Re: STM Talk: Open Access by Peaceful Evolution

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2003 15:32:04 +0000

On Wed, 19 Feb 2003, Jean-Claude Guédon wrote:

>s> The [Open Access] movement's efforts and motivation were at
>s> first led by the library community and directed against the publisher
>s> community. The motivation was right, but the target was wrong, and indeed
>s> unfair, and little progress was made. (Prices would probably have come
>s> down anyway, with global licensing developments.)
> The target was anything but wrong given the enormous levels of benefits made
> by some publishers. Whatever else is at work, this extreme level of
> profiteering is part of the issue and must be fought along with other issues.
> And this is where I have difficulties in understanding some of your public
> interventions recently.

I think we have to separate the very different goals of (shall we call
it) the (LTA) "Lower-Toll-Access Movement" and (OA) The Open Access

The pressing needs of the LTA were institutional library budgets and
the serials crisis. What was urgently needed was lower tolls, otherwise
institutions would be getting fewer and fewer journals for a higher and
higher price. The solution for this was consortial licensing
negotiations and the exercise of every effort and collective consumer
power to get lower tolls.

I do not for one moment question that the right target for those LTA
negotiations was publishers! (Who else could one negotiate prices
with?) Those were and are pressing day-to-day concerns for the library
community. But those are short-term solutions, and they are short-term
solutions to LTA, not to OA.

Open Access (OA) has a very different motivation. It is not to solve the
day-to-day budgetary problems of libraries, nor to lower the access-tolls
of journals (as important and necessary and welcome as that continues to
be). It is to *free* access to an anomalous form of writing, different
from all others, namely, refereed research papers -- an author give-away,
written not for royalty-tolls, like other forms of writing, but written
solely for research-impact, which is blocked by *any access-tolls at all*.

(Note that LTA negotiations would have proceeded exactly as they did even
if this were *not* an anomalous corpus: even if it had been like books
or newspapers and magazines, written for fees and royalties. There was
only the slightest hint of the fact that there was something different
here after all, in the much repeated -- but almost 100% erroneous --
library lament that "We have to *buy back* the research we *give*
them!" But that is and never was it at all! The library does not
spend its money buying back its *own* institutional research output:
It has that already! It buys in the research output of all *other*
institutions. There, with a little reflection, one might have begun
to see the real logic of the situation. For so far exactly the same would
have been true of books! So the next token that would need to drop is
that refereed research, unlike books, is *given away* by institutional
researchers royalty-free, purely for the sake of research impact. That
would have shown that it is not in the publishers' hands -- or interest
-- to remedy this, but in the researchers', and their institutions. And
the obvious next step would have been institutional self-archiving of
refereed research output -- not lamenting about or scolding publishers!)

It is in connection with OA -- open access -- that I say (and must
repeat) that it is wrong and unfair to blame journal publishers for not
giving away their own contents for free at this time. There is indeed a
way to do that now, with the advent of the online era, and to still make
ends meet in a much downsized new form of refereed-journal publishing
(namely, open-access [OA] journals). But I think that the 20,000 existing
toll-access journals and their publishers can be understood and forgiven
for not jumping at the opportunity to downsize and convert to open-access
publication right now, of their own accord, under the urging of the
library and research community, when the research community, in whose
interests OA would be ushered in, have not yet done their own part to
show they really need and want this benefit!

Libraries have struggled for lower tolls, to be sure, but that is part
of their natural function, as the consumer-representatives of their
institutional researchers, trying to buy in the most and best journals
at the lowest price. But if researchers, who would be the real
beneficiaries of OA, really want OA, it is for *them* to do what is within
their own power to do now for immediate OA, and not merely to keep
demonizing publishers for not doing it! That futile game could go on
for another decade at least.

What researchers can and should do right now for OA is to self-archive
their own refereed research output ("Self-Archive Unto Others As Ye
Would Have Them Self-Archive Unto You") in their own institutional
Eprint Archives, rather than to keel scolding publishers for not doing
it for them -- *especially* as publishers (e.g., Elsevier) are
now coming round to recognizing their own responsible role in all
this, by formally supporting author/institution self-archiving:

Let the research (and library) community exercise the self-help that is
within their reach, and their goal of OA will be attained, virtually
overnight. Let them keep shadow-boxing irrelevantly and ineffectually
with publishers, and OA will remain far off.

(But of course let their libraries keep trying to strike the best
day-to-day LTA deal with publishers in the meanwhile.)

