Re: Archivangelism

From: Iain Stevenson <vip_at_SOI.CITY.AC.UK>
Date: Fri, 9 Jan 2004 12:43:28 +0000

Quoting Stevan Harnad <>:

Dear Stevan,

Thanks for responding so quickly and fully to my letter in today's THES. I
was of course responding to Geoff Watts' article last week on open access which
attributed views to you that may have been badly represented. I supect you
and I are never going to agree on some principles, and I don't have a problem
with self-archiving per se, only how it is managed, and the argument that it is
somehow "toll free". There have to be costs in the system: archives need to
be maintained, indices provided, databases managed, telecoms links paid for.
These are all real costs that have to be met somewhere.

The problems that I see are as follows:

(a). Implicitly, the publication model of open-access and self-archiving
reflects the publishing culture of Anglo-American STM research, well-funded
with grants that include publication costs and I suspect also salaried
research assistantsa nd post-docs to do the leg-work in archiving. In the
tradition of social science and humanities research, typified by sole
researchers with smallish (or no) grants, self-archiving probably isn't easily
achieved, unless the institution where the worker is based provides, staffs and
pays for a self-archiving system. And where does that leave the self-funded
independent scholar who is still a feature of many of the soft-sciences? The
other issue is what about the exclusion of researchers from those countries
where lack of computers, poor telecoms and general lack of funding mean they
can't access the self-archiving stores? In the UK, we are still living with
the damage that the first Research Assessment Exercise caused by assuming that
STM-type article publishing was just about the only acceptable form of
research output. Research can be expressed as a music or dance performance, a
sculpture or (as in my own department) a broadcast documentary, a magazine
design, or a round-table debate between industry practitioners and academic
researchers. It is not inconceivable that such research outputs could be
self-archived but it is inconceivable that they could be done without
considerable costs in software, hardware, personnel and know-how. Who pays?

(b) One form of self-archiving that derives from the traditional format of
journal publishing was of course the off-print. The system whereby anyone
could write to an author requesting an off-print did disseminate research
quickly and freely and was inclusive of colleagues everywhere. I still get the
occasional off-print request from eastern europe, india and china but never
from western Europe or the USA. It was a simple, easy system that worked and
although publishers found it increasingly expensive, I do not know of any
publisher, commercial or non-profit, who ever seriously considered abandoning
what was felt to be a form of royalties in lieu. It seems a great pity that
the distribution of requesting and sending off-prints seems to be dying. Why
re-invent the wheel? Even if you have easy electronic access, reading a paper
on paper can often be much more convenient, or indeed pleasurable, and
offprints, although they come by snail-mail, are probably more convenient than

(c) I accept that you may not argue for "publisher-free" journals although
in his article implied that you feel "with the exception of peer review , the
various editorial services that publishers arrange are forms of help that he
( feels he can do without" but I do feel that a lot of the rhetoric
about open-access does caricature publishers as greedy parasites whose time has
come. The whole modern system of peer reviewed quality controlled journals
would not have existed without the planning and envisaging skills of
publishers, even if we have to accept Robert Maxwell as one of the innovators.
Half a century ago, the vehicles for scientific and other research publication
in the english language world were few indeed, and it was publishers who
created the modern infrastructure. Universities and research institutions
could have created journals and it is a question for research why by and large
they didn't. I would argue that publishers (of all kinds) and the research
community have had a creative partnership that has benefitted both, and that
the partnership should continue to be creative in the future.

(d) My final point is that open access self-archiving creates the illusion of
free material without acknowledging the very real costs involved in the
process. The costs are shifted to another locus in the system but they are
there. I think we agree (and disagree with Watts) that open access and
subscription models can co-exist, and that it would be undesirable if the first
totally supplanted the latter, but I am concerned that driving publishers,
commercial and non-commercial, out of business would only serve to impoverish
research rather than enhance it.

I'd be interested in your views on these observations.
Best wishes,

Iain Stevenson.

> In a letter to the Times Higher Education Supplement today
> Iain Stevenson of City University, London, wrote:
> > Despite the evangelism of Stevan Harnad and other enthusiasts for
> > "publisher-free" journals, the open-access model simply shifts the costs
> > of publication from the subscribing institution to authors. Both forms
> > of delivery can and do provide "free at the point of use" access for
> > individual readers.
> Wrong on both counts. (1) I am an archivangelist, not an evangelist for
> "publisher-free" journals (whatever that means!). (2) Toll-access journals
> are only "free at the point of use" to users at institutions that can
> afford to pay the tolls, and that's the point. (Most can't.)
> > Open access is fine if the article authors have grant funds to pay the
> > publication charge
> There are two ways to provide open access: One is for the author to (1)
> publish in an open-access journal that recovers its costs by charging
> the author-institution per article they publish. The other is for the
> author to (2a) publish in a toll-access journals that recovers its costs
> by charging the user-institution for access but to (2b) also self-archive
> the article in his own institutional open-access eprint archive. Whenever
> (1) is not suitable, do (2).
> > The effect of the spread of open access will be the further concentration
> > of research output in well-funded specialities from the Anglo-American
> > realm with the consequent impoverishment of scholarship and scientific
> > debate and the exclusion of papers from non-mainstream disciplines
> > and researchers.
> Both methods of providing open access are open to authors. Over 95%
> of journal are toll-access, making self-archiving the method of choice
> for most authors, wherever they are. The purpose of open access is to
> remedy the current concentration of research access on users at the
> well-funded mainstream institutions.
> > To ensure diversity and equality of publishing opportunity both models
> > of journal publishing need to co-exist.
> Both models of cost-recovery can and will co-exist. What needs to be ensured
> is equality of access.
> > Many learned societies are themselves publishers that depend on journal
> > subscription revenues to support their scholarly activities and keep
> > membership subscriptions lower than they would otherwise need to be.
> It is not clear that researchers, once made aware of the causality
> involved, will consciously choose to subsidise their learned societies
> with their own research impact lost because of access-denial to would-be
> users whose institutions cannot afford the tolls. But in any case,
> self-archiving is an alternative compatible with the co-existence of
> both cost-recovery models.
> > Open access is in danger of applying the most invidious and insidious
> > form of academic censorship: the rich get published and the poor
> > don't.
> No, it eliminates access-denial and its resultant impact loss, and does
> so without requiring any author to give up publishing wherever he wishes.
> Stevan Harnad
> NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
> access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2004)
> is available at the American Scientist Open Access Forum:
> To join the Forum:
> Post discussion to:
> Hypermail Archive:
> Unified Dual Open-Access-Provision Policy:
> BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
> journal whenever one exists.
> BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
> toll-access journal and also self-archive it.

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