’s committee), costs in history journals could reach £3,000 or even £7,000 for some publications. Even if APC are modest, the cumulative cost will be massive - funds that would be better invested in the process of research. Unless funding the process of research is prioritized the UK's pre-eminent position in global research will be threatened.

6. While funding towards the cost of APCs is being made available by RCUK in the form of a block grant this is restricted to certain institutions only. Furthermore it will support only 80% of the costs: HEIs are left to source the other 20%, the administrative procedures for which will themselves incur costs.

7. HSS journals appear with lower frequency than their STEM counterparts and contain fewer and typically longer articles. The gold OA model requires researchers who wish to publish in a journal to pay up front. A ‘producer pays’ principle will privilege those researchers whose funders can afford to pay gold APCs. Independent scholars and retired HE staff, self-financed postgraduate and post-doctoral researchers (a significant proportion of the UK postgraduate community), early career researchers on fixed-term contracts, and those whose academic departments are unable to meet the costs of APCs, may be forced to submit research to other than their first choice journals or, conceivably not to publish at all in the main recognized journals in their field. Universities themselves concede that there may have to be rationing of APCs thereby reducing the number of publications produced.

8. The UK’s many internationally renowned journals are a key component of the nation’s knowledge-based economy. Their contributors, no less than their readers, come from across the global scholarly community. However, there is a danger that a rapid and un-moderated move to OA will render them parochial. Undiluted commitment to gold OA is also out of step with the policies of funding agencies in the USA and EU, where green route OA figures much more prominently. The global academic ‘playing field’ would no longer be level and UK researchers will be disadvantaged. Furthermore, non-UK researchers with significant international reputations regularly publish in UK journals. Working within different funding regimes, there will be a strong disincentive for them to publish in British journals (and it will be particularly difficult for researchers from the developing world to meet the costs of APCs).

9. To take Cultural & Social History as an example: in the past five years, we have received submissions from 336 authors, more than half of them from outside the UK (EU, 71; US 63; Rest of the World, 51; 151 British). Clearly we must expect that the 185 submissions from outside the UK would not be eligible for APC funding, which makes it highly unlikely that we would receive these submissions if were to move to the gold model.  Stripped of over half its submissions, the range and quality of articles in our journal would be seriously, and negatively, impacted. The high number of overseas submissions is also evident in the figures for the work actually published: since 2010 we have published articles by 167 authors, 78 of them from outside the UK (North America, 33; Australasia 21; EU, 20; Rest of World, 4). 

10. Even if we could sustain our journal without these overseas submissions, there is a further serious problem.  Of the 89 articles published since 2010 by British authors, only 56 were in permanent academic posts (and therefore potentially eligible for institutional support for their APCs).  The implications of the gold route for the remaining 33 would have been alarming: 27 were scholars who were either retired, students or employed on temporary contracts; a further 6 were entirely outside the academic system (independent or employed by museums or galleries).  We must in particular highlight the serious and worrying implications for the non-tenured early-career researchers (21 of our authors), who are at an insecure stage of their career yet must publish journal articles if they are to progress. 

11. All these scholars are injured by the gold model but not by OA per se.  Though surely an un-intended consequence, the move to gold in HSS publishing would serve to render a vibrant, international journal into an outlet for UK authors only.  This cannot be in the national interest. We therefore urge the committee to explore green as a system which is both more practical and fairer for our discipline.

12. The editors of Cultural & Social History, with the support of the Society’s Chair, signed an open letter on OA (along with the editors of 20 other eminent UK history journals). [2] These editors have rightly signalled that they will accept gold APCs on the condition that publication by this route will be a creative commons non-commercial non-derivative (CCBY NC ND) licence only. CCBY NC ND licences protect against commercial reuse, or tweaking or reuse of parts of an article [text mining]. CCBY NC ND licencing is more appropriate to humanities and social science research. Whereas in STEM disciplines the patent system often defends intellectual property, this is seldom possible in the humanities.

