Responses to Walt Crawford's reflections on FOS

From: Peter Suber <>
Date: Tue, 2 Jul 2002 14:14:25 +0100

In the July issue of _Cites & Insights_, Walt Crawford devotes his opening
essay to reflections on the FOS movement.

In the process he comments on:

(1) my essay on why FOS progress has been slow, from FOSN for 5/15/02,

(2) my follow-up in FOSN for 5/23/02,

(3) Jeffrey Young's article in the _Chronicle of Higher Education_ on the
Public Library of Science
(accessible only to subscribers)

(4) and his own article in the May 2002 _EContent_, "Electronic Access to
Scientific Articles: Another Perspective"

He also comments on FOS positions taken by Stevan Harnad and Andrew
Odlyzko. Here are some responses.


Walt writes:
>If, after you read these articles [by Suber and Young], you’re satisfied
>that your Grand Solution works for the future, keeps scholarship healthy,
>keeps previous resources available and libraries healthy, supports
>indexing and abstracting, and has a solid chance of success—well, then, I
>wish you well.

Yes, I'm still satisfied. That may go without saying. But Walt implies
that my articles, at least together with Young's, cast doubt on the merits
of FOS. (Young's article reported that the PLoS boycott was a "bust", but
that the PLoS founders have not given up and plan to launch a series of
open-access journals.)

What they do instead is show why progress has been slow. It's important to
distinguish explanations of slow progress, and even recognition of
obstacles, from grounds for pessimism. Martin Luther King repeatedly
pointed out that progress toward civil rights was slow, but he never
interpreted the obstacles as reasons to think civil rights were
unattainable or undesirable. The analogy doesn't have to hold on all
points to hold on the important point. Compared to the pace permitted by
our opportunities, progress toward FOS has been slow. I enumerated eight
reasons why, but none them implies that FOS is unattainable or
undesirable. Neither does the failure of the PLoS boycott and the PLoS
shift to a new strategy.

Like Walt, I want to keep scholarship and libraries healthy and preserve
support for indexing and abstracting. I believe that all other FOS
proponents do as well. FOS is not in conflict with these goals, just
moving more slowly than it might. Or, if anyone does see a conflict
between these goals and the goals of FOS, then I'd like to see a more
specific account of it.


After summarizing my list of reasons why FOS progress slow, Walt adds, "If
I take issue with any of these, it’s the concept that print journals are
inherently undesirable, and I’m not sure that’s what Suber is saying."

Walt's suspicion is correct; that's not what I was saying. I criticized
journals that still demand that authors transfer their copyright, but
otherwise I didn't criticize any kind of journal. I merely pointed out
that most of the prestigious journals are still priced and printed, which
explains why most authors continue to submit articles to them. I also
pointed out that journals might be daunted by the prospect of adopting a
novel funding model that would allow them to dispense with subscription and
licensing fees.

Because print journals cost much more to produce than online-only journals,
print journals rarely have open-access editions. However, it's important
that there is a growing number of exceptions, for example _BMJ_, _Cortex_,
and the BMC journals. The main reason why print journals are not
"inherently undesirable" is that they are compatible with open-access, even
if the conjunction is uncommon. I've made this case in many places, most
recently in the inaugural issue of the BMC's _Journal of Biology_.

While print journals are not "inherently undesirable", most of them are too
expensive to adopt open access, the form of distribution required to
maximize impact for authors and access for readers. But rather than cast
them as enemies or obstacles, it's more constructive to see them simply as
the competition.

As the BOAI says in its FAQ,

>Journals that do not wish to provide open access have nothing to fear from
>BOAI except competition. We do not endorse the piracy or expropriation of
>their intellectual property. We do not demand that they change their
>access policies and do not threaten them with boycotts or other sanctions
>if they do not change. We encourage them to offer open access, and will
>help find the money to defray the costs of the transition to open access
>for journals willing to make the change....Our project is constructive,
>not destructive....For our constructive activity to succeed, no
>institution or business needs to change its policies. However, we welcome
>the assistance of all who share our vision.


