Open Access Publishing: Potential Unintended Consequences of the Finch Proposals

The second in our series on open access in IR and social science (first post here, third here, fourth here, fifth here, sixth here), this time from Colin Wight. Colin is a Professor in the Department of Government and International Relations at the University of Sydney (having previously been based at Aberystwyth) and is also Editor-in-Chief of the European Journal of International Relations. His work has primarily been in the philosophy of social science (and particularly critical and scientific realism) as applied to IR, and he is currently writing on terrorism, violence and the state. He is the author of Agents, Structures and International Relations Theory: Politics as Ontology and very many articles, including ‘MetaCampbell: The Epistemological Problematics of Perspectivism’‘The Agent-Structure Problem and Institutional Racism’ and ‘A Manifesto for Scientific Realism in IR: Assuming the Can-Opener Won’t Work!’.

The recommendations of Dame Janet Finch in relation to ‘open access’ (OA), seem to represent the first steps in what looks to be an inexorable trend towards a major reform of academic publishing. The OA movement has been gathering momentum and the academic boycott of major Dutch publisher Elsevier, was simply the latest in a series of initiatives aimed at forcing governments, academics and publishers to rethink, not only how research outputs are handled, but also how they are funded.

That the UK Education Secretary, David Willetts, moved so quickly to implementation after the publication of the Finch report, suggests that advocates of OA were knocking at an open door. Most academics are in favour of OA. It makes sense. After all, why should government funded research not be publically available and why should commercial publishers be allowed to fill the coffers of their shareholders on the back of taxpayer funded research?

As a journal editor, I’m also aware of the slow pace of the publishing world in terms of getting pieces to the point of publication after submission. Most journal editors do what they can to speed this process up, but does the publishing system itself, structurally imped the swift publication of research, and if so will OA help speed up this process?

I too am a strong supporter of OA, but the Finch proposals do not deal with all the issues and may, in fact, create more problems than they solve. The swift move to implement the Finch proposals leaves means that there has been a surprising lack of debate between governments, academics and publishers over the potential consequences.

In this short piece I want to concentrate my attention on what I think will be the default position for sometime to come. In many respects, it is the fudge position to come out of the Finch inquiry, but because it is the least radical solution it will dominate for some time. This is what is known as the ‘gold’ system.

Under this system the cost of academic publishing for government funded research will be moved from library budgets to research budgets. Although there is talk of an initial transition fund to cover this move from the UK research councils, it is difficult to see, how, in the current financial climate, new funds will be forthcoming. Hence, over the long term it is simply about moving the funding from one part of the higher education budget to another part; Peter will be robbed to pay Paul. British universities now pay an estimated £200m a year in subscription fees to journal publishers,

Under the new ‘gold’ scheme, authors will pay “article processing charges” (APCs) to have their papers peer reviewed, edited and made freely available online. The typical APC is projected to be around £2,000 per article, although this figure could change from discipline to discipline.

Research Councils United Kingdom (RCUK) will pay institutions an annual block grant to support the charges. In turn, RCUK expects institutions will set up and manage their own publication funds. Just how will this system operate, and what, given the lack of detailed discussion, might some of the unintended consequences be? I identify a few major areas of concern. These may not all emerge into major problems, but it seems that we should at least be raising questions about these issues.

1. Might the ‘gold’ system lead to less research and fewer papers being published? Will financially stretched universities begin to restrict access to the APC funds to already highly rated and research active departments? In addition, how will RCUK allocate the block grants across the sector? Will universities who perform poorly in any research assessment exercise be denied access to the APC funds? And will those at the top of the research pile gain access to more of the funding? This seems to make intuitive sense, but what are the implications of this for universities attempting to push themselves up the research league tables? Funding for APCs will have to come from somewhere, and if governments allocate such funding on current research assessments, then it is going to be even harder for universities to improve their research performance. If this scenario develops then the ‘gold’ system could be a status quo framework and might stifle innovation.