13. However, specifying that ‘gold’ access should be given an unfettered creative commons licence, one that permits commercial re-use, offers virtually no protection against plagiarism (republication of an author’s work will be possible, subject to the author being merely ‘credited’). Unfettered creative commons licensing would constitute a serious infringement of intellectual property rights and pose a threat to UK intellectual capital.

14. Trust in the integrity of process by which academic journals process the submissions they receive may also be jeopardized by OA. Editors of learned journals and the boards and reviewers who assist them gain no direct monetary advantage from the present system: while they may receive (often nominal) expenses, their inputs are made on a pro bono basis. A contributor-based APC system jeopardizes this: it will be open to the suspicion that quality judgments may be trumped by financial considerations.

15. Powerful questions of academic freedom are also posed, not least because following the 2014 REF direct funding for research from HEFCE will only be awarded to research graded 3* or 4* research in the REF. Limited scope for direct commercial sponsorship means that humanities departments depend upon this funding to a considerably greater extent than their STEM counterparts; indeed, it is the primary source of research funding for many departments. Researchers judged to be at the lower margin of 3* or below, as judged internally, might face restricted access to funding for APCs. Even highly rated researchers might find that the number funded of APCs is limited. (The current REF requires, like its precursors, a maximum of four research outputs over the period it covers for each researcher submitted.) And if, as HEFCE have suggested, OA publication will be a pre-condition for an output to be considered in any successor exercise to the REF then UK researchers may find themselves effectively banned from publishing their research in many top-rated non-UK journals.

16. Furthermore, monographs and edited volumes (and journals’ reviews of these), are central to the intellectual vitality of UK historical research. As the Finch Report itself noted, ‘the difficulties now faced by authors and publishers [in the humanities] in developing a secure future for monographs is a matter of concern’. [3] OA policies should not be developed without taking appropriate account of the need to safeguard these key media for disseminating research.

17. A resolution to the problems posed by gold OA rests in the ‘green’ route, where no fee is paid by the author to a journal. Instead, articles must be made freely available on-line after an embargo period. It has been mooted that this period might be as little as six to twelve months. In his evidence to Lord Kreb’s committee, the Chair of RCUK clarified that the policy of a 12 month embargo for humanities research was an aspiration after five years. This is insufficient and we note that BIS in its response to the Finch Report endorsed a figure of 24 months. The open letter from editors of eminent UK history journals (see 12 above) affirms the availability of a green route, but argues that a period of embargo of 36 months is the shortest possible period that would still protect the viability of the subscription-funded organisations, which have to pay for copy editing and the management of peer review. It is fully consistent with the need to make research publicly available, and better reflects the longer ‘half life’ of HSS journal articles (see 4 above). The UK has pioneered green OA and in those HEIs that require it, compliance with green OA requirements is already high.

Conclusion

We therefore wish to suggest that:

· Government, research councils and HEFCE should extend the period over which the Finch recommendations are implemented.

· This period should be until the research funding allocation exercise after the current Research Excellence Framework (REF2014) is completed.

· The case for this extension rests upon the need for full consultation about the impact of the gold route to OA publishing on UK humanities research capability, and for detailed financial modelling of the potential consequences of ‘going for gold’.

· The applicability of OA publishing to the key research media of monographs and edited volumes needs detailed appraisal.

· The ‘green’, not the ‘gold’, route should be specified as the appropriate potential pathway for HSS journal publishing.

· That whatever OA publishing policy is eventually applied, it should be under a creative commons non-commercial non-derivative (CCBY NC ND) licence only.

7 February 2013


[1] http://www.esf.org/research-areas/humanities/erih-european-reference-index-for-the-humanities/erih-foreword.html

[2] http://www.history.ac.uk/news/2012-12-10/statement-position-relation-open-access

[3] Finch Report, p. 46.

Prepared 7th March 2013