Walt criticizes Stevan Harnad: "[H]is proposed network of archival
repositories makes sense *as part* of the scholarly system —and it’s also
(I think) a key part of FOS.

Stevan can speak for himself; but as I read him, he agrees with
this. Self-archiving is only part of the solution and must be complemented
by journals. It's not self-sufficient because it doesn't include peer
review. Self-archiving is the component of the solution that provides
immediate open access to new work, and that doesn't depend on the (slow)
adoption of new funding models by journals. It's the component of the
solution that doesn't depend on anyone but the author and to some extent
the author's institution. But it needs another component to provide peer
review, and Steven is emphatic that peer review must be part of any
complete solution.


>But SPARC also serves a purpose —and SPARC leads to priced journals, some
>of them in print form, not the pure "free online" model that Suber
>favors. As part of a network of efforts to make access to STM articles
>more affordable and more assured in the long term, SPARC is a good tool;
>in FOS terms, I have to assume that it’s a negative force.

I love SPARC; it's a very positive force.

First, SPARC lends its assistance to both free and affordable journals, not
just the latter. To see the free journals with SPARC support, look for the
bright yellow icon on this page,

Second, even affordable journals count as progress. Again, to quote the

>We hope these initiatives [to make journals affordable] succeed, because
>their success will make scholarly literature more accessible than it is
>today. However, we believe that the specific literature on which BOAI
>focuses, the peer-reviewed research literature in all disciplines, can and
>should be entirely free for readers. If the initiatives working on
>affordable literature are persuaded by the case we have made, then we
>welcome them to join us. If they are not persuaded, then we wish them
>success in making progress toward wider access.


If Walt's suspicion of grand solutions is based on a suspicion of haste in
making fundamental change where the stakes are high, then I share
it. However, I wouldn't characterize the goal of open-access to
peer-reviewed research literature as a grand solution in this sense. The
main reason is that gradualism and flexibility are possible in selecting
the means to this end. I endorse both.

So does the BOAI:

>There is no need to favor one of these solutions [for funding journals]
>over the others for all disciplines or nations, and no need to stop
>looking for other, creative alternatives....While we endorse the two
>strategies [of self-archiving and open-access journals], we also encourage
>experimentation with further ways to make the transition from the present
>methods of dissemination to open access. Flexibility, experimentation,
>and adaptation to local circumstances are the best ways to assure that
>progress in diverse settings will be rapid, secure, and long-lived.

(If I keep quoting the BOAI, it's because it represents the kind of FOS I
advocate. This is no accident; I was one the drafters.)

Here's how I put the case for gradualism --and incidentally, the benefits
of slow progress-- in a letter to the _Chronicle of Higher Eudcation_ for
October 12, 2001. The letter responds to _Chronicle_ article by John Ewing
and a _Nature_ article by Richard Kaser, which both argued against haste in
making fundamental changes to the scholarly communication system.

>It is far-fetched to assume that the journal system will change suddenly
>or before we adequately understand what is happening. Free online
>scholarship is emerging gradually, one journal or archive at a time. The
>slow pace of change provides all the time we need to monitor our
>experiment, measure its impact, make midcourse corrections, and chart an
>informed future course
(accessible only to subscribers)

John H. Ewing, No Free Lunches: We Should Resist the Push to Rush Research
(accessible only to subscribers)

Richard Kaser, When allegory replaces rational thought, science had better
watch out


Walt: Thanks for your public reflections on FOS. I wish that all those
who were unpersuaded were as open to persuasion as you are, and as willing
to read and respond to the arguments.

      Best wishes,

Peter Suber, Professor of Philosophy
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374

Editor, Free Online Scholarship Newsletter
Editor, FOS News blog
Received on Tue Jul 02 2002 - 14:14:25 BST

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