I wasn’t there, but I understand that one of the main topics discussed at the recent JISC conference ‘Moving Towards Open Access’ was the question whether open access was suitable for all disciplines. Bit of a funny question, this. All scholarly research worth publishing is worth publishing with open access, I would have thought. Research is research. The question that should have been asked (and it may indeed have been the intended question), is whether there are, or should be, different ways of funding open access publishing in different disciplines.
The clearest way to think about the funding of the formal research literature, as the Wellcome Trust for instance does, is to see publishing as an integral part of doing research and therefore the cost of publishing as an integral part of the cost of research and thus entirely logically payable out of research grants. We hear quite often that such funding of the formal literature from research funds is not feasible in some disciplines – e.g. social sciences and humanities – simply because much research in those areas is not funded. Not funded? I wonder how social scientists survive. Maybe what’s meant is ‘not funded in the same way’.
No, the real difference between disciplines is the amount of money spent on the formal literature as a percentage of the amount of money spent on research. The 1-2% quoted by the Wellcome Trust probably doesn’t apply in the social sciences.
The money is clearly there; also in the social sciences and humanities. How else would subscriptions to journals in those areas currently be sustained? And there also is no difference between disciplines in that regard. Virtually all subscriptions, in all areas of research, are currently sustained via library budgets – money streams that are separate from research funds, but nonetheless available in 'the system'.
The central idea of ‘author-side’ payment in order to secure open access for the formally published research literature (and as a side benefit, transparency of the proportionality between the amount of research done and the cost of the literature) is to use the same money now used for subscriptions (reader-side payment) in a different way. Not extra money; the same money. Once that insight has broken through, we can start overcoming the practical (bureaucratic?) difficulties.