Re: The True Cost of the Essentials

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 2 Apr 2002 02:50:24 +0100

> On Mon, 1 Apr 2002, Mark Doyle wrote:
> Stevan keeps misrepresenting what I have said. I have not
> advocated waiting on self-archiving at all. Only that in parallel and
> as part of initiatives that create self-archiving or alternative
> journal solutions, attention should be paid to true electronic
> archiving.

I don't think I said you advocated waiting; I drew attention to the fact
that your words (like ALPSP's Sally Morris's words) were (perhaps
understandably, ex officio) ambivalent.

In particular, WHO should pay attention to "true electronic archiving,"
and how?

I mean it is fairly clear what the advocates of immediate open access
are advocating: That researchers should self-archive, now. And it is
fairly clear what they are up against: A huge panoply of prima facie
worries that have already been holding back self-archiving for far too

So I have to repeat: Who should be paying attention to "true electronic
archiving," and how? The authors of the annual 2 million articles
in the annual 20,000 peer-reviewed journals?

I rather think that what those authors should instead be doing is
self-archiving. It is fine for publishers to be paying attention to
true-archiving; it is fine for archivists to be paying attention to
true-archiving. But what it is already long overdue for researchers to
do is neither of these things, but to self-archive.

> It doesn't matter if this is "relatively new" - it is a cost today and
> anyone serious about taking advantage of electronic publishing to
> revolutionize scholarly communication knows that is important.

Indeed. And I think that without the slightest doubt the most important
thing for scholarly communication is open access, now. That is the
revolution that is already well past its due date.

Other revolutions, "true" revolutions, are welcome, and let those who
want to usher them in pay attention to them, but the prime focus of
the attention of the open-access movement should be on open access,

Let's call a spade a spade. (Mark, please correct me if I'm wrong. I
don't wish to misrepresent your position.) At the root of their
(understandable) ambivalence about open access is Mark's (and APS's)
worry that open access could compromise journals' cost-recovery before
an alternative means of cost-recovery is in place. Whereas my (and
BOAI's) worry is that open access is already long overdue. BOAI's every
effort is dedicated to hastening open access. Do you think that
encouraging researchers already long held back by needless worries to
worry about "true" archiving is a way to hasten self-archiving (even if
you are, as I do not doubt, an advocate of self-archiving)?

Yes, "true" archiving is new, and it is not yet clear what its true
costs will be, and what will eventually constitute essentials and what
will constitutes deluxe options. But should any of this deter or
redirect self-archiving efforts today?

> My only interest is in getting this cost recognized and true archiving
> implemented widely so that such costs can be externalized by publishers
> like the APS so that we can make a transition to open access.

And my only interest is in getting self-archiving implemented widely
right now, such as it is, for that would CONSTITUTE open access, rather
than merely being a prelude to it. We have already been preluding for
far too long.

Note the relative emphasis, in the two interests, regarding
cost-recovery and open-access. I don't say APS's (and other
publishers') concerns are not understandable, but I hope you will also
understand BOAI's and the research community's determination not to let
such concerns continue to serve as any kind of a brake on immediate
progress towards open access.

> The soapbox (and resources) of something like BOAI should be used to do
> something concrete beyond just creating free PDF or HTML archives which
> we all know how to do and we all know are cheap.

Why? It would be immediate open access to the cheap PDF and HTML
of all 2 million articles in all 20,000 peer-reviewed journals that
would revolutionize scientific communication irreversibly; "true"
archiving could meanwhile proceed on its own timetable.

Having said that, I am sure that BOAI would be responsive to any
substantive suggestions as to what might be usefully done IN PARALLEL
with its central mission (which continues to be immediate "cheap"
archiving), as long as it did not draw appreciable resources away from
its central mission, or otherwise retard it in any way.

> The current economic model for peer review and archiving is very much
> still tied tightly to publisher restricted access to the article
> content. Undermining this without developing a true alternative to what
> the current system provides is naive and may lead to a true loss for
> the scholarly community.

Unfortunately this is a reiteration of the difference in the main
concerns between publishers and the BOAI that we have already noted:
ensuring future cost-recovery versus ensuring present open-access.
What is not reckoned into it is the cumulative cost to the scholarly
community of continued access restriction -- as well as the hypothetical
nature of the putative future loss.

But what it adds up to is clear, and familiar: "Let's just keep waiting,
rather than rushing into open access; the 'risk' is too great."

> Open access is an APS objective, but it is
> nigh impossible until there is an alternative economic model in place
> for doing the two things we deem most important - peer review and
> creating a true electronic archive (note that disseminating that
> archive is not a requirement, but again there are no viable
> alternatives at this point).

Sorry, I have to disagree on both counts. At least one obvious
alternative cost-recovery model for peer-review-only has already been
described many times, including where the money would come from:

How much the essential cost to be recovered would have to be increased
for true-archiving remains to be determined, but one thing is clear:
It is NOT the case that open access is "nigh impossible" until an
alternative model is in place. It is both very possible and very nigh,
in fact well within reach.

> If the costs continue to go unrecognized
> or are omitted in the debate, then it is impossible for us to make a
> transition without throwing away some aspects that we (as
> representatives of our members) already know to be essential.

But no one is asking APS to make any transitions now. It is researchers
who must make the transition -- to the self-archiving that APS already
advocates (and perhaps also to alternative open-access journals who are
more intrepid about the costs and their recovery),

> The projects Stevan points to are quite admirable. But they are an
> 80/20 approach - 80% of the linking etc. is trivial, the remaining 20%
> quite difficult. The last 5% is usually impossible without labor. With
> a proper XML archive, you get a 100% solution all at once. Publishers
> already automate what they can.

I'll wait for the 100% linking, thanks, and settle for open-access
right now (along with the 80% linking)...

> Stevan argues that only open access and peer review are essential and
> the rest is details about implementation. I find this incredibly naive
> and for me to believe this I would have to throw away my last eight
> years of experience both working on and at a publisher.

Mark, essentials are essentials. If they are indeed essential, then
there is nothing to worry about. Essentials are things users cannot do
without, hence must be willing to pay for (if they can). If
true-archiving is such an essential (and expensive) then it will
continue to be paid for, even when there is the false, open-access
alternative available for free.

What BOAI is far more concerned about is the essential which users who
could not pay for it have had to do without for 350 years, namely,
full-text access to the entire refereed research corpus. For them, the
valuable bonusses that have come from your eight years of work are
luxuries, whereas the "cheap" PDF/HTML are manna from heaven.

> Implementation is much more difficult and costly without proper
> infrastructure. Advocating partial solutions to the full problem (i.e.,
> just focusing on open access) will not lead quickly to the proper
> infrastructure and it ironically makes it much harder for
> well-intentioned publishers like the APS to develop and move to an open
> access model.

APS's very progressive stance on everything pertinent to open access is
to be admired and appreciated. They have removed all the barriers to
open access. It would be churlish to expect them also to applaud it, if
they fear in their hearts that it might destroy their future capacity
to recover costs.

I cannot speak for BOAI, but I am fairly confident that if APS makes
concrete recommendations as to ways in which BOAI's efforts towards
hastening open access can be augmented in such a way as to converge
with APS's own efforts towards open access (without slowing BOAI's
momentum), BOAI will prove very accommodating.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Apr 02 2002 - 02:53:44 BST

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