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Recently I learned that the Science and Technology Select Committee, House of Lords (London, UK) was accepting submissions on a report of the Working Group on Expanding Access to Published Research Findings – the Finch Group. The group was chaired by Dame Janet Finch, and the report, Accessibility, sustainability, excellence: how to expand access to research publications, was published on 18 June 2012 (See Research Information Network, Internet, 18th Jan. 2013).
Today, at the last minute literally, I submitted the statement below. To summarise, I want to urge attention to the process of getting research published, and the people involved, and the value of the relationships that develop among people involved.
What happens before research is published may be of just as much importance to the scientific and social process as what happens afterwards. Scientific communication, as social product, does not emerge from a social vacuum. Without attention to the full communication ecosystem, attempts to develop open access science will fall on their feet.
Creating and developing the Research Cooperative is an attempt to give attention to the full communication ecosystem, in a practical and socially integrated manner.
My submission (below) was accepted, and we can track the progress of the inquiry on the open access inquiry page of the Committee’s website: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/lords-s...
House of Lords,
Science and Technology Committee,
re Research Councils UK (RCUK) Open Access policy
I am a New Zealand citizen resident in Japan, and working here as a full-time researcher at a national research institution (see full address below). I am currently collaborating in research projects with Cambridge University, Oxford University, and Warwick University.
I am also creator and administrator of The Research Cooperative (http://researchcooperative.org), an NPO social network for researchers, editors, translators, publishers and others involved in research communication. This network currently has almost 6,000 members globally, including many in the UK.
I write as someone with practical interests in open access publishing.
First I should state my strong support for the following statement in the Executive Summary of the Finch Group report: “Our view is that the UK should embrace the transition to open access, and accelerate the process in a measured way which promotes innovation but also what is most valuable in the research communications ecosystem.” (my underlining)
This submission also relates to the following issue:
* Engagement with publishers, universities learned societies and other stakeholders in developing the new open access policies.
I strongly urge the Committee to take a broad view of who the "other stakeholders" are, and also of “what is most valuable in the research communications ecosystem”. Regarding the latter, please understand that the ecosystem includes all the people involved in the production of scientific communications, before publication and distribution, and that these people include, in addition to researchers and students, the editors, proofreaders, copyeditors, illustrators, photograpers, IT specialists, website designers, reviewers, printing companies, language service companies, academic writing teachers, and so on. When we consider the costs and ‘value’, please understand that the needed involvement of all these also has costs, and also has value in terms of the social interactions that allow scientists to learn how to write and communicate effectively. Collaboration, and mutual support, and relationships of trust are part of the value embedded in the research communications ecosytem, but are fragile and not universally available.
I will summarise my further concerns as follows:
1. In the world of academic publishing, UK-based publishers and journals have been historically important, and remain important, for many research communities outside the UK, especially in the Commonwealth countries. Such communities can also be regarded as stakeholders, since they are often also contributors. The fate of historically important research journals published in the UK is of international interest.
2. The Open Access movement has addressed various important questions concerning the costs of publishing and distribution, but has not - to my knowledge - addressed important questions concerning the costs of preparing papers for publication. I will expand in three parts below (a-c)
a) To reduce publication costs, many Open Access publishers push the process of copyediting back onto the author, rather than taking full responsibility for the final presentation standards of the research they publish.
This may be done explicitly, in the instructions for authors, or it may done covertly, by simply accepting poorly-edited manuscripts for journals that the publisher has little interest in. I have attended a meeting where a representative of a major English-language publisher admitted that for journals with limited specialist audiences, the publisher takes a relaxed attitude to the standard of English, while hoping to maintain the standard of content. This is a difficult compromise to make. Poor content and poor presentation are closely correlated. For reviewers, badly prepared papers are difficult to read closely, and review standards may fall when journals ask reviewers to be lenient about the presentation.
b) Within the UK itself, and across different countries, there exist wealth gaps that limit how much institutions and individuals can spend on editing, illustration, and translation. Such costs are already mainly pushed onto individual researchers or their employers. These pre-submission costs should be given consideration as well the costs for submission, review, copyediting, distribution, and archiving. When discussion turns to the question of transparency in publishing costs, this should also include the existing costs (in time and money) to prepare papers for publication.
c) In various countries, including the UK, when graduate students have to prepare a 'thesis' in English as a second language (ESL writing), there is a tendency for supervisors and institutions to recommend preparing a 'thesis by papers'; in other words, the student may be given the option of putting most effort into the publication of short papers (that require less writing, in quantitative terms) rather than preparing a longer but unpublished thesis.
Many graduate students are thus under pressure to publish early, before they have had much opportunity to develop their thinking and writing skills through the process of writing a longer thesis. The students (and their departments) must determine how much to spend in order to publish each paper. As a result, students in wealthy departments may have chances to publish in high impact journals that charge high author fees and offer open access for readers, while students in less wealthy departments may have to pay fees themselves, and thus be limited to journals that continue to accept papers at no cost (traditional subscription journals).
For foreign students in the UK, who must necessarily spend more for editing costs (on average), the early pressure to publish creates a further economic barrier to academic success.
A journal may be 'Open Access' for readers, but the road to that journal may be far from open. 'Gold-Standard' open access journals are too rare to have much impact on this problem. If a Gold-Standard journal is also maintaining a high standard of presentation (as it should), then economic barriers (at the preparation stage) may still exist for many researchers and graduate students.
I am sorry that I cannot offer any easy solutions to these problems. My aim is merely to recommend these problems for consideration by the Committee.
Dr Peter J. Matthews
Field Sciences Laboratory &
Department of Social Research
National Museum of Ethnology, Senri Expo Park, Suita City, Osaka 565-8511, Japan.
Tel. +81-6-6878-8344 (office).
Tel. +81-6-6876-2151 (exchange, J. only)
Fax. +81-6-6878-7503 (office)
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