Re: Nature's vs. Science's Embargo Policy

From: Albert Henderson <>
Date: Thu, 16 Jan 2003 16:54:37 +0000

on Tue, 14 Jan 2003 Barbara Kirsop <ept_at_BIOSTRAT.DEMON.CO.UK> wrote:

> My understanding has always been that the open access movement aimed to
> provide free access to institutional archives - free of costs both to
> the author and the reader. Any costs to be met would be borne by
> institutions, which have an interest in distributing their own research
> output in ways that make the greatest impact. Again, my understanding
> is that costs for setting up an institutional eprint server would be:
> an initial modest setting-up cost, some hand-holding costs for authors
> in preparing documents for the eprints servers, followed by low
> maintainenance costs. These could surely be 'absorbed' by most
> organisations. Essential peer review costs would be readily paid for by
> savings plus automation.

British Economist David J Brown pointed out that the interests of
universities (what you call "institutions") differ from those of research
sponsors (Electronic Publishing and Libraries. 1996. p. 42). This accounts
for the huge gap between growth of research and library spending: the
"library crisis."

Universities will bear the cost of archives if they promise relief from
library spending. The motive of universities is profitability and power
of bureaucracy over faculty. This has been described many times over by
observers ranging from Max Weber and Thorsten Veblen to Robert A Nisbet
and Edward Shils to President Eisenhower and Newt Gingrich. In the present
context, it was demonstrated by the 'windfall' profits taken from library
spending (justified by fair use photocopying) over recent decades. In
spite of opposition by faculty and academic senates, research universities
cut library spending from 6 per cent to less than 3 per cent. They put the
'savings' into already bloated reserves and administrative spending. In
1969, many universities held up payment of publishers' page charges as
a hedge against cuts in defense-related grants!

In contrast, the sponsors of research are motivated to support
dissemination. In the U.S., federal research grants pay publishers'
page charges. The online 'archive' of physics preprints originated at the
U.S. Dept. of Energy. An imitation was proposed by the National Institutes
of Health. Both projects are now out of the hands of government agencies,
being clearly in conflict with a long-standing policy that holds that
the government has no business offering services that can be provided
by the private sector.

Research sponsors often conduct peer review prior to making grants. The
process is not much different from editorial peer review in many
respects. Some agencies also review papers authored in-house prior
to release as preprints or submission to journals. The problem with
U.S. government agencies, I have found many times, is that their review
and other activity is limited and biased by their missions as they
see them.

The spectre of a university running peer review of its own research work
raises considerable doubts when compared to the blind editorial review
run by learned journals. Certainly, all research units should review
their work with the aid of faculty and other researchers. However,
it is not until the work is considered from the outside that it may be
accepted as meeting the norms of its discipline.

This is where associations and other publishers provide unique
services. Not only do publishers provide peer review but an active
dissemination channel that delivers select information to a select
audience. The institutional archive, in contrast, is passive and chaotic,
relying on the reader to search and evaluate a rising tide that probably
includes unreviewed drafts and quackery.

Best wishes,

Albert Henderson
Received on Thu Jan 16 2003 - 16:54:37 GMT

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