Saturday, January 20, 2018

Should Public Access go global?

The following is adapted from the January 19, 2018 issue of my newsletter: Inside Public Access.

Synopsis: In the long run Public Access may be the most viable form of government OA and the best way for OA to go for now.

Building on last week's discussion, it has always seemed to me that the US Public Access model might be one for other countries and regions to follow. There does not seem to be much consideration of this, but that may simply be because the OA movement is still pretty radical. In the long run PA may be the most viable form of government OA.

This issue actually arose five years ago, when Britain went one way and the US went the other. Britain opted for mandatory gold OA while OSTP went for embargoed green. I was puzzled then, and remain puzzled, why this fundamental policy choice has not been widely debated.

As I suggested last week, this absence of discussion may be because the OA movement simply does not like PA. One big wing of that movement wants to end commercial publishing, so PA does nothing for them. A related but less radical OA goal is to dramatically reduce subscription rates, which PA also does not do.

For that matter PA does little to help university librarians, other than make content OA. The problem here seems to be that basic OA does not seem to be the goal of the OA movement.

This may be a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good. A lot of what the OA movement is calling for strikes me as Utopian, especially the elimination of the journal publishing industry. As a strategic planner, I have often found that while Utopians are great at motivating change, they are less so when it comes to picking next steps. This is because their gaze is on a distant horizon, while next steps are all about the here and now.

In any case the choice still lies before the world. As a strategist I really like Public Access. It is simple, efficient and it does the job of making subscription content OA.

There are far fewer countries than there are universities. If a dozen or so major research funding countries were to adopt Public Access then a great deal, probably most, of research publication would become OA. I am pretty sure that most basic research is at least partially government funded.

Nor is there any reason why private funders, such as foundations, could not opt into government PA programs via their own mandates. Of course the government PA programs would need to be open to this, which is not presently the case with the US program. This may be an innovation waiting to happen.

PubMed Central has a nascent precedent as far as going global is concerned. They have both Canada PMC and PMC Europe. But to my knowledge neither the Canadian Government nor the EU has considered making these repositories mandatory.

The PAGES model certainly has international connections, via and other global OSTI activities.  The other PAGES users -- NSF and DOD -- no doubt also have international contacts, as do the stand alone agency PA groups like USDA.

But I expect that the State Department would have to get involved, in order to sell the US Public Access model to the rest of the world. The OA movement is not likely to do it at this time.

Public Access going global would go a long way toward meeting the basic OA challenge.

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