Calling on the National Center for Social Research to Publish by Open Access

discussion with Sally McManus of the National Center for Social Research, UK, following her blog post below, published on 22 November, 2012:

What’s best for mental health – no job or any job at all?

In terms of mental health, employment is generally better for people than joblessness. But is that still the case when the choice is between unemployment and a demanding job with low levels of control, security and reward?  This is what we examined in a paper published today in Psychological Medicine. In analyses led by our collaborator Peter Butterworth from the Australian National University, we found evidence to suggest that jobs of poor psychosocial quality are no better for mental health than being unemployed.Using data from the Adult Psychiatric Morbidity Survey (APMS), we found that rates of common mental disorder like anxiety and depression, were the same among the unemployed and people in the poorest quality jobs. Both groups were more likely to have a CMD than people in high quality work (that is, work with more variety, control, security and better support). We saw this pattern even after controlling for socio-economic and other factors.Getting the jobless back into work is, of course, a priority for recession-hit Britain. But so is the Government’s plan to improve national wellbeing. Our results highlight the relevance of what goes on in the workplace for the wellbeing agenda, and show that policies aimed at increasing the employment rate must not be at the expense of job quality.
Posted by Sally McManus – Research Director at 16:03


  1. The admirable public mission of the National Center for Social Research might be well-served by making your publicly-funded research publicly available, not $45/article. Few to none of the poorly- or unemployed people you write about, or the policymakers it is your charitable mission to reach, will be able to access the research — although they are likely helping to pay for it through their taxes and funding. How does this square with your mission, when there are many Open Access publication channels available through which you could alternately choose to make the findings available to all?

    More specifically, how does this comport with the well-known Finch Report  recommendations from Dame Janet Finch, Chair of your Board of Trustees, which have been accepted by the UK government: that publicly-funded research findings should be made available to all by Open Access publishing? May I assume that given the recommendations of the Finch Report, and the obvious implications of your charitable mission, you are seeking to move from non-open publications such as Cambridge’s “Psychological Medicine” to open publication? I look forward to seeing this development, and to being able to read your research findings.


  2. Sally McManus 23 November 2012 14:11

    Many thanks for your comments Tim, I completely share your frustration with journal charges. The reports that NatCen are funded to produce are nearly always made freely available now online, a great improvement over the limited distribution of hard copy reports in the past! This particular piece of analysis was not funded, publicly or otherwise. I’m a big fan of open access journals, but the article processing charges are often in excess of £1,000. It would be great to make the peer review process and high impact open access publishing more affordable, including to researchers working in the non-profit sector. I think there are signs that things are moving that way.


  3. Thank you for responding, Sally. I’m glad to hear NatCen reports are nearly always made freely available now online. (is that Open Access, by the way, and does it include reusable data?) and may be more so in future. I’d like to comment a bit more on this case because it surfaces some interesting issues, right in Dame Finch’s backyard, as the American expression says.

    > This particular piece of analysis was not funded,
    > publicly or otherwise

    the authors are employed by the public Australian National University and University of London, and the National Center for Social Research (charity, run largely on public funding). I don’t imagine they did this research work purely on “their own time,” in no way drawing upon the resources of their organizations. I think most people would have difficulty seeing how a primarily public-funded organization, such as a public university, can really say a given research work is “not funded.” The primary form of research funding is researcher compensation and facilities, whatever they are used for.

    In any case, regardless of if or how the work was funded, there are of course many ways to disseminate research work that don’t require it being paywalled in a traditional journal. You could simply self-publish the paper, or a pre-print version. Even if you chose to publish in an open-access journal with an article processing charge of, say, £1,000, this would be only a tiny percentage of the total project cost (considering salaries, research & library facilities, etc.), and seems quite reasonable considering that making it public is essential to the organization’s social and policymaking mission.

    We can talk about article charges, but I think it’s important to step back and consider why we even do what we do. For example, if “high impact” and effect on policymaking is the mission, how might we define, measure, and organize around that? One can hardly blame researchers and academics for operating according to prevailing metrics and incentives; but one can envision alternates to these that may better align with the public missions the researchers, like you, presumably support.

    Any measure of impact by readership, usage, sharing, popular mention, etc. is likely to overwhelmingly favor Open Access over subscription journals, and I would guess policymaking influence correlates more with such usage factors than with traditional measures such as Impact Factor. For impact and policy influence, we might ask whether it’s even necessary or worth the investment to publish in a journal at all; perhaps the effort could be better spent on other forms of outreach such as social media, mainstream media placement, or direct liaison with policymakers. Conceivably, agnostic metrics (e.g. “altmetrics”) that measure impact might show better results from such approaches, and thus validate the research work as “high impact” and high value. This isn’t, of course, what generally happens in the current system — but another system is possible.

    Tim McCormick
    @tmccormick Palo Alto, CA, USA