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World’s research funders launch open-access action plan

The heads of some 70 research funding agencies from around the world said today that they had agreed to encourage open access to science publications resulting from their spending.

But the funders, gathering in Berlin for the second annual meeting of the Global Research Council, a voluntary but potentially influential discussion forum, did not commit to  joint specifics in their seven-page action plan.

Instead, “working out individual details must remain a task for individual organizations”, Peter Strohschneider, the president of Germany’s main research-funding agency, the DFG, told reporters at a press conference. The same broad agreement without detailed how-to recipes applies to another agreement the council released today, a one-page statement on principles for research integrity.

Behind the scenes, “there’s a growing sense of how complex the matter actually is,” Helga Nowotny, the president of the European Research Council, told Nature after the press conference.

There is broad agreement that publicly funded results should be publicly available, but different nations are moving towards that goal at a different pace, said Glaucius Oliva, president of Brazil’s National Council for Scientific and Technological Development. Or as the document, revealingly called an action plan “towards” open access to publications, puts it:

The structure of academia and the research communities, the landscape of publishers, and the funding of research and publications vary from country to country … specific approaches towards implementing open access that are well suited for country A might not be feasible in country B.

One of the heated debates around making publications open to all is whether funding agencies want work to be made available immediately or after a delay, to give publishers some time to recoup their costs through journal subscriptions.

Another question is whether funding agencies commit to paying publishers to make research open or compel their researchers to put an accepted version of a manuscript in a public repository. “There’s a lot of uncertainty, and anxiety, and I think many people are looking for hybrid formulas,” Nowotny said.

Asked whether many countries are following the stance of the United Kingdom, where research minister David Willetts hopes that other countries will follow his preference to pay publishers for immediate open access, Nowotny said: “I have not noticed followers at all”.

The Global Research Council (GRC) is an informal grouping of executives representing some 80% of the world’s public, non-ministerial research potential, said Strohschneider. Its origins lie in the United States: it was founded last year in Washington DC at a meeting organized by the US National Science Foundation and called for by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, in the hopes of finding common ground on disparate national agency policies on how to manage and conduct research.

The GRC works by gathering consensus among hundreds of funding agencies in regional meetings, before agreeing common documents at an annual gathering. But any aspirations it releases are non-binding. The next annual meeting will be in May 2014 in China, where attendees will again discuss open access, in addition to the career prospects and mobility of younger researchers.


  1. Report this comment

    Stevan Harnad said:



    The Global Research Council’s Open Access Action Plan is, overall, timely and welcome, but it is far too focused on OA as (“Gold”) OA publishing, rather than on OA itself (online access to peer-reviewed research free for all).

    And although GRC does also discuss OA self-archiving in repositories (“Green” OA), it does not seem to understand Green OA’s causal role in OA itself, nor does it assign it its proper priority.

    There is also no mention at all of the most important, effective and rapidly growing OA plan of action, which is for both funders and institutions to mandate (require) Green OA self-archiving. Hence neither does the action plan give any thought to the all-important task of designing Green OA mandates and ensuring that they have an effective mechanism for monitoring and ensuring compliance.

    The plan says:

    GRC: “The major principles and aims of the Action Plan are simple: they are (a) encouragement and support for publishing in open access journals, (b) encouragement and support for author self-deposit into open access repositories, and © the creation and inter-connection of repositories.”

    Sounds like it covers everything — (a) Gold, (b) Green, and © Gold+Green – but the devil is in the details, the causal contingencies, and hence the priorities and sequence of action.

    GRC: “In transitioning to open access, efficient mechanisms to shift money from subscription budg¬ets into open access publication funds need to be developed.”

    But this statement is of course not about transitioning to OA itself, but just about transitioning to OA publishing (Gold OA).

    And the GRC’s action plans for this transition are putting the cart before the horse.

    There are very strong, explicit reasons why Green OA needs to come first, rather than double-paying for Gold pre-emptively (subscriptions plus Gold) without first having effectively mandate Green, since it is Green OA that will drive the transition to Gold OA at a fair, affordable, sustainable price:

    Plans by universities and research funders to pay the costs of Open Access Publishing (“Gold OA”) are premature. Funds are short; 80% of journals (including virtually all the top journals) are still subscription-based, tying up the potential funds to pay for Gold OA; the asking price for Gold OA is still high; and there is concern that paying to publish may inflate acceptance rates and lower quality standards. What is needed now is for universities and funders to mandate OA self-archiving (of authors’ final peer-reviewed drafts, immediately upon acceptance for publication) (“Green OA”). That will provide immediate OA; and if and when universal Green OA should go on to make subscriptions unsustainable (because users are satisfied with just the Green OA versions) that will in turn induce journals to cut costs (print edition, online edition, access-provision, archiving), downsize to just providing the service of peer review, and convert to the Gold OA cost-recovery model; meanwhile, the subscription cancellations will have released the funds to pay these residual service costs. The natural way to charge for the service of peer review then will be on a “no-fault basis,” with the author’s institution or funder paying for each round of refereeing, regardless of outcome (acceptance, revision/re-refereeing, or rejection). This will minimize cost while protecting against inflated acceptance rates and decline in quality standards.

