Friday, 7 September 2012

Bosons for free, and the golden 30.

A couple of interesting open-access things came to my attention in the last couple of days.  Firstly, and tangentially, a tweet that I saw retweeted pointed out that the articles that appeared on the preprint servers recently announcing the discover of the Higgs boson (or at least of a boson consistent with the Higgs) have now been published, free for all to read in Physics Letters B.  Of course, it was known at the time of the preprint appearance where they had been submitted, but it's certainly a win for the publishers and the proponents of "gold" open access that such a high-profile series of papers has gone this route.  According to the journal website, it costs $3000 of taxpayer gold for gold open access for each article.  I wouldn't be surprised if Elsevier subbed this one, though, given how cited these articles are going to become, but likewise I would not be surprised if CERN (i.e. CERN-subscribing governments) paid.  Anyway, the edition of Physics Letters B with the articles is here, and unlike most other issues, you can read some of the articles for free (and you can note the charges for the non-LHC articles in the same issue).

The other thing, and probably more consequential, is the announcement that the funding councils in the UK have top-sliced £10,000,000 of gold from their budgets and decided to give it to 30 particular universities in the UK so that they can give it to publishers to publish their research as gold open-access.  This was sort-of inevitable, given the Finch report.  From my point of view, this is somewhat problematic.  I am in one of the UK's 1994 group universities, but not one that made the 30 university shortlist.  It has the biggest theoretical nuclear physics group in the country, and is the obvious place for me to work.  It's a good place and has a good Physics Department (along with many other good departments).  It seems perverse to me, though of course I have a vested interest, to cut off funding like this on an institutional basis, irrespective of size of institution and so on.  A fermi function at absolute zero, where the energy levels are universities is not a sensible profile making use of any kind of logic.  Lazy expediency, perhaps.  To paraphrase a recent post on impact factors, distributing money in this way is mathematically illiterate.  Us little people, apparently, will be able to apply for money later, with some hoops the 30 golden boys can ignore.

Anyway,  none of this news should be surprising to anyone.  The HE sector is very innovation-shy from a management point of view.  Perhaps management is always small-c conservative.  The Finch report is quite a "no-one ever got fired for choosing Microsoft" outcome, where the solution is to give money to established successful (by some measure) business, rather than seek innovative solutions. And on the preferred 30, the funding councils (EPSRC more so than STFC, where I sit) have been moving to a preferred university status for a while.

Anyway, I don't suppose either of these things will affect me greatly.  I continue to submit work to the open-access arXiv before sending them off to journals. If you fancy reading it, my last one appeared yesterday.  It's open access :-)