Re: Archivangelism

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 10 Jan 2004 23:19:23 +0000

On Fri, 9 Jan 2004, Iain Stevenson wrote, in response to Matthew
Cockerill of BiomedCentral (BMC):

> Open-access CANNOT be free compared to subscription journals because
> authors pay and when they can't, they don't get past first base.

Unless authors self-archive. (Iain is again forgetting here that there
are *two* ways an author can provide open-access to his article: (GOLD)
by publishing it in an open-access journal, if a suitable one exists,
and otherwise (GREEN) publishing it in a suitable toll-access journal
but also self-archiving it in an open-access eprint archive.)

But even in the golden case, in which the author-institution pays to
publish the article, it is counterintuitive yet perfectly correct to
say that the access to it is free, because "free" takes the dative case:
Free *to whom*? one must ask. Free to the user-institutions. Substitute
"toll-free" for "free" and maybe it will help.

That doesn't mean there are no costs to taking the golden road, or that
no one pays those costs. It just means that the user-institutions do
not pay. (And if the author-institution cannot pay, there is always the
green road to open-access provision.)

> It has not been explained to me what the fundamental difference is
> between a library subscribing to a journal so a member can read it
> for "free" or in another part of the forest, a research funder paying
> a publication access fee so the same reader can read it for free at
> biomedcentral? both models have costs hidden from the reader, but the
> costs are real nonetheless.

User-institutions pay access tolls to give their own users access to
some research output from other institutions; author-institutions pay
publication charges to give access to their own research output to all
other institutions (in order to maximise its impact).

The reader/user is not the one paying the tolls because in this peculiar
literature (24,000 refereed journals) it is always the reader/user's
*institution* that pays for the access, if the access is tolled. But
if you want to see it from the reader/user's point of view, you can:
I cannot read/use articles for which my institution cannot afford to
pay the access tolls. And that is what this is all about!

> It couldn't be (wicked thought) that Matthew has a competitive commercial
> publication model to promote--or perhaps milkmen in his neighbourhood
> pay him to deliver his breakfast pinta!

BMC has a competing cost-recovery model and a competing product. But
so what? This is about open-access provision, not about BMC's or anyone's
product or model. If you want to impugn motives, impugn those of
the author, who for some perverse reason, does not wish to continue losing
his potential research impact because of access-denial to would-be users
whose institutions cannot afford toll-access to the journal in which
his research happens to appear!

So the author either takes the golden road, of providing open access
to his article by publishing it in an open-access journal like BMC,
if a suitable open-access journal exists, or he takes the green road,
of providing open access to his article by publishing it in a suitable
toll-access journal and also self-archiving it in his institution's
open-access eprint archives.

Self-interest indeed. Guilty, as charged. But it is the same self-interest
that makes the author publish in the first place: in order to maximise
the visibility, uptake, usage, application and citation of his research
findings, thereby maximising his contribution to research progress and
also maximising the publish-or-perish rewards to himself and his
institution, in terms of salary, promotion, tenure, research funding,
overheads, prestige and prizes. (This also maximises, by the by, the
returns on the investment of the tax-payer in the funds that support
the research.)

Access-denial has the exact opposite effect.

> Seriously, I'm not arguing that either model is better than the other--they
> are opposite sides of the same medal. I don't believe in fairies, santa
> claus or toll-free publishing. Every act of publication MUST involve real
> costs in the information chain. An archiving system isn't just "there";

Nobody is talking about santa claus. The nontrivial cost is the cost
of implementing the peer review (about $500 per article). The cost
of archiving is trivial and it is a waste of time to even mention

The only other nontrivial cost-question concerns the rest of the
(current) $1500 average cost of publishing an article: Will we really
want to keep on paying the costs of copy-editing, mark-up, PDF generation,
print runs, distribution and fulfillment in the open-access era? Can't
the author's word-processor and the author's institutional OAI-compliant
eprint archives take care of all that, at a possible savings of 66% over
the money that is changing hands right now, to provide only toll-access,
if the golden cost-recovery model ever comes to prevail?

> someone pays for it, ditto the access fees that pay Matthew's salary.
> Nothing wrong with that, but don't claim that it's just "economics". Si
> eppur muove, as a certain non-peer reviewed scientist once remarked, but
> then he took on the Vatican.........

Peer-reviewed journal publication will downsize to the essentials in
the open-access era. Let's not prejudge what those essentials will turn
out be (i.e., how many people's salaries, for doing what). Let us just
concentrate on providing open access, now.

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.
Received on Sat Jan 10 2004 - 23:19:23 GMT

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