Video of this Post
Last month the UK Government formally responded to the Finch Report (see Executive Summary here) by accepting all of their recommendations. The Finch Report was produced by the Finch Group otherwise known as the Working Group on Expanding Access on Published Research Findings. The purpose of this group is self-evident from the working title. There are a lot of people from different backgrounds who want to access science articles for various reasons. This accessibility no doubt contributes to the ability of the general public to engage with science. At the moment there is a wider debate about accessibility to science which the Finch Report addresses. Many researchers will depend on their research being published in Journals which are then widely accessed. The scientific community has developed many elaborate methods for assessing a scientist’s output according to their publication record.
In the UK, researchers may be funded by the taxpayer through government funded research grants. The researchers will then publish in subscription based journals and taxpayers will potentially pay twice when accessing this research – firstly to fund the research and secondly a fee to the journal to access the article. This particular scenario as well as several others have generated a wider debate in the scientific community and beyond. The scientific community and the publishing industry have responded to this debate by creating Open-Access Journals. One model for Open-Access Journals involves the researchers paying the Journal to publish their article and make it openly available online. There is still an additional cost to the researchers. Another model involves no fees either for the reader or the researcher.
The Finch Group chaired by Dame Janet Finch CBE made a number of extremely encouraging recommendations which will ensure that UK government funded research is published in an Open-Access format. Interestingly the report itself is published under a Creative Commons 3.0 Unported License meaning that with proper attribution and Creative Commons licensing the report can be reused. This echoes the concept of making research publications accessible. There are a lot of recommendations and so this perhaps too simplistic an interpretation and the reader is directed towards the paper via the link above (i’ve also covered it in slightly more detail in the video). However there is a tight rope to walk because this issue also involves the publishing industry with a healthy economy of Journals that provide a secure repository for scientific knowledge as well as facilitating the ability of scientists to communicate with the rest of the scientific community as well as the wider public according to the publication.
If the research community moved entirely over to an Open-Access model of publishing this would most likely have dire consequences as the subscription-based journals are undertaking very significant roles in securing the repository of scientific knowledge and very effectively communicating science to the scientific community and the wider public. A sudden shift would damage an important part of the science infrastructure. Instead the Finch Group recommend that publicly funded research is made available through the Open-Access medium. They also see an important place for subscription journals and hybrid models as well as subsidisation by Government and Non-Government Organisations and indeed whole industries.
According to the report there are 25,000 subscription based journals – a staggering amount. No organisations are capable of subscribing to all of these journals. Access is even more difficult for individuals not affiliated to academic institutions and this includes a significant part of the general population. These recommendations should therefore lead to a significant improvement in access to research for academics and non-academics alike. There may be a cascade effect with other shifts in publishing that will follow. No doubt the central debate about publishing models will become more accentuated. Interestingly in the comments section on this page I came across an intriguing comment by Jan Szczepanski describing a 10-year endeavour to collect details of over 16, 000 free e-journals with a link to a ScribD account. I haven’t had time to check them all out but did click on a few of the links which turned up e-journal sites (the journal of ‘Golden Research Thoughts’ is well worth a look!).
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