Another Day, Another Society Against Open Access

Posted on February 10, 2013

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I was alerted to The American Philological Association (APA)’s letter against the current UK Open Access policy, by AWOL. However, they did ask for comments from others on the subject. Here is the letter I sent them outlining why I think there are some serious flaws in their response:

Dear Denis Feeney and Michael Gagarin,

 I am writing to you in regards to your letter to the British Parliamentary Committee investigating the government’s policy on Open Access (OA). First, I would like to thank you for posting a call for comments on the subject and providing emails to contact you. I am writing you because I have some serious concerns with your letter. I fully appreciate that you have,tried to present a concise summary (as required by the Committee) of our concerns.” and that such constraints limit what one can say. So please forgive me is I misinterpret some of what you say. However, that being said I have found some serious underlying problems with the rational. To start off with reason number one given in your letter:

 “1. Most research in Classics is single-author, and either is not funded or is funded by grants or fellowships that only provide relief from teaching; this leaves no consistent funding for author publishing charges (APCs). Requiring researchers to pay to have their work published would seriously burden those who are poor or not connected to a well-endowed institution; any system that favors the rich could significantly reduce the quality of journal publications.”

 While a valid concern for those who are poor or not well connected I believe this does not apply in this case. First, the requirement of OA is only applicable to projects funded by the UK government, which by default in Classics applies really only to the Research Funding Councils, specifically Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC). If you look here: http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/SiteCollectionDocuments/Research-Funding-Guide.pdf on page 57,

 “Proposals may only be submitted by Research Organisations who are eligible to apply to the AHRC. These organisations are:

• Higher Education Institutions (HEI) that are directly funded for research by Higher Education Funding Council for England, Department for Employment and Learning, Higher Education Funding Council for Wales and Scottish Funding Council.

• Independent Research Organisations that have received Research Council recognition to apply to the AHRC is responsive mode: http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/What-We-Do/Fund-world-class-research/Pages/Independent-research-organisations.aspx

• Research Council Institutes”

 A quick look at the independent research organizations finds such groups as:

     The British Library

    The British Museum

    The National Archives

    National Museums Scotland

All of these organizations publish their own work, usually as monographs which this policy does not apply to:

 “The research outputs on which the policy applies are the articles publishes in peer reviewed academic journals or conference proceedings” – http://www.rcuk.ac.uk/documents/documents/Guidance_for__the_RCUK_policy_on_Access_to_Research_Output.pdf

Looking at the list of universities that offer classics (http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/table/2012/may/22/university-guide-classics) finds that almost all of the programmes offered are though Russell group schools. If you are not familiar with the Russell group, it is the top 20 universities in the UK which obtain the majority of research funding. A US equivalent might be the Ivy League in terms of prestige. All of which have been given funding to covers author fees for their staff.  The only organizations that can apply for UK government funding, thus required to consider OA, are not poor or underfunded. Furthermore, the policy does make the provision that besides following the Gold OA route one could follow the Green OA route and simply deposit the research into a research repository.

 “2. Publication in the form of monographs or collections of essays is much more important in the social sciences and humanities than in the sciences. In Classics in particular, the proliferation of essay collections in the last few decades has meant that many senior scholars — those with the best access to APC funds — rarely if ever publish in refereed journals. Journals would therefore be left to recover the costs of publishing almost entirely from younger scholars, who are least able to pay.

We mention as a footnote that an experiment, funded by the Mellon Foundation, is underway in the US for an OA monograph series; it is too early to predict the results.”

 Again, noble gesture for those least able to pay but it does not appear to be applicable. Again this only applies to those with direct funding from the UK government. As I pointed out in the previous section only those with ACRA funding would have to abide by this rule. The only ones who can get ARCA funding are effectively those at the richest universities, with funds to cover authors, or at large bodies that publish their own books. Again, the Green OA route is also open to authors.

 “3. Classics, like many humanistic fields, is broadly international; indeed a good many APA members are housed in other countries, including the UK. Many journals publish articles in more than one language and scholars everywhere publish their work with presses and journals in many other countries. Any movement to OA in the UK alone, especially if a requirement for OA is included in future Research Assessments, would restrict the ability of UK scholars to have their work published, reduce the submission of papers to UK journals by non-UK scholars, and discourage journals in other countries from publishing the work of UK scholars. The harm done to the international exchange of ideas in Classics would be notable.”

 I am particularly perplexed by the statement that OA would reduce the submission of papers to UK journals by non-UK scholars. Again, the OA policy only applies to those with funding from the UK government. Why would such a policy cause non-UK scholars to avoid UK journals? Furthermore, I took a look at the grants given out to researchers in the UK for 2012, out of 400+ grants I could only find one: http://www.ahrc.ac.uk/Funded-Research/Pages/Classics-and-Class-in-Britain-1789-1917.aspx

A key word search of classics for AHRC funding from 1998-2013 only turned up 3 projects. I would suspect that there are more but doubt that there is more than a few a year. One to three projects a year, that may or may not produce a journal article (the projects I found were all from senior academics), is not going to greatly restrict the ability of UK scholars to have their work published or discourage journals in other countries from publishing the work of UK scholars.

 This research is limited and I would welcome any counter evidence to show that classics would be greatly harmed by the UK OA policy. However, as it currently stands it appears that many of the arguments put forward in your letter are not applicable in the current circumstances.

 

Sincerely,

Doug

It will be interesting to see how, if, they respond.

They did respond-

Dear Mr. Rocks-Macqueen,
Thank you for your comments on our letter on OA. You make some good points. We will be following developments in this area, and if we take any further action we will take your comments into consideration.
With best wishes,
Well, happy they responded- a little annoyed its a blow off response but can’t say I am not surprised.
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