Taylor & Franics misrepresents DFG guidelines on Open Access – an innocent error?

Thursday, April 17, 2014, I received an email from Vicky Gardner of Taylor&Francis (tandf.co.uk) inviting me to participate in a survey regarding Open Access Mandates. Here’s the email’s text:

Dear Heinrich Mallison,

Tell us what you know for a chance to win $100 Amazon voucher

We are currently surveying our European authors with a mini-survey about Open Access mandates from funders, in specific countries, both inside and outside the European Union.

After picking your country, the survey will display a summary of the relevant mandate and four short questions, plus one extended question:


Enter the survey before 30 April 2014 for the chance to Win a $100 Amazon voucher.

Taking this survey will allow us to find out how authors think these mandates will impact their work. The results will be shared with the global research community and EU policy makers, helping to inform and influence the debate on open access.

Kind regards,

Vicky Gardner, Open Access Publisher
Taylor & Francis

There was also a link to opt-out of further messages, but that’s not relevant to the topic of this post. Also, I find it quite interesting that they feel it is necessary to repeat that Amazon voucher thingy, and bold it each time. But let’s cut to the chase here: What would you say the survey is about? Specifically, what mandates is it about?

“After picking your country, the survey will display a summary of the relevant mandate

That sounds, at least to me, as if they will show me the mandate that in Germany applies to authors in general – after all the email says “our European authors”.

Is there anything hinting at the mandate in question being some obscure special case for very limited special programs? Or does it sound as if the survey deals with the run-of-the-mill standard mandates any average author will encounter most of the times he/she decides to publish Open Access? To me, it is clearly the latter.

Now, I clicked the link, got taken to a site where I selected “Germany”, and was then shown this:


let me enlarge the relevant parts in a more blog-format-friendly manner:


So, what do they claim?
– that they give a summary of the relevant policies for researchers in Germany, specifically the DFG’s Gold and Green Open Access policy.
– implicit in this claim is that said policy applies to “funded researchers”, and by the absence of any qualifiers they make it sound as if that means by and large every DFG-funded researcher in Germany
– that the policy mandates that researchers choosing Green Open Access must deposit their article in a repository within 6-12 months, depending on the discipline they work in
– that the policy mandates publishing Gold Open Access only in journals in which ALL articles are available for no fee.
– and that the policy in reverse mandates that researchers may not publish Gold Open Access in journals that have a for-pay or other option to make only selected articles available free of charge.

The latter category of journals encompasses a vast number of very prestigious journals, like Biology Letters and other Royal Society journals, Journal of Paleontology and Paleobiology, or journals that fall under T&F’s very own open access rules, such as the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology. PLOS ONE, Palaeontologia Electronica or Fossil Record, where every article is freely available (in case of PLOS ONE and FR the author must pay, PE does not charge a fee), are not affected by the mandate.

So, is this true and correct?

And the answer is a resounding NO!

T&F is kind enough to provide, on the website, a link to the document that details the policy they “summarized”. And “summarize” they did, but……


WHOA! What does it say there? What exactly?

“The programme enables research universities to obtain funding from the DFG which they can use to finance the publication fees charged by open access journals.”

OK, that is an issue for researchers: if your university applied for and received funding under this program, and if you want to use that funding to pay for your Open Access fee, then you must comply with this policy. But that’s only one small part of the story of Open Access publishing by German researchers! Most people I know use the publication funding that comes straight from their project, under point 2.6 of the guidelines for Regular grants, which is a separate and totally unrelated programme. And here’s where I must come to the defence of T&F, involuntarily. Section 2.6 of the guidelines for a regular Sachbeihilfe (Regular grant) in English only reads
“2.6 Project-related publication expenses
Please state whether you wish to apply for publication funds and if so, the amount. In conclusion, state the total sum of requested funding for direct project costs.”

However, the German version is much longer, and roughly translates to

“2.6 Project-related publication expenses
a) as a subsidy to publication of scientific project results funds up to 750.- € per year of project duration can be made available and used for freely selected publication venues (but not for “grey literature”).
b) …..
c) ….”

Here’s the full thing, note that b) and c) deal with book publications.


So you see that maybe, just maybe, we must excuse T&F for totally missing out on an important point here. Assuming that they have nobody capable of checking the DFG website and translating the longer and obviously more detailed German version of the guidelines. Maybe. Considering that T&F is a huge publishing outfit I seriously doubt they do not have anyone handy who is capable of checking the rules properly. But hey, who knows?

Be that as it may, the simple fact remains that the Regular Grant guidelines do not place any limitations regarding Open Access journals on how you spend the publication funds. None at all!

Now, is that the only source of direct funding to a researcher for publication funding? No, you can also apply separately from your project. Guidelines for that programme are here: http://www.dfg.de/formulare/51_10/51_10_de.pdf. And I can tell you that there is no mention of any Open Access policy in that document. None! At! All!

So what is the issue here? It is the simple fact that point 2.6 of the guidelines for a regular grant, the point that very many people get some serious money  (2250 € for a typical project) for publication cost from, does not, in any part, specify anything about a policy on Open Access publishing! Zero, zip, zilch! The DFG simply does NOT, in any way, impose ANY limitations on how you spend the money, as long as you spend it for proper scientific publishing (i.e., with peer review).

So T&F presents a sole policy as “what […] funded researchers have to do”, as the “relevant mandate”, a policy that does not apply to regular cases, to the primary source of funding researchers use for publishing, nor the after-the-project extra funding application. They do not mention the regular case of normal, run-of-the-mill projects at all, but by chance(?) happen to present a special case as the norm! And, by that “pure accident”, T&F choose to present a quite restrictive policy, instead of the rather lenient non-policy that let’s you pretty much do whatever you want with the money, provided it goes out for publication.

An innocent mistake? Somehow, I am smelling a rat, a big, fat weeks-dead rat!

UPDATE: the DFG has a big web page on “OpenAccess and the DFG”, so to speak: link in German and link in English. Takes a bit of navigating to find the exact answer to the question which mandates (if any) cover specific cases, but a very good start.


About Heinrich Mallison

I'm a dinosaur biomech guy
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