Re: UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) review

From: Jan Velterop <>
Date: Fri, 29 Nov 2002 14:33:46 +0000

On 28 November 2002 Barry Mahon <> wrote:

> This whole argument (OA is better/cheaper/more efficient.....etc and
> misunderstood) runs the risk of becoming like politics and religion
> as subjects for argument, ideology replace reality. Despite all the
> hype, and noise scientists still seem to prefer the well
> known and well understood paths to publishing - at the moment.

In the way that children prefer chocolate and sweets over vegetables,
perhaps? I'm, however, convinced that is so, because they don't realise, or
at least not fully realise, the benefits of open access publishing.

> I would wager that they understand quite well the concepts and
> advantages/disadvantages of OA but so far they consider the tried and
> tested to be as good if not better. The quote above about circularity
> is one of the measures of this.

I'm not so sure that they do understand the concepts and benefits of open
access. That is simply because they haven't really been exposed to them. The
librarians have been very good in making it seem to many scientists as if
access to their desired journal titles is free and easy. The researchers
don't feel the pain. To them, as readers, it may often seem as if large
parts of the literature are open access. The conventional science publishing
industry is like the catfood industry: they don't sell to the consuners,
they sell to the carers, the ones with the wallets. Little wonder that
scientists are often not aware of the issues of serials crises and open
access solutions. If they were, many would be likely to take an attitude to
publishing their research that is similar to their attitude towards
scientific problems: experiment and 'push the envelope'. The theory and the
hypotheses are clear. And experimental results are now, slowly but steadily,
becoming available, such as a generally higher rate of citation for articles
that are freely accessible to anyone.

> One of the possible problems of OA is the lack of simple (i.e. easy
> to access/available off a shelf) sources with well known titles and
> an inherent quality perception.

I'm sure that is one of the problems, just as it is a problem that there
aren't any healthy vegetables that taste like chocolate. Should that be a
reason not to try and move forward and work on the creation of sources,
titles and quality perception of open access?

> The same is true of RAE, in a way, it is perhaps crude but it is simple
> and it fits the understanding of present publication patterns by those
> who advise the governement on such matters as RAE (we must not forget
> that these decisions are taken with the agreement of at least some of
> those who are so assessed).
> The newer ways of publishing have, like most new ideas, to overcome some
> 'not invented here' like reaction, some competitive jealousy from those
> economically affected and inertia. In addition OA has to prove that the
> writing will be seen by those who matter, including those performing RAE,
> and be easly to find when you are looking for citable material.

All true, and all the more reason to spread convincing arguments for open
access in order to overcome these hurdles.

> OA will become an accepted part of the research results dissemination
> process, it will be incorporated in whatever sorts of RAEs we will have
> and OA originated material will be identified and quoted like everything
> else. Do we have to agree that it will replace all the other methods?? In
> my opinion, no, we can discuss that as one scenario, if we wish, but
> let it not become the sine qua non of the discussions.

We don't have to agree beforehand that open access will replace conventional
publishing methods, as long as we can agree that there are clear, distinct
and worthwhile benefits in open access that are likely to contibute
materially to a significant increase of the pace of scientific discovery,
quite possibly at an appreciably lower aggregate cost than the conventional
system. Even then, open access may never replace conventional publishing
methods entirely (new methods never do: there is still a niche for
sailboats, horse and carriage, tophats, coattails, leather book covers, you
name it), but it deserves to be taken seriously and promoted for the sake of
scientific progress.

Jan Velterop
Received on Fri Nov 29 2002 - 14:33:46 GMT

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