(in French: previous post / en français: article précédent)

There are essentially two points of view regarding open access to scientific publications, except for some researchers who think that the FWB’s Open Access Decree will deprive them of their academic freedom, which is not at all the case.

1) The first, supported by a large majority of the research community, is in favor of the decree as shown by >1,600 signatures in a recent open letter of support. The main role of the decree is to reassure the researchers whose Institution wishes or requires that the publications produced on its premises be freely accessible as quickly as possible, but who fear the intimidation exercised on them by their publishers. It offers them much needed legal certainty.

2) the second is carried by some publishers (in our case, the Association of Belgian Publishers, ADEB) who see in this process supported by the public authorities a threat to their business model and who practice intense lobbying against the decree.

The mode of publication is evolving. The old one, which dates well before the Internet, is becoming obsolete. As in any evolution of Society, some trades become progressively anachronistic and the salvation of those who exercise them lies in their ability to adapt, this has been seen throughout the history of humanity (see “The Complaint of the Cartwhheel Maker”, – in French – in this blog). Sooner or later, they will have to resolve it and I fully understand that they intend to delay as much as possible this unavoidable deadline. However, it must be made clear to the absent-minded reader that the decree in question applies only to research articles published in periodical journals and not to any other form of publication (books, book chapters, etc.), which makes much less significant the emotion of the ADEB for which periodical articles are far from being the main publication activity.

What is the argument against the decree? (The reader of this blog will find in my previous articles the innumerable arguments in favor of this policy!)

ADEB claims that:

– « The Decree mandates researchers to deposit in an institutional digital archive all publications resulting from their research carried out in whole or in part on public funds (upon publication or after too short periods of embargo ). « 

That’s right. But let’s be clear: this is indeed about « depositing in an institutional digital archive« . There is no obligation to do anything more than, for example, put the document in free access. To do this, there is one more thing to do: release the document so that it can be accessed immediately and without paytoll. The draft decree was amended at the request of ADEB for a closure rather than an opening by default, following a meeting in March 2017 (which, at the same time, invalidates ADEB’s assertion of a total lack of consultation!). As for the duration of the embargo, finding it too short is a matter of point of view. We understand that for publishers it always feels too short! The one advocated in the Decree is the standard term in most regulations, starting with the European Community, which already applies it to the deposit requirement for its 8th Framework Program (H2020) and will impose it on all its research programs by 2020. This duration (6/12 months) is the most generally applied and very often accepted by international scientific publishing houses.

– « the Decree may have perverse effects for the diversity of publishing knowledge and, more generally, for the knowledge society. « 

It is obviously difficult to refrain from laughing when reading this: it is as if publishers could forget that those who nurture the “knowledge society” are the researchers who 1) perform research upstream, 2) provide generously the publishers with the skill that they need (without reproach, each one his job) to do their editorial work and 3) buy the final product. It is a configuration of the production-verification-consumption chain that is unique in the world.

– « The decree misses its target, which is the big international scientific edition. « 

Certainly not. It is the goal for sure: to guard against the voracity of international, even multinational, mega-editors who ransom the scientific community shamelessly. But it is not legally possible to discriminate on the basis of the publisher’s nationality …

– « The Decree does not present any prior impact analysis in French-speaking Belgium. The open access of articles published by scientific publishers will no longer allow them to recover the cost of their investment to ensure their editorial work. « 

This is not the case with all the Known figures, which show that publishers have never done as well as in the past two decades, which happen to correspond to the period of development of Open Access. So we must admit that it is, so far, a failure in terms of savings on documentation. The savings can only begin when all institutions will apply the principle defended in this draft decree and this is one of its reasons for being… But Open Access is a success in terms of visibility of research results and dissemination of knowledge for those who follow it. Today, ‘false’ science and ‘bad’ science still dominate the Internet. It is time for ‘good’ science to compete with it.

– « The Decree is characterized by a lack of consultation with the interlocutors concerned (authors and publishers), while they share the same concerns and critical issues in relation to this project. « 

This is a glaring untruth. I personally participated in two long interviews with ADEB representatives on March 29, 2017 and March 15, 2018. Many of their demands were met, even though we found that it would deprive the decree of its innovation strength. It goes without saying that some demands were not met, because they completely distorted the spirit of the Decree to the point that it was no longer useful to have it adopted at all.

– « The Decree obliges the researcher / author to reproduce and communicate his work free of charge to the public, in violation of the applicable provisions of the Code of Economic Law, Community Law and International Treaties applicable in the field of intellectual property. It encroaches on the jurisdiction of the federal legislature (an initiative of the federal legislator on the subject is in the process of legislative process). The French Community is certainly competent for university education and related research, but the decree goes beyond the competence of the Community because the free access is valid for all and is not strictly limited to the researchers of the Community. This analysis is shared by the specialized lawyers consulted by ADEB, including Alain Berenboom. « 

It does exercise this constraint, knowing that constraint is always necessary at the beginning but that it will become less and less needed with time. However, the legal quibbles concerning the Community’s competence vis-à-vis the Federal Government, as well as the alleged violations have been ruled out by the “Conseil d’Etat”.

– « The Decree undermines the academic freedom and freedom of publication of authors / researchers by imposing an obligation on them rather than by granting them a right of filing. « 

The “Conseil d’Etat” is here too in sharp disagreement with this statement. Academic freedom has nothing to do with this, it consists of the assurance, for a university professor (and only him/her), never to be worried for the expression of his/her opinions in the presence of his/her students, as long as they do not violate the law or good morals. Moreover, if you take the trouble to read the draft decree carefully, you quickly understand that the freedom of the researcher to publish where he/she wants remains absolute and depends only on him/her. The only requirement is a deposit in the manuscript archive as it has been accepted for publication.

– « Collaterally, and ultimately, the decree will result in the disappearance of all » sustainable « traces in the Wallonia-Brussels Federation, the scientific work of our authors and scientific researchers and human sciences. « 

Certainly not. Universities are perfectly able to maintain their archive in working order, the necessary backups are operated with a luxury of precautions. To think that only private publishers can do it for sure is also laughable.

Anyway, whether we like it or not, everyone must admit that we are not stopping the course of Progress, and that it is leading today to a faster, more interactive, more flexible and more democratic dissemination of knowledge. It is up to each of the protagonists involved to adapt and evolve its operating model. The researchers are themselves determined to make this change. Any attempt to block it will confront with a very determined opposition and will sooner or later be blown away by the wind of History.