    Harnad, S. (2010) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16 (7/8).

    GRC: Action 5: Develop an integrated funding stream for hybrid open access

    Worst of all, the GRC action plan proposes to encourage and support hybrid Gold OA,
    in which the publishers are not just double-paid (for subscriptions to subscription publishers + for Gold to Gold OA publishers) but the double-payment is to the very same publisher in the case of hybrid Gold, which requires not only double-payment by the research community, but allows double-dipping by the publisher.

    That is the way to leave both the price and the timetable for any transition to OA in the hands of the publisher.

    GRC: Action 6: Monitor and assess the affordability of open access

    There is no point monitoring the affordability of Gold OA today, for needless double-payment, at the publisher’s current arbitrary, inflated Gold OA asking price.

    What needs monitoring is compliance with mandates to provide cost-free Green OA, while subscriptions are still paying in full (and fulsomely) for the cost of publication, as they are today.

    GRC: Action 7: Work with scholarly societies to transition society journals into open access

    The only thing needed from publishers today – whether scholarly or commercial – is that they should not embargo Green OA. Most (60%) don’t.

    The transition to Gold OA will only come after Green OA has made subscriptions unsustainable, which will not only induce publishers to cut obsolete costs, downsize and convert to Gold OA, but it will also release the concomitant institutional subscription cancellation windfall savings to pay the price of that affordable, sustainable post-Green Gold.

    GRC: Action 8: Supporting self-archiving through funding guidelines and copyright regulations.

    “The deposit of publications in open access repositories is often hampered not only by legal uncertainties, but also by the authors’ reluctance to take on such additional tasks. Funding agencies will ad¬dress this issue by exploring whether and how authors can be encouraged and supported in retaining simple copyrights as a precondition to self-archiving. In doing so, funders will also address authors’ need to protect the integrity of their publications by providing guidance on suitable licenses for such purpose.”

    Yes, Green OA needs to be supported. But the way to do that is not just to “encourage” authors to retain copyright and to self-archive.*

    It is (1) to mandate (require) Green OA self-archiving (as 288 funders and institutions are already doing: see ROARMAP), (2) to adopt effective mandates that moot publisher OA embargoes by requiring immediate-deposit, whether or not access to the deposit is embargoed, and (3) to designate institutional repository deposit as the mechanism for making articles eligible for research performance review. Then institutions will (4) monitor and ensure that their own research output is being deposited immediately upon acceptance for publication.

    GRC: Action 9: Negotiate publisher services to facilitate deposit in open access repositories

    Again, a terribly counterproductive proposal. On no account should it be left up to publishers to deposit articles.

    For subscription publishers, it is in their interests to gain control over the Green OA deposit process, not make sure it is done on their timetable (if it is done at all).

    For Gold OA, it’s already OA, so depositing it in a repository is no challenge.

    The “self” in self-archiving is the author. The keystrokes don’t have to be personally executed by the author (students, librarians, secretaries can do the keystrokes too).

    Green OA mandates are adopted to ensure that the keystrokes get done, and on time. Most journal are not Gold OA, but a Green OA mandate requires immediate deposit whether or not the journal is Gold OA, and whether or not access to the deposit is embargoed.

    GRC: Action 10: Work with publishers to find intelligent billing solutions for the increasing amount of open access articles

    The challenge is not to find “billing solutions” for the minority of articles that are published as Gold OA today. The challenge if to adopt an effective, verifiable Green OA mandate to self-archive all articles.

    GRC: Action 11: Work with repository organisations to develop efficient mechanisms for harvesting and accessing information

    This is a non-problem. Harvesting and accessing OA content is already powerful and efficient.

    It can of course be made incomparably more powerful and efficient. But there is no point or incentive in doing this while the target content is still so sparse – because it has not yet been made OA (whether Green or Gold)!

    Only about 10 – 40% of content is OA most fields.

    The way to drive that up to the 100% it could already have been for years is to mandate Green OA.

    Then there will be the motivation to “develop [ever more] efficient mechanisms for harvesting and ac¬cessing [OA] information”

    GRC: Action 12: Explore new ways to assess quality and impact of research articles

    This too is happening already, and is not really an OA matter. But once most articles are OA, OA itself will generate rich new ways of measuring quality and impact.

    Harnad, S. (2009) Open Access Scientometrics and the UK Research Assessment Exercise. Scientometrics 79 (1)

    Harnad, S. (2008) Validating Research Performance Metrics Against Peer Rankings. Ethics in Science and Environmental Politics 8 (11) doi:10.3354/esep00088 The Use And Misuse Of Bibliometric Indices In Evaluating Scholarly Performance

  2. Report this comment

    Alejandro Chiner Arias said:

    The only reason we are having to reckon with publishers is that funders have not yet reclaimed from publishers the management of peer-review.

    Funders use fashionable publication-based metrics to assess return on the funding invested. These circumstances obviously drive researchers’ career concerns and behaviour.

    Would it not be nice if funders could get together in a global consortium to manage peer-review directly? Many of the funding agencies are the employers of the reviewers anyway.

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