The Achilles’ heel of open access mandatesIn: science politics
Luckily, there are many roads to open access to publicly funded research. Currently, none of them are really sustainable by themselves, but in cooperation, they keep pushing for more open access and very successfully so. In a hypothetical forced choice situation, I’d probably favor immediate, non-embargoed ‘green’ deposition in institutional repositories over any of the other routes: it does not require anyone to abandon toll-access journals that still today make or break careers (absurd as this reality may be) and doesn’t require any additional funds out of the declining grant budget, only to mention two of several advantages.
However, essentially only physicists have developed any sort of deposition culture (in arxiv). For most other fields, ‘green’ deposition mandates are required to get the repositories filled to any reasonable level. It is precisely these mandates which are the Achilles’ heel of the green route: mandates are policies implemented by funders and most funders are government branches or at least heavily government-influenced. This means that it matters what politicians think about such mandates. If they become convinced that green mandates are irrelevant, or even a bad idea, they won’t be implemented. Obviously, publishers with their huge profits are in a much better position to buy access to politicians than us researchers who generate the literature in the first place. The willingness of publishers to use the profits derived from our work against us can be observed again and again: for instance by hiring Eric Dezenhall in the PRISM initiative to sway public opinion against open access. Or by paying two US lawmakers for drafting legislation that would make green mandates illegal: the research works act. The latest efforts can be seen in section 302 of the discussion draft of the Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science and Technology Act of 2013 (FIRST) in the US. This section aims to enlarge green embargoes (the time before an article in a green repository becomes publicly accessible) to a whopping three years.
Thus, one more reason to develop an institutional infrastructure that covers our text, data and software needs is the independence from outside forces: if institutions decide to take care of their texts, data and software needs themselves (and save a few billions every year as a fringe benefit), there is nothing publishers or politicians can do to interfere with that process.