Funders have all the power in OA negotiations. So why aren’t they using it?
June 19, 2013
A few days ago I explained why I don’t think “hybrid OA” is a legitimate path to the full-open-access world we all want. The TL;DR is first that it’s offered at stupidly high prices, and secondly that it’s completely impossible to detect or prevent double-dipping because journal subscriptions are the most opaquely priced good in the known universe.
Then I found that Stuart Shieber had written much the same article but much better four years ago, from the perspective of explaining why the Harvard open-access fund does not cover hybrid fees.
In response, BMC’s Matthew Cockerill tweeted that “Shieber underplays a key benefit of hybrid OA though. Wide author choice allows funders to take stronger stance on requiring full OA”, adding “hybrid OA option therefore makes it more conceivable a funder could mandate immediate full OA”.
Now. Here’s the thing.
Funders can mandate whatever the hell they want. That’s how it works when you’re the one with the money. They hold the purse strings. They are researchers’ paymasters. And in the case of bodies like RCUK and HEFCE that spend public money, “what they want” means “what serves interests of people whose money they’re spending”.
So funders should mandate what they, and the people whose money they’re spending, actually want: immediate low-cost BOAI-compliant OA. No delays, no ifs, buts, maybes. As always, researchers who don’t like the funder’s conditions will be at liberty not to accept their grants. And equally, publishers who don’t like the conditions imposed on recipients are at liberty to decline their manuscript offers.
So all we really need is for funders to grow a pair and stop kow-towing to exploitative and over-priced publishers. This is why the RCUK betrayal hurts so much. It would have been so easy for them to Do The Right Thing.
Yes, it would be great if academics took the lead. I think they should be racing the funders to see who can be first to fix this: after all, I’ve argued that hiding your research behind a paywall is immoral. As scientists, our job is to bring new knowledge into the world. Hiding it behind a journal’s paywall is unacceptable. But as the comments on that Guardian article and on the followup SV-POW! article indicate, there are other pressures on academics.
Whereas public funders, who have all the money, therefore have all the power. They can do what they want, and should — in the interests of the people whose taxes give them that money. It’s what they’re there for.
Sorry to keep shouting, but: there is no justification for bodies that spend public money putting publishers’ interests ahead of the public’s.