2. Will we see the development of an internal market among journals and will the top rated journals begin to ask for higher APC rates for publications in them? If so, will we see some journals going out of business as competition for APCs drives a new market. If such a market develops will lower ranked universities refuse to pay the higher fees demanded by the higher rated journals, thus further disadvantaging their staff?

3. The introduction of APCs and limited funds to cover them could lead to universities and researchers starting to discuss not only where they can afford to publish but also, who they can support to publish. Would only higher rated research stars be supported or given preferential access to publishing funds? As competition for publishing funds develops universities will have to make hard decisions about which areas of research and which researchers should have access to the funds. This could eventually lead to a ‘rationing’ of research papers as competition for funds to publish papers intensifies.

4. If a researcher submits a paper that is initially rejected will institutions support and pay for it to be resubmitted to another journal? As currently formulated under the ‘gold system’ this does not seem a likely outcome. But institutions might begin to look at the failure of pieces to get accepted at the first attempt as an indication of their quality and begin to restrict access to APC funds for them.

5. What will the effect of the proposals be on learned societies and professional associations? These valuable organisations are largely funded through journal subscriptions, with many of the professional organisations benefiting in a direct way from funds generated through journal publishing. If journal funding undergoes a radical change, might these organisations suffer a lack of funds, or even worse, attempt to recover their running costs from increased subscriptions? Also, the knock-on effect for PhD students and other less well off members of the profession could be harmful. The publishing royalties these professional associations rely on also fund PhD travel funds, other support mechanisms, and research innovation.

6. Could we see a drive towards verifiability rather than falsification in terms of research publications? For example, imagine a study into a particular drug that finds that the drug has no beneficial effect. This negative effect might, under funding pressures, go unpublished. These changes might radically affect the kind of research that gets published

7. What about PhD’s, and postdoctoral students; will these get funded to publish research? Will institutions allow these groups of researchers access to APC funds? It would seem foolish not too, but when funds are limited it is probably the case that these groups will only be granted access to such funds in exceptional circumstances. PhD students already struggle to gain access to travel funds to attend conferences; hence it would be foolish to think that access to APCs will not also be restricted. This could be potentially very damaging, given the importance placed on publications in order to gain the necessary first step on the career ladder. Also, how will this affect PhD scholarships? Government funding for scholarships through the research councils will probably be obliged to include a sum of money for APCs in the scholarship. This means that unless additional funding is provided fewer scholarships will be available.

8. What will the impact of the APCs and OA more generally on single authored monographs? Publishers often argue that given the low volume of sales of many monographs that they are only viable due to the cross subsidy provided by the journal subscriptions. If this is the case will publish take a very risk averse approach to single authored monographs. The knock on effects of a new publishing financial system will surely go well beyond journals.

9. As we move to more and more OA how will quality control be maintained? Can peer review survive in an OA era? One of the big drivers behind the call for OA is to get papers published in a more timely fashion. The anonymous double blind review system is already under serious pressure and OA might just be the final nail in the coffin as the pressure to publish in a timely manner overrides issue of research quality control.

10. What are the implications for international collaboration in terms of research? Will researchers from one part of a research team, where OA is required, be forced to pay the full APC out of their own budget, or will institutions not part of an APC system volunteer to contribute anyway. If journal subscription fees begin to fall, might publishers begin to ask APCs of all authors? Once the principle of ‘pay to publish’ is accepted how far will it be extended? And how will this affect researchers outside of the mainstream western university system? Of course, it seems initially that ‘hybrid’ journals, publishing some articles subject to APCs and some not, will be the norm, but can such a system be maintained?

11. Finally, how will the concept of government-funded research be defined? In many respects, in public universities, all research is government funded. How long might it be before we face calls for all articles to be subject to APCs.

