Why did the UK government fund manure instead of apple trees?

January 13, 2013

Suppose the UK government decides that the country needs more apples. It gives out thousands of grants to householders so they can buy and plant their own fruit trees.

I receive one of those grants and go to Garden Centre A to buy my trees. They say “Sorry, we don’t sell apple trees. But we do have some very nice manure, would you like some of that?” I, being in receipt of an apple-tree planting grant, politely decline and drive down to the road to Garden Centre B, where I buy some apple trees. I plant them, grow some apples, and everyone is happy. Well — everyone except Garden Centre A, who didn’t sell me any apple trees. But that’s their own fault.

What doesn’t happen is this. The government doesn’t convene a committee to report on fruit-growing policies, with Garden Centre A as one of the committee members. And even if it does, and Garden Centre A demands that the policy fund manure instead of apple trees, the government does not for that reason change its policy.

No. The government, which is putting up the money, decides what it wants to buy — in this case apple trees — and suppliers that won’t supply apple trees have no say in the matter.

Then why in the name of all that is rational do barrier-based publishers get a say in UK government policy on open access?

The government wants to fund open-access research, because it knows that this has enormous economic, social and medical benefits. It doesn’t want to fund paywalled research because it knows that this achieves far less. Yet it invited paywall publishers onto the Finch Committee, and sure enough they got Green-OA embargoes and non-free licences accepted into the report’s recommendation. Embargoes that are against the interests of all other stakeholders: researchers, librarians, university administrators, small businesses, heavy industry, hospitals and frankly everyone.

More bizarre still, RCUK — the arm of the government that directly funds much of the research — put massive loopholes into the Green-OA module of their otherwise excellent policy: publishers are allowed to require that articles placed in repositories are delayed for six months or more, and that they carry poisonous non-commerical clauses.

Why did our government let publishers pollute UK policy with concessions that are directly opposed to everyone else’s interest? Why did they let publishers that only sell manure dictate that the policy couldn’t require apple trees?


8 Responses to “Why did the UK government fund manure instead of apple trees?”

  1. – Publishers pay salaries to people who vote. many politicians are so short-sighted that this argument will convince them.
    – Publishers support politicians.
    – Publishers bribe politicians?

  2. Vertebrat Says:

    This metaphor is confusing – I keep thinking the manure is fertilizer for the trees. :)

  3. Mike Taylor Says:

    No, the manure is just crap.

    Would it have been easier to follow if I’d had Garden Centre B selling pear trees?

  4. Vertebrat Says:

    Yeah, or maybe some inferior, not-fruit-bearing weed, so it’s obvious which one you want.

  5. Mike don’t go comparing apples and pears…. erh, I meant sauropods and bunnies!

  6. John Scanlon, FCD Says:

    The British Crown has been in the business of selling monopolies for a thousand years, why would the government change now?

  7. juliusbeezer Says:

    English’s status as lingua franca of the scientific world does give US and UK-based publishers a tremendous advantage: http://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/vis/images/?src=4e3c026c%2Fjournal_location.png
    However, studies by Houghton (http://www.cfses.com/projects/Easi-OA.htm) and Swan (http://www.jisc.ac.uk/publications/programmerelated/2010/howtoopenaccess.aspx#) suggest that the overall economic benefits of open access will be considerable in (i) savings from library budgets and (ii) wider/quicker access to the literature.
    This is a case that has to be made: politicians don’t like lost jobs and profits, and doubtless the incumbents will try to present market turmoil as net losses to “GB plc.” Of course, persisting with the status quo also risks some entity such as Hindawi eating British publishers’ lunches…

  8. Ainmhidh Says:

    It’s possibly more a case of garden centre A saying “We don’t have any apple trees for sale, but we can sell you some apple, which we’ve already peeled, diced, removed the seeds and put into little bags for you – that’ll be a better option for you.”

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