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UK Gov't Passes on Opportunity To Support Open Access

:: As reported last year, the UK Science and Technology Committee has been conducting an inquiry into scientific publications. The Guardian had reported that the inquiry could put Reed Elsevier at risk. The final report of the Committee was released in July, 2004, and called on the UK government to support open access publishing.

On the CHMINF-L discussion group on November 8, Bill Town reported that the UK Science and Technology Committee has released its Fourteenth Report of Session 2003-04, entitled: Responses to the Committee's Tenth Report, Session 2003-04: Scientific Publications: Free for all?. From p7 of the report:

Conclusions and recommendations

1. It is clear to us that, in the Government Response, DTI has sought to neutralise some of views put forward by the Joint Information Systems Committee and other organisations and departments. This will prevent the Government from making any significant progress on this issue. (Paragraph 7)

2. Rather than engaging in the complex issues posed by the Committee�s Report, the Government has clearly decided against the author-pays model ahead of the further investigation that it was urged to pursue. This approach prejudges the issue. (Paragraph 8)

3. Following completion of the European Commission study into the market for scientific publications, to which the OFT response refers, we request that the Director General of Fair Trading agrees to write again to the Committee setting out the actions he proposes to take on the basis of the Commission�s findings and the concerns expressed in our Report. (Paragraph 10)

4. We are disappointed that the Government has missed the opportunity to take more decisive action in response to our Report. We recommend that the Government reconsider its position on this important issue in the light of the other responses to our Report published here; the forthcoming RCUK policy on the publication of, and access to, research outputs; and in view of the support for the Committee�s stance from the Wellcome Trust, an important research funder. In this context, we do not believe that Government should continue to refuse to provide the modest funds necessary to make institutional repositories workable, and to allow the experimentation necessary to properly test the feasibility of the author-pays publishing model. (Paragraph 12)

Richard Wray, writing in The Guardian, was quick to respond:
The government yesterday threw away an opportunity to carry out a thorough review of the way scientific research is disseminated. Instead of engaging constructively with the Commons science and technology committee and assessing the potential impact of moves towards "open access" to research, the government - led by the department of trade and industry - sided with the traditional subscriptions-based journal publishers
Wray also reported on the response of the Committee's members to the "obstructive" response of the UK Government.

David Goodman, Associate Professor, Palmer School of Library and Information Science, Long Island University, offered this response:

If anyone has not been following this, the brief message is that the UK government has completely rejected essentially every substantive recommendation of the House of Commons Committee, in its 10th report earlier this year, and will not take any steps to requiring OA.

The UK government has elected to do nothing; I am not sufficiently knowledgeable about UK academic organization to know whether it leaves the individual funding agencies free to regulate. With the publication of their earlier report, it was the UK that appeared to took the lead in OA developments; it is now up to the US. If the US carries through the NIH proposal, weak though it is, I think other countries will follow, and the UK will regret its lost opportunity. If the US also defects, then it will be up to the academic community itself. Government requirements may speed thing up, but they are not necessary. The various medical and othe scientific independent foundations and charitable organizations remain free -- and I hope eager -- to require OA.

The Government response to the Committee is Appendix A of the report cited; it is analyzed by the Committee in the main body of this report. I see no real reason for adding my own comments. Just as the Committee's earlier report was notable in showing its understanding of the issues concerning scholarly publishing, so is the Government's response notable in showing its lack of understanding of both the basics and the details. I leave it for further discussion whether it represents true misunderstanding, or the motivated decision to deny the principles in favor of some obvious self-interested concerns of some of the parties.
Update: British Government Refuses to Support Open-Access Approach to Scientific Publishing, from Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov 10, "Today's News" (requires subscription).

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