In the final analysis we cannot know how the proposed OA system will develop, but it does seem that the ‘gold system’, which I believe will initially dominate, is a ‘fudge’ solution. It effectively leaves a system of journal subscription fees in place while at the same time opening up the possibility of publishers charging certain groups of authors a fee to publish. Of course, many publishers have always allowed authors to gain open access to their research output by paying a fee to effectively buy back the publishing right. The ‘gold system’ doesn’t do this. It simply moves funding from one part of the higher education budget to another. The consequences of this move are yet to be fully understood, and hopefully not all of those detailed above will become realities. However, expect to be surprised and to use the old cliché: be careful what you wish for.


21 thoughts on “Open Access Publishing: Potential Unintended Consequences of the Finch Proposals

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  3. ” Under the new ‘gold’ scheme, authors will pay “article processing charges” (APCs) ”

    Not necessarily…

    The majority of ‘Gold’ Open Access journals require no upfront fee from the authors or funders (sometimes referred to as ‘Platinum OA’ not a term I endorse; an APC of £0 if you like).

    Therefore that also makes your assertion that “the typical APC is projected to be around £2,000 per article” well… false. But to be fair they quoted a strangely high figure in the Finch report too. In the same article as referred to above the average APC of those journals that do charge an APC (excluding all the ‘free’ ones) was found to be just $906 ( ~ £571).

    The more established journals in STEM research (but not Humanities!) & often the ‘hybrid’ Open Access options tend be hugely expensive and cost £2000 and more but these can simply be avoided by publishing in other less expensive OA journals.

    If one’s research budget has ‘run out’; rather than being prevented from publishing, one just has to go the Green OA route or choose an alternative free or low-cost journal to publish in. If your work is good enough, it shouldn’t matter which journal you publish in – it will speak for itself. No need to rely on the prestige of the journal it was published in – I find this practice rather lazy & cowardly tbh.

    PS 9.) “Can peer review survive in an OA era?” Seriously? o_O

    You do realise peer-review as conducted in OA journals is *exactly* the same as in other journals. The method of payment for the publication and distribution of the research (whether APC-supported OA or subscription-supported TA) has absolutely *nothing* to do with the peer-review process. Sounds to me like you’re spreading FUD with this article…

    PPS I recommend anyone interested in this issue to listen again to the BBC 3 Radio debate on this subject with Dame Janet Finch, David Willets MP, myself and other humanities academics:


    • Hi Ross,

      I’m sure Colin can answer for himself, but Finch pretty clearly recommends a transition to the ‘Gold’ model, and proposes the mechanism for this as APCs, which are modelled as being in the higher range that you acknowledge. This is also presumably why funds are being set aside specifically for APC payments (and taken out of other research budgets for the purpose). The traditional academic journals in our subfield (International Relations) that I have seen offer open access options on this model too (with costs in the range of £1,500-2,000 per article). So it hardly seems unreasonable to associate ‘Gold’ within the Finch framework with considerable per article publication costs, as Colin does.

      The point is not that there shouldn’t be open access: the point is that Finch and the Government appeared to have opted strongly for a version that does involve extra costs, and does preserve publisher profits, even though this is far from the only way to deliver open access.

      On journal choice and prestige, it is perhaps worth revisiting some assumptions. I don’t know how it works for you and your colleagues, but there is no real question that institutions and the panels convened for exercises like the REF (which distribute very serious sums as far as social scientists are concerned) do judge work on the basis of where it is published (protestations to the contrary notwithstanding). This is indeed lazy and cowardly, but the fault is not with authors. There is even anecdotal evidence that managers are beginning to specify quite closely which range of named journals staff should be seeking to publish in, and that pressures are being applied accordingly.

      I’ve encountered the idea that one can easily move to Green OA if Gold OA is unfeasible before, and continue to be puzzled by it. Again, this may be a disciplinary difference, but it is not possible in most ranked IR journals for authors to deposit post-review papers in repositories. Pre-review original submissions are of course not the same thing, and being allowed to post drafts of your work on the internet is not really open access as I understand it. In STEM subjects there is a much stronger requirement for repository as a condition of receiving grants, but here again Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences are in a different situation, since far, far less of our work is produced this way. So a clash pretty inevitably arises with publishers. Authors can of course remove accepted material that has been accepted by prestigious journals if they lack the APC funds and try their luck with open access journals, but this is unlikely to be an attractive prospect for many. For anyone seeking full employment early in their career, such a decision will seriously impact their prospects of getting a job. Moreover, it will also add 6-12 months to the publication time frame for their article (hardly a minor inconvenience if the point is to get the material out there).


