Tobias Klein: “Be honest about the impact of Open Access measures”

Tobias Klein: “Be honest about the impact of Open Access measures”

What if scientific journals do not break? Today, during a meeting of the Executive Committee of the University Council, associate professor Tobias Klein asked president Koen Becking questions about new Open Access measures. The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) has formulated stricter granting conditions, demanding that all research output from NWO-funded research is published on an Open Access platform. Klein says it is important for academics to discuss the risks that come with this decision.

In the meeting, Klein asked Becking to clarify what is asked of Tilburg University academics. “The answer from the board was honest. The president and the rector stated that they ask researchers to bear such a cost. It is safe to say that most academics sympathize with the idea of Open Access, but we do want Koen Becking to keep this burden in mind when he goes and talks to the NWO and negotiates with the publishers.” In the best scenario, Klein says, the ‘knowledge coalition’, formed by eight academic partners of which NWO is one, is successful and forces publishers to take steps towards Open Access. “In the worst scenario, this does not happen and researchers might want to put less effort in writing proposals,” he says. “This could have negative financial consequences for the university as well.”

Since 1 December, all publications emerging from a new ‘call for proposals’ from NWO must be available for everyone to read, without a subscription. Nothing changes for the calls that are already open. NWO writes in a press release: “If the latest knowledge is not available immediately or is only available against extra payment then this slows down progress in science”. Klein says many academics are not yet aware of these new granting condition.

“In the worst scenario researchers might want to put less effort in writing proposals”

Another important argument that proponents of Open Access use, is that of the tax payer’s money, used to finance research grants. If society pays for research, society should be able to freely access the research output. This is a very valid and good argument, says Tobias Klein. He is representative of faction TiU international in the University Council and associate professor at TSB. “The goal is a good goal,” he says, “but for people applying for grants this decision could be a very big deal. In a way, researchers become less free. It is important to have a discussion about this and be honest about the possible impact.”

NWO spokesman Maarten Muns says that the research financier does not expect a huge decline of proposals. “NWO only asks the output to appear in journals that allow some form of open publication, the so-called Green Open Access route. We do encourage Gold Open Access”. The ‘green route’ means that the researcher still publishes in a subscription journal but ensures that immediately after publication a version of the work is openly accessible via a public database (for example, a university repository). This could also mean that an older version of the article is available for everybody, while the reviewed version is only available through the journal. The ‘gold route’ means that the last version is available for everybody from the moment it gets published.

The SHERPA/RoMEO database shows how ‘Open Access’ scientific journals are. According to Muns, most of them, including the renowned Nature and Science, meet the standards NWO now asks for. Besides that, there will be a two-year transition period, for NWO and its partners to monitor where problems emerge and to try and solve the problems. “We want to do this carefully and give it time”.

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