Report on the Australian National Scholarly Communication Forum

From: Arthur Sale <>
Date: Sat, 21 Jul 2007 10:22:48 +1000

[Australian] National Scholarly Communication Forum

Shine Dome, Canberra, ACT, Australia -- 16 July 2007

  `Improving Access to Australian Publicly Funded Research -
  Advancing Knowledge and the Knowledge Economy'

This is a personal comment on the Forum, for which I (Arthur Sale)
take responsibility as an attendee. The convener, Colin Steele, will
provide an official summary on the website of the Academy of the
Humanities and perhaps posted.

The forum was attended by around 100 people from around Australia,
with several international speakers. There were several important
differences from the Forum held 2 years ago (which I also attended).

There is now an overwhelming consensus that research data
and research publications should be made available free on the
Internet, as soon as possible, and justified by the public good.
There was probably only one ambivalent voice.

Good evidence was provided by John Houghton that the public
good was synonymous with economic good - indeed Australia was vastly
losing out on research impact without open access to its research
outputs and research data. John's report on Research communication
costs in Australia (with Steele & Sheehan) at deserves to be read by
everyone in the open access arena, as it presents an estimate of the
funds provided to research and dissemination in Australia and
provides a good methodology for estimating what the impact of
improvements in access might be. The figures probably generalize to
other jurisdictions with variations - John would love anyone to
provide more accurate data to replace his estimates..

The overwhelming consensus was described by almost every
speaker from DEST through academics to outsiders as a "presumption
that open access should be provided" ameliorated by

o In the case of research publications, taking into cognizance
that the publishing industry was interposed between research outputs
and accessibility.

o In the case of research data, there were some exceptions that
needed to be made, primarily of commercial reasons (ie exploitation)
but also governmental and aboriginal cultural reasons.

It was widely acknowledged that the current business models
for publications used by most publishers were unsustainable. The
oligopoly rents which are charged, and the bundling models (`big
deals') used to minimize competition, were simply not going to be
acceptable nor economically sustainable long term. Moves to other
models were inevitable.

Some discussion took place on the funding of author-side
fees for "Gold" OA journals. It was felt that Australia would need to
do a significant amount of work on these to reach what the Wellcome
Trust had provided, or what was possible under RCUK rules. Aistralian
library subscriptions were devolved to universities, and diverting a
fraction of them to author-side fees would take some negotiation.

It was noted that the present RQF activity would not do much
for opening access to Australian research, since much of the
documents to be mounted in repositories would have restricted access.
Indeed, because ISI metrics would be used, there would even be a
tendency driving academics to publish in the print media, since ISI
did not cover open access (gold) journals well, and conferences not
at all. However RQF Mark II was not even being discussed yet with
pressure on Mark I. There were three positive factors from the RQF:

o All Australian universities would have an institutional (or
consortial) repository by end 2007,

o DEST was determined to press on with its Accessibility
Framework, outside the RQF, and

o The `Research Impact' part of the RQF could accommodate
publications that did not fit the paper journal mould.

Linkages with JISC, the OECD and the USA are highly valued.

I left the Forum thinking that much of the work we have been doing
since 2005 has been fruitful. All decision-makers are now aware of
the value of open access, and are convinced that it is the way of the
future and Internet-ready. Publisher arguments and traditional
subscription models are almost universally regarded as being
self-serving/unsustainable. The logic of `mandates' is accepted,
though there is still some reluctance to take the final steps,
seeming to prefer to let others do it first. Australia may not be in
the vanguard of open access changes (we produce 2-3% of the world's
research), but it is monitoring them closely and will follow as soon
as it is expedient to do so. We won't be far behind.

BTW Canberra was absolutely freezing, even for a Tasmanian resident.
Overcoats worn in the auditorium were common.

Arthur Sale

University of Tasmania

Received on Sat Jul 21 2007 - 02:46:30 BST

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