      • I look forward to hearing a reply from Colin too 🙂

        I concur that the Finch report and its actions are intended to bring about change to a system of Gold OA publishing (inclusive of ‘Platinum OA’) whereby articles are immediately available without delay after publication either for free or for a small upfront APC charged to the author/institution/funder.

        As for APC prices: I re-iterate my recommendation for everyone to read Solomon & Bjork, 2012 on this matter. As for specific journals within your field perhaps SAGE Open (introductory APC only $395) would be a good option? You’re clearly familiar and comfortable with the SAGE ‘brand’ as ‘International Relations’ is also a SAGE journal.

        I’m sure there are more good low/no-cost options in your area that maintain a high standard of peer-review. If there aren’t then the field is ripe for someone to setup a new journal and undercut the ridiculous unsubstantiated charges asked for by some of the ‘traditional’ publishers.

        re: REF & the judging of academic impact – the sciences are currently *strongly* pushing back against the use of journal Impact Factor & ‘journal brand’ as measures e.g.

        but I am sympathetic to the view that *currently* (and lamentably) some evaluation committees are lazily using these as their selection criteria. This is despite both David Willetts & RCUK strongly voicing at every opportunity that research evaluation should NOT and must not be measured by journal Impact Factor. I still think it would be good to pushback against this practice rather than meekly accepting it.

        Can you point out the journals that prevent Green OA on ? I don’t disbelieve you here. There are perhaps some rather sinister practices that journals can use here to force Gold OA and prevent Green.

        “In STEM subjects there is a much stronger requirement for repository as a condition of receiving grants, but here again Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences are in a different situation, since far, far less of our work is produced this way.”

        Well, as of April 2013 when the new Finch/RCUK policy kicks in you better get used to it! 😉 It’ll have to be either Gold (inc. ‘Platinum’) or Green OA or there may be serious repercussions later on when OA compliance is checked…

        “a clash pretty inevitably arises with publishers” …as has in all areas of academia

        “if they lack the APC funds and try their luck with open access journals, but this is unlikely to be an attractive prospect for many. For anyone seeking full employment early in their career, such a decision will seriously impact their prospects of getting a job.”

        Well, that kind of anti-OA attitude (not yours, but of the hire’rs) will have to change I suspect. RCUK *is* encouraging Gold OA and *does* prefer it, so it seems to me that the philosophy of RCUK is clashing with the “we don’t like these OA journal thingy’s” of some in your research area. Perhaps someone needs to form a high-quality editorial board around an OA journal in your area? As I said previously, there are plenty of OA publishers out there looking to undercut the traditional players, particularly with the new RCUK policy coming into force.

        “Moreover, it will also add 6-12 months to the publication time frame…”
        I didn’t understand this? If they submit first to an OA journal why would the peer-review process take any longer than at a ‘normal’ Toll Access journal?

        Thanks for taking the time to reply. I realise we are very much ‘on the same side’ now 🙂


      • Hi again Ross. Glad I was able to make myself somewhat clearer.

        There will surely be more and more journals like SAGE Open emerging. The point is whether maintaining a system where we achieve open access by paying for publication in such outlets is more rational than one where we achieve open access by some other method (such as bringing journals within non-profit university presses, arguing for central grants to maintain the journal system with no individually-levied costs, etc.). On the SAGE Open example, let’s consider how it would work. The usual cost for publication there is £440. In my case, that would be 88% of my annual research budget (which is supposed to cover all conferences, research travel and the like). On the REF model, we are expected to produce four high quality pieces in every five year period. I know of no plans in my or similar universities to release new funds for this (the Government’s APC fund was only distributed to 30 universities). It seems obvious that over time this will lead to inequalities, even if the figures stay as low as the ones you cite.

