Open access: the debate still continues…

In our experience one of the greatest barriers to EH professionals becoming more research active and evidence based in their practice is their lack of access to published literature. For example we actually know quite a lot about the work of EH professionals, but most of this knowledge (even the publicly funded research) is hidden behind pay/membership walls and only realistically available to the few of us attached to Universities. We therefore monitor developments towards open access with a keen interest. With this in mind, UK Government Minister David Willetts recently announced his acceptance of the Finch Group’s report into expanding access to published research and his plans to make publicly funded research freely available for all by 2014. Problem solved by 2014, phew, or is it…???

In summary the Finch Group (http://www.researchinfonet.org/publish/finch/) recommended that the current peer-review and publisher system remains. This is estimated to cost around £2000 per article, what is known as the article processing cost (APC). But instead of the old model where Universities pay massive subscription fees to academic publishers – the major barrier if you’re not attached to a University – under the new ‘gold’ model of open access recommended by Finch authors will pay the APC directly to publishers to have their articles peer reviewed and then published in open access journals.

The response of six academics in my 19th July 2012 Guardian’s letters page (page 35) is overwhelmingly negative. Criticisms here include the maintenance of the ‘commercial publishing lobby’ at the heart of the open access debate and Finch’s rejection of the alternative ‘green’ model designed to circumvent academic publishers entirely. The figures used to calculate the £2000 APC are criticised in the absence of independently audited publishing costs, whilst the government’s argument that the ‘gold’ model will give the UK an economic advantage is also rejected in the absence of similar international agreements.

For EH professionals too I don’t see much to celebrate. I welcome improved access to UK funded research from 2014, but what about access to non-UK research or past published research that we could also benefit from? Further, the few of us EH professionals who are research active in Universities are often researching in our spare time and some distance from funded research groups for various reasons. We hope this will change as we develop a stronger case for funding environmental health research, but I speculate that the budgets of most University departments that are home to environmental health programmes simply don’t have the funds to pay £2000 to have our research published!? We would welcome your thoughts, but it looks like the open access debate continues…

With best wishes, Rob

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One thought on “Open access: the debate still continues…

  1. Rob,
    This is a long overdue decision. It has been a scandal that public funded research ( running into mega millions) has only been available by subscription to expensive Peer reviewed Journals. Nevertherless, we need a portal for EH research that will not go through the peer reviewed pathway. e,g Professional practice case studies. Maybe an issue for the CIEH Research Task Group to promote in their Report
    Maurice Brennan ,University of Birmingham.

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