Re: UK Select Committee Inquiry into Scientific Publication

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 6 May 2004 15:35:33 +0100


                Stevan Harnad

The UK is, with respect to the world's annual peer-reviewed 2.5 million
articles, the contributor of, let us estimate, 10% of those annual
articles (250,000 articles).

The UK is also a consumer of perhaps 40% of the 24,000 peer-reviewed
journals in which those 2.5 million articles appear, as the subscriber
to about the top 40% of them (I am guesstimating, but the exact figures
do not matter). With 73 research universities in the UK, however, this
probably represents closer to about 10%, again, of the annual revenues
of that 40% of the world's 24,000 peer-reviewed journals. (I.e., the
amount spent on buying-in research journal input is probably roughly
proportional to the amount of research output published, whether for a
university or a country as a whole).

So a 10% contributor/consumer (the UK) is trying to have an influence on
two things: incoming journal prices worldwide and the UK's own research
access/impact worldwide. Though weakly connected, the two problems are not
the same. As a consumer consortium (10%), the UK could do some collective
bargaining to drive down journal prices for the UK. This would increase
access somewhat (in the UK), but would do little for UK research impact
worldwide. Let us say that if it drove down world prices too, it would
do a little for UK impact worldwide too.

But this is not what Open Access (OA) is about. For the UK in particular,
OA is about *maximising* UK research impact worldwide, by ensuring that
*all* would-be users worldwide have access to UK research output. (One
also hopes that the world will emulate the UK, by doing likewise for
its own output.)

So -- in the service of *both* objectives (lowering UK's incoming
journal expenditures and increasing UK's outgoing research impact) --
the UK contemplates promoting OA journals by helping to pay UK authors'
publication charges when they publish in those journals. How many such
journals are there? 1075/24,000 at the moment, or about 5%.

So the UK is trying to minimize UK's incoming journal expenditures
(on its 10% share of the payment for the 40% of the journal literature)
as well as to maximise UK's outgoing research impact -- by subsidizing
the author costs for the UK's share (10%) of the content of OA journals
worldwide (5%) (again with some hope that the world will emulate the UK,
by doing likewise).

Supposing the world does follow suit, and likewise subsidises their
own output to the 5% of journals that are OA. This reinforces the 5%
of annual articles worldwide that is OA by having been published in OA
journals. It encourages authors to submit to those journals, and it
encourages the creation or conversion of more such journals. This is
all very good, but how much money does it actually save, how much more
OA does it actually generate, what does it do for UK research impact
(or research impact worldwide), and what are the prospects for OA growth
rate along this road -- the golden road to OA?

We cannot yet use the growth rate of the Directory of Open Access Journals
(DOAJ) to estimate this growth rate, because its
rapid growth in its first year was owing to reporting rate: There
have been OA journals appearing (and sometimes disappearing) now for
a decade and a half. DOAJ first had to catch up with those. In future
years DOAJ will become a reliable indicator of growth rate for OA via
the golden road.

The rate of new OA journal start-ups is not likely to increase
substantially, because the literature is already journal-saturated, and
there are few new journal niches. Most OA journal growth is hence likely
to come from the conversion of existing TA (toll-access) journals to
OA, in one of three ways: (1) The journal remains TA, but makes its
online version OA. (2) The journal abandons the TA cost-recovery model
and adopts the OA (author-end) cost-recovery model. (3) The journal's
editorial board and authorship -- hence, effectively, its title --
defect to an OA publisher.

I would like to make a prediction: It is unlikely that the percentage
of OA by this golden route alone will increase from its current 5%
by much more than a few percent per year, if that, for many years to
come. I base this on the fact that the OA cost-recovery model is still
risky, and involves a definite sacrifice by the journal publisher; hence
conversions are likely to be few until and unless the OA cost-recovery
model has had the time to demonstrate that it is viable.

But so far, this reinforced 5% OA and whatever annual growth it can
manage is all that the UK's (and the world's) researchers can expect as a
return for the UK's (and the world's) plans to help subsidise it. Don't
misunderstand me: It is a good idea to subsidise OA journal publishing
in order to promote OA. But most definitely not as the *sole* measure for
promoting OA, or even the *primary* measure. It only makes sense to spend
money on subsidising OA publication if the other, far more powerful means
of providing OA is systematically promoted as well, and promoted with a
vigor that is commensurate with the far higher proportion of immediate OA
that it is actually providing today (20-40%) and the still higher proportion
of immediate OA that it has the potential to provide (83%-100%).

The green road to OA is authors providing OA for their own TA journal
articles by self-archiving them in their own institutional (or central)
OA Eprint Archives. The "green" comes from the "green light" that 83%
of journals have already given to author self-archiving.

It is in this light that the UK Committee's exceedingly lop-sided
fixation on subsidising the golden road must be evaluated: Why are we
fixated on lightening the UK's journal expenditure burden by subsidising
5% of journals, and what do we hope to gain for UK research impact
thereby? Surely if we want to maximise the impact of UK research
output, we should not direct all or most of our energy and resources
toward trying to crank up that 5% gold OA to 6% or maybe 7% next year:
we should direct our energy (the resource implications are minimal)
toward cranking up the 20-40% green OA to the 83-100% that is within
immediate reach, virtually overnight!

If the UK adopted a policy that Open Access to its own 10% contribution
to the annual 2.5 million articles (i.e., 250,000 UK articles annually)
must be immediately provided by its own authors (or at least those whose
research is supported by UK funding) through OA self-archiving, this
would immediately do immeasurably more for UK research impact (and for the
prospects of the rest of the world following suit) than simply subsidising
and promoting the publication of the UK contribution to the OA journals
that exist to date (i.e., 10% of 5% = 12,500 UK articles annually).

Neither measure will do much for UK journal expenditures, but that is
not in fact the point (and the two should not be conflated).

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 Thu May 06 2004 - 15:35:33 BST

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