        You are mistakenly under the impression that I am for ‘meekly’ accepting the REF and its constraints (it’s frankly been a long time since I gave any credence to the statements of David Willetts, so let’s leave that aside). The issue is much more systematic. Pressures to publish fall disproportionately on junior scholars in our field (‘International Relations’ is the name of the field, and also of a journal in the field). Expecting them not to publish in prestigious journals is like asking them to give up on getting permanent jobs (it really is that simple). There are indeed good (proper) open access journals, like the Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies (whose Editor will be posting here on Friday) but it is not my impression that they are yet taken seriously by hiring committees seeking strong ‘portfolios’ for the REF (the whole situation sickens me, but it is thus). These things may indeed change. The question is whether we can do more to make them change in the right direction. My view is that we can, and that pushing back against a cosy Gold-APC-publisher profit model is the way to do it. And by pushing back I mean militating for stronger OA on the mandated Green/Platinum front.

        On RCUK policy I’m curious: it was my understanding that the open access requirement applied only to specific projects funded by the Research Councils, and not just generic funding. For example, HEFCE and others currently distribute general funding to universities, which also use funds from tuition and other sources. Without a specific named project, how will you be able to tell whether a publication is Research Council-funded or not? And if you were a profit-making journal, wouldn’t you be keen to insist that the policy only applied to specific named projects?

        Finally, on IR journals and OA, some are ‘green’ in the sense that you can deposit pre-prints and Version of Record copies, but usually only after a 12-18 month embargo for the latter. I consider this to be a pretty serious barrier (I understand that the norm in STEM subjects is for embargoes closer to 6 months). For illustration, the “top” 10 IR journals (as measured by IF) breakdown as follows:

        World Politics – green (12 month embargo on VoR)
        International Organization – green (12 month embargo on VoR)
        International Security – yellow (i.e. pre-review pre-print only)
        Common Market Law Review – white (i.e. no archiving supported)
        Journal of Conflict Resolution – yellow
        Foreign Affairs – ungraded
        Journal of Peace Research – yellow
        Biosecurity and Bioterrorism – blue (i.e. final draft)
        Marine Policy – green (post-print but not VoR)
        International Political Sociology – yellow

        You get the idea.

        The point on extended publication times is only that if you first go to a Gold journal and discover, having been accepted, that they won’t waive the fee for you, you essentially have to withdraw your piece and resubmit elsewhere, and so begin the whole peer review process again.


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  5. So much to say, so little time. I intentionally phrased my intervention as (primarily) a series of questions. Maybe Ross missed it, but I said, ‘I identify a few major areas of concern. These may not all emerge into major problems, but it seems that we should at least be raising questions about these issues.’ So the aim was to generate discussion, not to stake out firm positions.

    So, APC’s; I always tell my students, that I don’t need telling the ‘bleeding obvious’ (particularly when there are word limits), and since I tend (try) to practice what I preach and the whole discussion was framed within the context of the Finch proposals, I didn’t think I needed to say that APCs would only apply to articles that had been in receipt of Govt funding. So sloppy I know; I obviously shouldn’t have assumed it was obvious. However, the latter point still seems to be an open question, that I also raised. How will Govt funding be defined? And I don’t expect this question to have a static answer, if the Gold route takes hold, we might find notions of govt funding being extended. The block grant from the UK research councils still funds a lot of research in UK universities. At the moment it doesn’t look as if that research will come under the Gold system, but that doesn’t mean it won’t at some point in the future. Hybrid journals are going to throw up their own problems, as any publisher will tell you (I think).

    Now the figure for APC: 2K is not false, it was in the Finch report and it’s been widely cited as an estimate. Moreover, I had said, ‘The typical APC is projected to be around £2,000 per article, although this figure could change from discipline to discipline.’ That’s ‘projected’ (until we have APCs what else could it be?) and the figure could change ‘from discipline to discipline’. From my discussions with publishers they don’t know what the final figure will be either, however, none of them I have spoken to thinks the 2K is that wide of the mark. I’ve not seen the other data Ross mentions, but I’ll check. If APCs come in that low, I’ll be happier, but still not happy.

