Re: UK Select Committee Inquiry into Scientific Publication

From: Richard Poynder <>
Date: Fri, 7 May 2004 12:54:20 +0100

Stevan Harnad wrote:

> No, dear Richard, it is OA and OA publishing that are conflated (i.e.,
> treated as if they were the same thing). OA self-archiving is thereby
> *overlooked* as a means of providing OA, let alone the far
> faster, surer means that it in reality is, and the means that is already
> providing far more OA -- and could easily provide it all: 100%
> The second conflation, as I said (after the conflation of OA with OA publishing,
> overlooking OA self-archiving) is the conflation of the journal-affordability
> problem with the access/impact problem: And you are doing it again!

There are a number of reasons why people conflate things. One is that
the person guilty of the conflation does not understand the difference
between the things they are conflating. Another is that although they do
understand there are differences they do not believe those differences
to be significant enough to treat them as entirely separate things. The
fact that so much conflation takes place around the topic of OA suggests
that the latter is often the case. That is, the differences between OA
and OA publishing, and between the journal-affordability problem and the
access/impact problem, are (to some people) not seen to be significant
enough to keep making the distinction. Where distinctions are made,
perhaps, they are often political distinctions rather than substantive

If self-archiving is being overlooked, by the way, it is perhaps - as I
suggested previously - because although it has the merit of providing
a fast-track route to OA, it is not a long-term solution to anything
in itself, since it is parasitical on (today) TA publishers. It is
a street protest able to gain the attention of the powers-that-be -
and with luck encourage them to seek a solution to the problems of (a)
the journal-affordability problem and (b) the access/impact problem -
but it is not a government in waiting.

The reasons for treating the journal-affordability problem and the
access/impact problem as though they were one problem are not without
merit. Those TA publishers who have allowed self-archiving have taken
the dual gamble that (a) not enough researchers will self-archive to
make a difference (and that if they do the search tools for utilising
the self-archived material will not be competent enough to compete
with their own search tools) and (b) that they can continue to keep
selling their journals to libraries at the same level/maintain their
high profit margins.

Let's leave aside the most obvious interactive relationship between (a)
and (b) and assume that publishers' gamble over (a) is failing and, with
libraries cancelling journals in ever greater numbers, and bargaining
over the cost of electronic bundles in an ever more aggressive way,
that the gamble over (b) is failing too. While self-archiving may be
driven by the access/impact problem and journal cancellations by the
journal-affordability problem, the response to the failure of their gamble
by TA publishers - regardless of whether it is a response related to (a),
or a response related to (b) - is likely to impact both the access/impact
problem (a) and the journal-affordability problem (b).

For instance, in response to the failure to continue selling journal
subscriptions at the same level publishers may harden their attitude
to self-archiving, on the grounds that journal cancellation is being
facilitated by self-archiving. This suggests that both problems are
sufficiently linked to treat them as one problem and that a common
solution is called for.

> I am a hard-pressed librarian. Every year, I can afford fewer and fewer
> journals because of their price-rises. So I have to decide what to cancel.
> Normally, I consult my user logs and users, about which journals they use
> and need most, and I cancel according to a multiple constraint satisfaction
> analysis of the costs/benefits (including journal impact factors).
> I also have a table of the "green" journals -- the 83% that have given
> their green light to self-archiving. So consider the following scenarios:

But if the number of journals libraries can afford to subscribe to is
falling, and libraries are more and more resisting price increases to
electronic access (i.e. the journal-affordability problem) TA publishers
are likely to conclude that they can no longer achieve the level of
profits their shareholders demand. Regardless of what individual journal
cancellation decisions libraries take, therefore, the overall market for
TA publishers (given that TA publishers generally own very large bundles
of journals, not a handful) is becoming less and less attractive. If this
leads them to exit the market there will be inevitable repercussions for
the access/impact problem. Apart from anything else it could lead to a
sudden closure of some of the journals that researchers need in order
to make their impact. Again, the journal-affordability problem and the
access/impact problem are intertwined.

> MPs may be professional puzzlers, but it is the research community that
> can and must act. I had hoped that parliament, as the purveyor of the
> research purse-strings, might help persuade researchers to provide OA.

Would it be correct to say that you believe the only role for government
here is to insist that the output from publicly funded research should be
OA? (A suggestion, by the way, made by both Harold Varmus and Fred Friend to
the UK Select Committee - and so perhaps a proposal that all OA advocates
could agree on?).
Received on Fri May 07 2004 - 12:54:20 BST

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