Three of our friends sent us this news over the last three days, it seemed to be an important one.
At first glance, this is great news: the EU ministers responsible for research and innovation decided to take actions. From their point of view, they want to make Europe an attractive place for scientists but also startups (and companies willing to invest). It is an economic vision, and likely not a wish to improve the common good. For Mr Dekker et al., opening science is therefore a requirement (as well as a consequence). Nonetheless, we should hail such an initiative, and we are glad to see this coming.
Yet, we have several concerns that we would like to highlight in the sequel. First, most if not all EU grants require to publish the results in Open Access already, which often means paying extra fees to publishing companies with planned budgets. The recent announcement is more about generalizing this for all the results of EU publicly funded research, which leads to two new questions: who and how?
Will EU force all the researchers of the union to make their publications freely available no matter who publicly funded them? What about the collaborations with non-EU researchers? It is not clear how this news will be put in practice. Nowadays, it is already possible to make papers freely accessible thanks to Open Access. Only two legal options are often available to the researchers: either they pay extra fees to journals or they choose to publish in less-prestigious ones, i.e. truly Open Access journals. The current situation is far from ideal, even though there are many ways to improve it (cf. the notion of preprints and the Guerilla Open Access Manifesto).
The main problem with this current situation is that changing it implies a bottom-up strategy: scientists must free their works, no matter the consequences. One of these consequences is not publishing in well-known journals anymore, that is not being obsessed by the Impact Factors, but also not being stressed by the “publish or perish” mantra. Yet, the public budgets allocated to researchers decrease each year, turning scientists into “money-driven” people because grants are given to people who publish a lot, in top journals, and no matter what they publish, including falsified results. Yes, you read it well and that is why there are so many retractions. There is a clear problem with such a situation that is ruining Academia.
On the other hand, we do not believe in EU putting pressure on Elsevier and the other publishing companies to free the works of the EU researchers. It would be an economic threat for them, and depending on the companies, it might affect the economic relationships between EU and other countries, such as the US for instance. Let’s never forget Aaron Schartz. Hence, what can we expect in a near future? Will researchers have to pay those Open Access fees to comply with EU rules? What will happen to projects including non-EU members? What will happen to publications funded by both public and private parties? How will the different EU members take concrete actions? When these questions will be answered, we will be able to judge this recent announcement. We can only wait and see for now.
Last but not least, if we want to change the current state of Academia (like the problem of publications), we must revisit the existing rules. If we play with the current rules, we will certainly improve a few things but we will never make Academia a better and sane place again. We must fight the “publish or perish” mantra and, above all, we must give free access to knowledge to everyone.