Re: Zeno's Paradox and the Road to the Optimal/Inevitable

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 22 Jul 2003 21:32:54 +0100

On Tue, 22 Jul 2003, David Goodman wrote:

> For administrators in gleeful expectation of the "library windfall,"
> I note that the percent of the total US research university library
> budget devoted to serials costs in 2002 was only 26%.
> This covers print journals, electronic journals, databases, newspapers,
> etc. ; it includes all fields of study. If 3/4 of it were science
> journals, that comes to less than 20% of the total library expenditure.

By the same token, that means that the library (science) serials crisis
pertains to less than 20% of the total library expenditure.

So why don't we just set aside all thoughts about both windfall savings and
serials crises and concentrate instead on what is immediately reachable,
namely, open access (through self-archiving)?

>sh> And yet the library serials budget *is* relevant, for, if open-access
>sh> should prevail, it is the library that will enjoy the annual windfall
>sh> savings on its erstwhile serials toll expenditures ....
>sh> For by then the institutional library windfall savings will be more
>sh> than enough to pay the peer-review costs for all institutional research
>sh> output several times over.
> If half the science research journals were converted immediately,
> which is extremely optimistic, it would provide
> a potential source of $1.8 million for the typical university.
> If half the 2000 or so annual papers from a university were so
> published, that's $1,800 per paper for all costs.
> The total costs will inevitably equal the money spent--the only way to
> make the system more affordable is to reduce the costs,
> not merely redistribute them.

Not if journals downsize to peer-review alone, and offload access and
archiving on the institutional eprint archive network.

But why are we wasting our time counting these chickens when the eggs
have not yet been laid (self-archived)? This is an empty exercise,
and yet another of the 1001 red herrings keeping us from laying the
eggs! As I keep saying over and over (and the fact that researchers
have not gotten around to doing it yet does not make it one whit less
true!): universal open access can be achieved virtually overnight through
self-archiving *and it does not follow at all* that toll-access journals
will then lose the revenue to continue as toll access journals (and
to pay for peer review), and will hence have to convert to open-access
publishing. That might or might not happen. The toll-access demand
might still continue to sustain toll-access journals for a long time,
perhaps even indefinitely. It is all pure (and unnecessary) speculation
one way or the other. But what is *not* speculation is that researchers
*can* self-archive immediately, and that once they do, they will have
open access immediately (and without any need to fret about the sequel,
transitions, windfalls, budget-lines, etc.).

Yet here we are instead haggling over whether open-access publishing
will cost $1800 per paper or $500 per paper! And meanwhile the eggs are
not getting laid!

Necessity is the mother of invention. If/when there is ever cost-cutting
and downsizing pressure, Darwin will take care of sorting the essentials
from the inessentials. Let's just focus on immediate open access (and
its sure rewards) right now.

> The reason why librarians must be concerned about this, is the
> unfortunate probability that the money saved from library acquisitions
> will not be used to finance the publication system, but for
> general university administration. This is not an improvement
> over the present, where a considerable part of the expense is used for
> general administrative purposes by the publishers.
> This explains why many libraries are willing to pay subscriptions to
> alternative publishers: the basic rule of library budgeting is that if
> you do not spend all the money, you will lose it forever.

Self-archiving does not threaten library budgets, it simply offers
immediate open access to researchers, thereby maximizing research
impact. Does it really make any sense at all to add caveats and
conjectures about library budget-lines to the 1001 antigens already
causing Zeno's Paralysis among researchers worldwide?

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):

Discussion can be posted to:
Received on Tue Jul 22 2003 - 21:32:54 BST

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