    The idea that authors in any discipline can simply avoid APCs by publishing in other less expensive OA journals, just seems naive to me and fails to grasp the complicated disciplinary dynamics of getting published in the ‘right’ places. There is a reason why the top rated journals get more submissions than those lower down the rankings. Does that make the rankings right? Not necessarily, but it does mean that anyone in the field who ignores those rankings will suffer. And if that’s the case, and if it arises out of a resource issue, then the situation might be much worse than I’m suggesting it could be; those with the cash rise to the top, those without stay at the bottom. I think we’ve heard that before. Anyone working in any scientific field knows the game on this issue, and to say it’s lazy or cowardice simply misses the point and the power of prevailing practices and structures to punish those without access to the funds to get in the higher ranked journals, if publishing is linked to resources. Again, does this make the rankings right? No! Does it make the research published in the higher ranked journals better? No. What it does do is mean that everyone is under pressure to publish in the so called ‘better journals’. In Australia, they even had an explicit ranking until recently. That’s gone now. I’m not sure it’s passing was a good thing, since the absence of ‘official rankings’ isn’t the same thing as no rankings. Everyone working in a particular field knows the journal ranking in their field (although there might some differences about which journals are where). So journals are ranked whether we like it or not; and we create that ranking ourselves; it might be pathological but it’s difficult to break out of.

    As for the peer review issue, I’ll just cut and paste what I said originally: ‘Can peer review survive in an OA era? One of the big drivers behind the call for OA is to get papers published in a more timely fashion. The anonymous double blind review system is already under serious pressure and OA might just be the final nail in the coffin as the pressure to publish in a timely manner overrides issue of research quality control.’

    Notice it’s a question. But the issue is that double blind peer review is already under pressure. There are even calls for it to be scrapped and for a consumer driven quality mechanism; i.e. publish everything and let the readers decide what is the most valuable; the cream will rise to the top. Also peer review is almost impossible to maintain in the internet era with papers often appearing on-line in multiple versions before they go out for review with a journal. Likewise, not all journals do undertake double blind peer review, and my question is; given the pressures on double blind peer review that already exist, might OA be the final nail in the coffin. That might be FUD, but since I don’t know what FUD is I can’t say.


    • Sorry, one final thing. I still do not understand why Willetts moved so quickly to implement Finch. Surely, the report should have gone out for discussion among the stakeholders. My more conspiratorial side might be tempted to think that Gold was a done deal and that they believed by implementing it quickly academics would simply embrace anything that seems to suggest they were getting OA when in fact they were not, or at least not in a form that really addressed the issue. So questions or not, I’m still leaning towards viewing Gold as a ‘fudge’.


    • Many thanks for taking the time to reply Colin.

      On APC’s:

      since you haven’t seen the data I pointed to yet, let me describe it some more. (The paper is also available here, if you don’t have access to the journal provided version: )

      One of the major criticisms of the Finch report, which I find valid upon critical consideration, is that incumbent traditional publishers were specifically included in the consultation process – they have a vested interesting in making Gold OA appear more expensive than it can actually be (to maintain their obscene profit levels), hence the inflated estimate (in my opinion) given in the final report.

      The data given in Solomon & Bjork, 2012 is based upon Gold OA journals (no ‘hybrid’ APC fees – paying for hybrid only sustains the existence of subscription journals anyhow) listed in the DOAJ. “These included 1,370 journals that published 100,697 articles in 2010” … “After excluding journals that did not charge APCs or did
      not publish in 2010, our sample included 1,090 journals, of which 64 were from single-journal publishers” the mean per article APC cost was $904 and the median $740
      You may well be interested in figure 3 too which breaks down the data by broad subject classification: the vast majority of APC fees are paid in Biomedical & Earth Sciences research.

