Re: BBC News SCI-TECH Boost for research paper access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 25 Mar 2002 19:42:26 +0000

These are comments on Ivan Noble's BBC article:


See also:

> Critics of a project to set up alternative open-access
> scientific journals on the internet say the idea is
> ill-conceived and will undermine quality.

The two critics in question are Sally Morris, whose critique
has already been replied to in the American Scientist Forum

and Albert Henderson, whose points have been
rebutted many, many times in that Forum:

> Financier George Soros announced in February that he was giving
> a $3m grant to the Budapest Open Access Initiative to set up
> open-archiving systems.

> But, says Sally Morris, of the Association of Learned and
> Professional Society Publishers, open-access initiatives will
> undermine existing journals without replacing them.

Open access will free researchers' give-away peer-reviewed research
from obsolete access barriers, maximizing their research impact and
allowing journal publishers to downsize and restructure accordingly.

> "People value peer review and they value research being gathered
> together in things called journals," she told BBC News Online.

Peer review will continue exactly as before there was open access.
Journals will continue to be journals.

What will change is what "gathered in" means. And open access is for
those would-be users whose institutions cannot afford access to each
given paper, either on-paper or on-line. That corresponds to the
majority of potential users, for the majority of the annual 2 million
papers in the 20,000 extant peer-reviewed journals. All of that would
be lost research impact otherwise.

> 'Somebody has to pay'

> "But open archiving means you don't have to go to the journal
> and we believe it could very rapidly undermine the journals
> without putting anything in their place," she said.

For the current level of minimal, toll-based access, the planet is
paying an average of $2000 per paper, paid by that minority of
institutions who can afford the journal that that paper happens to be
in. Peer review costs $500 per paper. The arithmetic makes it
transparent that there is more than enough money to pay for the peer
review, per outgoing paper published, out of each institution's annual
windfall savings on incoming articles. The rest of whatever the
remaining $1500 used to pay for is no longer needed.

> "The problem is that things happen in the loop and somebody has
> to pay for them," she added.

It's a very expensive loop to keep paying for, needlessly,
for very limited access in return.

> Ms Morris says she is concerned that open-access online-archives
> of the kind backed by George Soros will give free access to
> scientific research which, in effect, has been subject to the
> quality control process of a paid-for journal.

Correct. But the quality-control (peer review) only costs $500 per
paper in an open-access system, whereas it costs $2000 per paper
for the minimal, restricted access in the current toll-based system.

> Her concerns are echoed by Albert Henderson, former editor of
> Publishing Research Quarterly.
> 'Errors, propaganda, mysticism'
> "It is a sad day when a well intentioned philanthropist like
> George Soros is duped into foolishly spending millions
> undermining libraries, librarians, authors and referees," Mr
> Henderson said.

Libraries and librarians are groaning under the weight of their growing
serials crisis, authors are being deprived of their potential research
impact, and referees are performing their peer-reviewing services for
free -- all in order to keep sustaining an access-blocking toll-based
system that is no longer necessary and is completely at odds with what
is in the best interests of libraries, librarians, authors, referees,
and research itself.

Albert Henderson's remedy: Give more money (from somewhere) to
libraries, to keep paying the growing prices of the shrinking number
of journals they can still afford.

> "Undoubtedly his goal was the opposite - to help students and
> researchers obtain the information they need.
> "Those who don't drown in the flood may choke first on errors,
> propaganda, mysticism, and other garbage inserted into
> 'archives' presumed to have the same quality as refereed science
> journals," he added.

Sally Morris at least understands that it is the peer-reviewed research
to which the BOAI is devoted to opening access, and raises only the
question of how the peer review will be paid for. Albert Henderson
unfailingly warns that open access somehow lowers quality. Mystical
indeed. Albert Henderson seems to keep confusing toll-gating
(subscription/license tolls) with gate-keeping (peer review).

"Conflating Gate-Keeping with Toll-Gating"

> Supporters of open archiving say it will help free scientific
> research from restrictions on access placed by scientific
> publishers.

and from obsolete extras, and obsolete forms of cost-recovery.

> People costs
> These publishers do not pay the scientists who contribute their
> articles, but do charge readers.
> Ms Morris says that charges are needed to cover costs.

But which costs? The $500 for peer-review is uncontested. But that is
the only remaining essential cost in the era of online institutional
research archiving. And it needs to be paid at the outgoing,
author-institution end, not the incoming, reader-institution end, in
order to make access free for all.

Would journal publishers ever downsize and convert to
author-institution end cost-recovery on their own, if researchers did
not take matters into their own hands by either self-archiving (BOAI
Strategy 1) or submitting their work to open-access journals (BOAI
Strategy 2)?

There is no reason for research and researchers to wait one microsecond

> "The greatest cost is working out that a journal is needed in a
> particular field, then setting it up. Most journals don't make
> money for four to five years," she said.

It is not at all clear what the relevance of this (true) statement is.
Is it a rationale for waiting 4-5 more years for open access, even
though it is now possible immediately? And the immediate objective is
open access to the 2 million annual articles in the 20,000 current
established journals, at last.

> "Most of the costs are people costs. Even if reviews are done
> for free, reviewers look and make suggestions and someone has to
> carry all that through with the author," she added.

Yes, at a cost of $500 per paper. The rest is for on-paper and on-line
extras that are no longer needed -- and certainly no justification for
continuing to hold the peer-reviewed draft hostage to access tolls.

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing free
access to the refereed journal literature online is available at the
American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01):
Discussion can be posted to:

See also the Budapest Open Access Initiative:
Received on Mon Mar 25 2002 - 19:43:51 GMT

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