Saturday 23 February 2013

The Ornithologist, the Finches, & Research Councils UK

Promoter of Birds, Badgers and Clarity

Three cheers for Lord Krebs!  I already liked this reluctant Peer of the Realm because he opposes badger culling. But this week his lucid brain has cut through the chaos surrounding Britain’s policy on free-to-view access to journal articles publishing the findings of research which has been supported by the British taxpayer. 
She's in gold but the background is green

This week the Science and Technology Committee of the House of Lords, which Krebs  chairs, published a report  which slams the bewildering apology for a ‘policy’ formulated last July by the people who are supposed to be twittering sense on the top branch of Britain’s intellectual tree, the Research Council UK.  

The RCUK had to revise its ‘policy’ because the government had commissioned Dame Janet Finch to report on alternative Open Access strategies.  She said you could have (1) a ‘green’ policy (in which all research must be published online so everyone can read it, but there can be a temporary embargo of e.g. a year so journals including those published by impoverished learned societies can get subscriptions). Or you could have (2) a ‘gold’ policy (where the journals are freely available online but academics or universities now have to give money to the publishers) [yuck]. Or you could have (3) a ‘hybrid’ one and let chaos prevail.

A Sensible Policy
I am still waiting to be told whether Dame Janet chose the colours because her relatives are either greenfinches or goldfinches, or whether she was picked for the job because of her name.

Is Rylance a bluefinch?
The RCUK’s apology for a ‘policy’, to be implemented only 5 weeks from now, was published in response to Finch under the chairmanship of Professor Rick Rylance (who prefers to sport blue). It managed to recommend all three at the same time: ‘the Gold option provides the best way of delivering immediate, non-restricted access to research papers’ but RCUK is not against the green model and supports a ‘mixed approach to Open Access.’

How much money are chairpersons of the RCUK paid to promote such conceptual pandemonium?

A rich journal publisher
But Lord Krebs, bless him, has signed off the report which simply says that ‘lack of clarity in RCUK policy and guidance, and the consequent confusion, especially given the imminent start date of 1 April 2013, are unacceptable.’ 

I have a theory why Krebs can see the nests so well in these particular trees. His own research has been into ornithology and he is regarded as the world leader on bird behaviour. He was never going to tolerate Rylance confusing two species of finch.

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