      It’s a statistically robust survey basically, the likes of which you or I could not better without weeks of effort. Admittedly there may be (separate) questions of quality to be asked about many of those 1090 OA journals but since peer review & editorial boards are generally provisioned for free by academia to journals – I think it’s reasonable to assume that cost & quality (in terms of peer-review / intellectual content) are reasonably independent.

      Moreover – it is expected that once the policy kicks-in they’ll be *real* market competition that will help self-regulate APC prices. This can already be witnessed in biomedical research where recently quite a few journals I know have conspicuously lowered their APC charges. New journals also tend to offer discounts & even temporary £0 APC offers for the first volume/year to attract good quality submissions. If International Relations is a particular field with a current dearth of high-quality OA journals then contact some OA publisher ‘journal development teams’ – I’m sure they’ll be thrilled to know of this – it would be a compelling commercial opportunity. Those concerned for ‘commercialisation’ of publishing can also set-up their own journals (and now would be the very best time possible I would suggest!) using their own contacts and commonly used, free software journal publishing platforms like OJS ( or Annotum ( to name but two of the many options available.

      Perhaps what you call my naivety, I call positivism. The Finch report & RCUK policy changes represent an excellent opportunity to *change* academia for the better. I’m sure you & I both know and agree that the system of ranking journals (almost regardless of the quality of individual articles within those journals) is lamentable. You argue it’s difficult to break out of. Okay, I do see that point. But I argue – given this change has been enforced upon us already – we *must* break away from this journal ranking nonsense. Judge articles based upon the merit of the article, not the journal it happened to be published in.

      If UK authors are ‘forced’ away from traditional incumbent subscription-access publishers by this policy, then perhaps UK authors should recognise this and use it to their advantage: declare support for OA journals X, Y, Z by joining their editorial boards, agreeing to peer-review papers there and consider publishing there. Raise awareness of these journals like the Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies and others. Positive reactions, group-action, group-awareness and willingness to change are required. Raising ‘concerns’ ‘doubts’ moans and observations that it hasn’t been done like this before; I don’t find too constructive to be honest.

      I’m not going to address what you re-iterated about OA threatening peer-review(?). OA & subscription access are just methods of paying for research. They have no bearing or impact upon review processes. Over a decade of OA publishing in sciences has not diminished, threatened, killed or subverted peer-review (although it has encouraged experiments with different styles of review e.g. Open Review). I appreciate & agree that there are significant problems with time (never enough) & pressure (heaps) in academia but these have little relevance with the method by which research is paid for & how it accessed. If anything easing access will only be beneficial with respect to time pressures – the amount of time cumulatively I’ve wasted trying to get access to some papers…


      • Hi Ross, No problem, and thanks for your replies. Just quickly. First I wasn’t aware that only 30UK universities had been allocated APC funds, if that’s the case it makes my point. I will look at the article, and many thanks for the link. The figures you are using however, seem to be almost exclusively related to Gold OA journals, not hybrids. I’m not aware of any in my discipline (or even the social sciences; although I could be horribly wrong about that); so I’m not sure how relevant the data is for us. Now sure, we could contact publishers and get them to start OA journals, but just publishing in those would be career suicide, and I suspect that’s a burden that would fall of PhD’s or postdocs as they’d be forced into these journals if they aren’t able to pay the APCs in the major journals (which will probably be hybrids for some time to come). But there’s an additional problem. Even a major journal in my field such as International Theory, which was started by probably the major theorist over the last 10 years, can’t get even on the ISI rankings for 3 years until here’s enough data to gain an impact factor (I have a PhD student working on this and the process for getting on the ISI ratings isn’t exactly transparent).