> Again, your analysis is sketched with too broad a brush. The scientific
> community is no more homogeneous than is the publishers'. Gatekeepers
> themselves play various roles. But some of these gatekeepers become
> "objective" allies (as Marxists would have said in the past) of big
> publishers with huge profit margins.

Peer-reviewed journal editors are us, the researchers, wearing other
hats. But they are almost as irrelevant as publishers to what the
research community needs to do for OA, namely, to self-archive their
own refereed research output in their own institutional Eprint Archives.

> Second problem, scientists and scholars object, as you rightly point out, to
> the restrictions placed on access to their work through tollgating. However,
> what they want to achieve is free access for researchers, not self-archiving.

Dear Jean-Claude. I have a little difficulty following your logic:
Self-archiving is the means, not the end. OA is the end. Of course
it is the end (OA) that researchers want, and not merely the means
(self-archiving). But what is your point? That there is another means? And
what is that? To persuade the publishers of 20,000 toll-access journals
to become OA? And what is the *means* for persuading them to do that? Why
is it in *their* interest to do so now, especially when OA is not only in
our own interests, but we have the means to achieve it (self-archiving),
while rather than using the means, we choose instead to hector journals
to do it for us?

Founding new OA journals and converting toll-access journals to OA is
indeed an additional, complementary means of achieving OA (indeed it is
BOAI Strategy 2, self-archiving being BOAI Strategy 1). But whereas we
know how to create new OA journals, and we know how toll-access journals
could convert to OA if they choose to, we have no idea how to persuade
toll-access journals to convert to OA, for the simple reason that it is
not in *their* best interests to do so, but in *ours*.

Here is the arithmetic, mapped out quite graphically: There are
20,000 toll-access journals, publishing 2,000,000 toll-access articles
annually. Open access to *those* is the target. The path toward the target
by means of BOAI-2 is to create new OA journals that will attract the
authors and contents of the toll-access journals, and to convert those
of the toll-access journals that are willing to convert. That is fine,
and it is taking place, but it is slow, and it involves persuading a lot
of journals to do something that will not make them financially better
off, no matter how much better off it would make us researchers.

And then there is BOAI-1, which is entirely within our own hands, and
could bring everyone OA virtually overnight (and requires only that we
persuade *ourselves* to do what is fully within our power to do!).

Are you suggesting that our time is better spent trying to persuade
toll-access publishers to convert to OA than to persuade ourselves to do
what is already within our own direct reach and power?

> Self-archiving is one method, among several, to achieve this end. Actually,
> libraries by paying for the journals and placing them at the free disposal of
> their research constituency is offering free access and publishers argue that
> libraries should have bigger budgets to extend the freedom of access to
> other, presumably less known and less prestigious, journals.

Jean-Claude, have you converted into an advocate of LTA licensing now,
instead of OA?

>s> The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) is promoting both
>s> self-archiving (BOAI-1) and open-access journal publishing (BOAI-2), and
>s> SPARC is promoting business models for both. The only thing publishers
>s> must avoid at all costs is to appear to be trying to deliberately
>s> block the evolution of self-archiving through restrictive copyright
>s> policies! That would be very bad public relations with the research
>s> community, creating and highlighting a dramatic conflict between what
>s> is obviously in the best interests of research and researchers, their
>s> institutions and funders, and the society benefitting from the research,
>s> on the one hand, versus what is in the best interests of journal
>s> publishers' current revenue streams and business models on the other
>s> -- a conflict of interest that could indeed precipitate a revolution,
>s> now that necessity is so obviously no longer a justification, as it was
>s> in paper days! Far better to allow evolution to take its natural course
>s> peacefully, and adapt to it accordingly.
> That part makes much sense. The question is: do you need to reassure
> publishers about your feelings to get where you get? I think your argument is
> clever; but, at the same time, it is not mutually exclusive with other,
> different, and sometimes more frontal, attacks on publishers.

I think I am saying everything openly: OA is optimal for research and
researchers, feasible but not optimal for publishers. If it is to come
to pass, it will be at the behest of the research community, for whom it
is optimal. The way for them to make its optimality for them felt is by
*doing* it, through self-archiving, right now. That will be a certain
message that OA is what they need, want, and insist on having. But not
bothering to do that, and instead continuing to nag publishers to do it
for them is merely prolonging lost time, lost access and lost impact.

> Best of luck at STM... :-) The composition of their governing board is quite
> instructive, as is the focus of their committees... :-)

The STM is irrelevant. OA does not depend on STM but on us, the research

Stevan Harnad
Received on Wed Feb 19 2003 - 15:32:04 GMT

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