Re: APA Monitor articles on open access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 4 Feb 2004 23:13:10 +0000

> "Debating access to scientific data" by Tori DeAngelis
> APA Monitor 35(2) February 2004
> Fueled by a San Francisco-based group called the Public Library
> of Science (PLoS), the [open access] movement's idealistic aim
> is to keep taxpayers from what PLoS calls "paying twice" for
> scientific data: once when they fund the government agencies
> that sponsor research, and again when they pay online fees to
> access scientific journal articles. The problem could be stopped,
> PLoS advocates argue, by changing the financial nature of science
> publishing from a system based on subscription fees--which they
> deride as overly profit-based--to one based on fees paid up
> front by authors.

(1) The Open Access (OA) movement is not fueled by PLoS, though PLoS is
one of its important engines.

(2) OA's aim is not particularly about keeping taxpayers from "paying
twice" for scientific data. It is about maximising research impact by
making it accessible to all of its would-be users, regardless of whether
or not their institutions can afford to pay the access-tolls.

(3) Trying to change the financial nature of science publishing from
access-toll-based to submission-fee-based is only one of the two OA
strategies: Providing open access to articles published in toll-based
journals through author self-archiving is the other.

    "The Green and Gold Roads to Open Access"

> the basic data of a research project is rarely included in
> published articles, so the initiative is mandating additional
> work by both scientists and publishers--without a clear plan
> of how the additional work will be paid for. In general...
> researchers do not want their data available to others to
> analyze until the scientists who put the effort into the data collection
> have done all of the analyses that they wish to do.

Data-archiving is an excellent idea
and supported (noncoercively) by the OA movement, but it is not the
primary goal of the OA movement: Open access to peer-reviewed journal
articles (2.5 million published annually in 24,000 journals) is.

> In an effort to increase journal access, PLoS launched its first free
> online journal, PLoS Biology, in October, and it has others in the
> works. No existing journal, however, has proposed to move into PLoS.

I do not think this is correct. The Directory of Open Access Journals
(DOAJ) shows that a number of toll-access (TA) journals (e.g. Cortex) have
become open-access (for their online versions, which are the only ones
at issue). It is true, however, that the number of OA journals to date
(<1000) is considerably smaller that the number of TA journals (>23,000).

But it is also true that the annual number of articles that are OA today
because their authors have self-archived them is at least three times
as great as the annual number that are OA because their authors have
published them in an OA journal, and growing more quickly -- though
traffic along both roads to OA still needs to be increased substantially.

> ...many publishers have been considering and implementing open
> access -- meaning available at low cost -- for some time...

But "affordable access" is not the same as "open access" (and it does
not help get things into focus to misapply the term!):

    "The Affordable-Access (AA) Problem and
     The Open-Access (OA) Problem Are Not the Same"

> Bruce Overmier: "The public may have paid for the research, but
> they haven't paid for its publication and dissemination."

No, but as in the online age its "publication and dissemination" merely
means its peer-reviewing (with the Web taking care of the rest) this
boils down to paying for implementing the peer review -- which the
access-tolls are doing right now for 23,000 out of the 24,000 journals,
and may well continue to do indefinitely. But if and when institutions
should ever stop paying those tolls for one another's incoming research,
they will have more than enough to pay for their outgoing research out
of their windfall savings, as peer-review costs represent less than
one-third of journals' current toll-revenue per article.

    "The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition"

> Under the traditional model of scientific publishing, publication
> costs are covered by individual subscription and library licensing
> fees... Under the PLoS model, journal revenues would instead come
> from authors or their backers, who would pay a lump sum to publish
> their work.

Correct. But in the meantime, open-access can be provided by author
self-archiving within the present system, without waiting for the
remaining 23,000 TA journals to convert to OA.

> Scientists don't always have the money to pay author fees...

Nor do they need to: The alternative is to keep publishing in TA
journals and to self-archive.

> author charges may have the unintended effect of garnering fewer
> submissions.

Possible, for now. That is an empirical test that the brave new OA
journals are currently facing. But OA itself need not wait for the

> many science publishers, including APA, are sympathetic to
> PLoS's goals, but believe in moving toward them in a more
> evolutionary fashion. Many are moving toward more open access
> anyway, to better serve their customers and to take advantage
> of expanding digital and electronic capabilities.

All help is appreciated, but journals need not convert to "gold" to
show their sympathy for OA: They can convert to "green," as 55%
of them have already done:

> The American Physiological Society is another example of an
> organization working to achieve more open access. The society
> was one of the first to make access to its online journals free
> and to publish articles online before they came out in print
> as well as to give authors a choice to pay an initial fee to
> make their articles open access

I could not quite follow: Did APS journals become OA, or were APS
authors given the option to pay to have their individual APS articles
made OA for them by APS (Walker 1998)? (Given that choice, I would
respectfully decline, and instead self-archive them myself, for free.)

    "Free Internet Access to Traditional Journals"

    "For Whom the Gate Tolls?" (1998)

> Other free online journals, such as the British Journal of High
> Energy Physics [JHEP] and the British Medical Journal [BMJ], have
> reported problems attracting high-quality submissions and problems
> related to funding, an article in the Oct. 23, 2003, issue of Science
> (Vol. 302) notes.

I think this is not quite accurate: JHEP, with its impact factor of >7
(well above the top APA journal!) has no trouble attracting the top
articles and authors in its field. It simply had trouble making ends
meet on the OA ("gold") author-end cost-recovery model, so it reverted
to TA (green). All of its articles -- past, present, and future --
continue to be OA, however, via self-archiving.

    "JHEP will convert from toll-free-access to toll-based access"

BMJ is a longstanding and distinguished medical journal which experimented
with a form of open online refereeing which it has since
reconsidered. Nothing there about loss of submissions because of the
gold cost-recovery model either. (BMJ was and remains green.)

    "BMJ/Stanford Pre-Empts E-Biomed?"

> critics also fear quality would suffer if a single entity such
> as the government subsumed the publication process.

No one is speaking of "entities" (governmental or otherwise) subsuming
anything. There are 24,000 peer-reviewed journals, 23,000 of them TA and
1000 of them OA, all of them editorially independent (whether or not
they are published by the same publisher). They vary in their quality
and selectivity (and their resulting impact factors). Everything depends
on their peer-review standards, and these become well-known as the journal
establishes a track-record. Referees are independent, and referee for
free (and referee more readily and rigorously for the journals with the
strong track records and competent editors).

Exactly what do "critics" fear, and how is it related to OA?

> the PLoS plan could dampen the creativity provided by a free
> marketplace, critics worry. "APA risked millions of dollars a
> year before they ever made a penny on PsycINFO"

A free marketplace for what? OA journals and TA journals (in the same
subject niche) are in competition, and so far TA journals are way ahead.

PsycINFO is not a primary publication but a secondary service. That is
not what OA is targeting -- though OA is providing more than its share of
powerful and innovative secondary services too!

> Others ask whether having all scientific information freely
> available to the public would really serve the public's best
> interest.

The primary interest of OA is that of research and researchers:
maximising research access maximises research impact. Maximising
research impact in turn maximises the return on the tax-payer's research

> Vandenbos: "the public would be much better served by having
> better access to synthesizing reviews"

So provide better access to synthesizing reviews! Meanwhile, understand
that the research community is interested in providing maximal access to
its own research output, for the sake of research itself. That is what
the OA movement is all about.

    "Comments on APA Interim Internet Publishing Policy" (1996)

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 Wed Feb 04 2004 - 23:13:10 GMT

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