        Now, as indicated, in my original piece, I agree they’ll be a market, but it won’t be one that benefits all sectors of the academic community equally. I suspect (but don’t know) that it will become a bit like the market in luxury goods, with the ‘premier’ brands charging more, not in terms of quality, but jus because they are premier. So the cheaper journals, will not only be cheap, but perceived (whether rightly or wrongly) as places to publish if you can’t placed elsewhere. You’ve got to remember I’m a political scientists, so I see power, inequality and injustice everywhere. So for example, I’ve published in the Journal of Critical Globalization Studies (JCGS), but I couldn’t use that as part of any research assessment; it’s not only not ranked it’s not rated. Also, I’m not sure the JCGS is peer reviewed could be wrong about that). I’d also be interested, although probably difficult to do, in seeing a study done correlating publishing in the the OA access journals in the natural sciences, with research performance in the RAE. I know you have real concerns about the REA/REF, but they are the reality faced by all scholars in every discipline (I also think that although they (RAE?REF) have major, major problems they have also had good effects as well).

        Incidentally, we don’t like anything called ‘positivism’ (poor ‘in joke’ for all the IR people), but I like your optimism about Finch. However, I view it as a missed opportunity, and really just a way of sedimenting inequality. And the people I worry most about are not the likes of me. I’ll get my APCs paid for if I need to pay them, and if not I can afford to pay them myself. I’m concerned about how it’s going to impact on PhD and postdocs. i also think the potential impacts on professional associations could well be really problematic (and these also do a lot to support PhDs) and single authored monographs, which are pretty much the gold standard in the social sciences, but i accept probably not in yours.

        So, finally peer review. Again I just think it’s naive to think that fundamental changes such as this won’t have potential knock on effects for other parts of the system. Many new journals don’t operate peer review because of the difficulty of getting referees and the pressure to get stuff published quickly. If they start out that way, they may be tempted to continue. As Editor of one of the major journals in my field I’m well aware of the problems with peer review and the difficulty we have in getting referees (remember a typical article in our field is about 12k words, so it’s quite a commitment for unpaid work). You admit that different types of reviewing have been experimented with and 10years, in social terms is not long enough to have firm data on what the impact might be. I actually think peer review is on the way out, not necessarily because of OA, but other factors. However, OA will accelerate that trend, and we will see consumer quality mechanisms; where journals simply publish most things (especially if they are getting paid for it) and let the readership decide the value. That may be a good thing, but I’m not convinced, and I know for sure that I would not want to have put my name as editor to some of the stuff we have rejected.

        So, time will tell. You obviously think Finch is an opportunity, I think it could have been, but the rush to Gold needs more thought and discussion. Could end up being a bit like the ‘dangerous dogs act (1991)’.

        Anyway, once again, thanks for the responses.


      • Also just listened to the radio interview (thanks Ross) and my position has hardened. First, my concerns are reiterated by the two humanities people on the panel. Second, they even suggest a higher fee, so I’m not sure Ross keeping reiterating that it will be cheaper is helpful; the social sciences and humanities clearly have valid concerns about the cost of APCs. Second, nobody really addressed the issue about professional associations. Third, Willetts is lying and the teaching budget has been reconfigured over the last 12 years or so to give more money to the STEM subjects over the Arts, Humanities and Social sciences (I don’t want to turn this into a dispute between these groups of academics, just pointing out that it’s a lie to say the funding formula hasn’t been altered – although his get out clause will probably be, yes but WE didn’t do it). Fourth, I’m not even sure Gold actually is OA anyway in anything other than name. All it’s really done is move the costs of publishing around from the library budget to the research budget, with little or no new money to support the change. In the meantime, I can see publishers profits going up as they still charge subscription fees (does anyone really think fees for hybrids will fall) whilst at the same time being allowed to charge some authors fees to publish. In effect, in the name of making some research (not all) publicly available we’ve simply handed them an additional income stream. And I wonder who will actually access this research anyway. Most academics can already access it anyway through the journal subscriptions, and how many non-academics will download the stuff? Thankfully, I’ll be out in 10 years or so, but you’ve got to feel sorry for PhD students though; but then again, maybe we don’t care too much about them.



    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)

    Harnad, Stevan (2012) Why the UK Should Not Heed the Finch Report. LSE Impact of Social Sciences Blog, Summer Issue


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