Re: UK Select Committee Inquiry into Scientific Publication

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 11 Jul 2004 21:20:48 +0100

It is not clear whether James Robinson's Sunday Observer article is
an accurate harbinger of the UK parliamentary report. (It makes a bit of
a gaffe, for example, in describing the Wellcome Trust as a publisher,
rather than a funder of biomedical research.) I have appended comments
on the off-chance that the article might actually contain some grain
of truth about the embargoed contents of the report (to appear July 20),
rather than merely speculation.

> MPs to call for free online access to science journals
> James Robinson
> Sunday July 11, 2004
> The Observer
> A powerful group of MPs will this week call for legislation to force
> scientific publishers to make their journals available free of charge on
> the internet.

If the UK plans to introduce any legislation on behalf of Open Access
(OA) to research articles, the UK's weight is best used to force the
UK's researchers to make their own published research articles OA,
rather than just to try to force the world's journal publishers to become
OA publishers.

(1) It is over its own (UK-funded) research *output* that the UK has
influence, and it is there that some benign force on behalf of OA and its
benefits can and should be exerted.

(2) There are 24,000 peer-reviewed research journals worldwide, each
varying in the proportion of articles that they publish from UK
researchers (most publish few UK articles, many publish none at all).

(3) Hence UK legislation based on research *input*, published by non-UK
researchers in non-UK journals worldwide, designed to try to force those
journals to become OA journals, is likely to have a rather limited effect
on immediate OA (except if it generates a domino effect, inspiring
similar legislation in other countries too).

(4) Such a domino effect is unlikely, but even if it were to happen
eventually, it is likely to be slow.

(5) More likely is time-consuming (and not OA-generating) public debate
about whether a government can or should legislate the cost-recovery
model of journals, with resistance from both journal publishers and
UK researchers.

(6) In contrast, legislation mandating OA-provision for all UK research
output can be immediately implemented, would immediately generate a
substantial amount of OA, would be far more likely to generate a rapid
domino effect worldwide, and would also be complied with willingly by

       Declaration of Institutional Commitment to implementing the
       Budapest Open Access Initiative the Berlin Declaration on
       open-access provision and the WSIS Declaration of Principles and
       Plan of Action:

       Swan & Brown's (2004) JISC/OSI author survey "asked authors
       to say how they would feel if their employer or funding body
       required them to deposit copies of their published articles
       in... repositories. The vast majority... said they would do
       so willingly."

       Swan, A. & Brown, S.N. (2004)
       JISC/OSI Journal Authors Survey Report.

       Swan, A. & Brown, S.N. (2004) Authors and open access
       publishing. Learned Publishing 2004:17(3) 219-224.

(7) As a side-effect, UK legislation requiring UK researchers to provide
OA to their own research article output by self-archiving them on their
own institutional websites would encourage more of the remaining 17%
of journals worldwide that are not yet "green" (i.e., have not given
their green light to their authors to self-archive their articles on
their institutions' websites) to become green. 83% are already green,
and the percentage is growing. See:

(8) Encouraging more journals to give their green light to their authors
to provide OA to their own articles by self-archiving them (and forcing
the UK's own authors to act on those green lights, for the benefit
of their own research and UK research in general) is a reasonable,
immediately feasible means and end for generating OA.

(9) Trying instead to force publishers to make the sacrifice and take
the risk of converting to the not-yet-tested "gold" cost-recovery model
(even if the UK mandates the funds to cover the author publishing
costs) is likely to have little OA-generating effect worldwide, and
unless coupled with a policy of OA provision for UK article output,
it is likely to have little credibility either.

> The recommendation will be included in a report by the House of Commons
> Science and Technology select committee, which will call on the
> government to support so-called 'open access' websites that do not levy
> a charge.

It is not at all clear what this means. If it means support for UK
institutional websites in which UK researchers make their own published
articles OA by self-archiving them in their own institutions' OA websites,
toll-free for all, then that would be a very sensible move, and likely
to have great repercussions worldwide for OA (apart from making all of
the UK's own research output immediately OA).

But if it instead means trying to force the journals (rather than the
UK authors themselves) to make their published articles OA, then it
will have far less effect, and will be another opportunity missed. (The
Observer article shows some confusion on this question: perhaps the
author did not see the embargoed report yet and is merely guessing?)

> Supporters of the open access model argue that medical research should
> be available free of charge, partly so that it can be accessed by
> scientists in the developing world who cannot afford to subscribe to
> expensive journals such as the Lancet, published by Reed Elsevier.

OA is not just about medical research; nor is it about developing-world
access to expensive journals. It is about research progress and
productivity itself: OA maximises research impact by maximising research
access: Research cannot be used, built-upon, cited and applied if
it cannot be accessed. OA is intended to provide toll-free access to
research for all would-be users worldwide, rather than (as now) to
only those users whose institutions can afford the access-tolls of the
particular journal in which it happens to be published.

> Reed has a 17 per cent share of the global scientific publishing market
> and its shares have been marked down by the City as open access, which
> accounts for just 1 per cent of the market, has grown.

This is a bit garbled. But if it means Elsevier/Reed publishes about 17%
of existing journals or receives about 17% of institutions' journal
expenditures, it might be correct. What the 1% means is unclear. And
what is missing from this assessment is that Elsevier's 1800+ journals
are all 100% green, so their c. 200,000 annual articles could all be made
OA overnight, through a few keystrokes -- if their authors were willing,
encouraged or required to make them OA, by performing those few

To keep rattling on about Reed/Elsevier pricing and affordability and
market share is simply to miss the point (and to fail to do anything
useful about OA).

> Earlier this month, the Wellcome Trust unveiled a project to place a
> number of its most prestigious journals online free of charge.

Nothing of the sort: Wellcome (like the UK Select Committee) is
contemplating adopting a policy in support of OA, but, like the UK
Select Committee, is not yet clear on what that policy should be. And
like the UK Select Committee and many others, Wellcome has been too
focussed on the journal pricing/affordability problem rather than the
research access/impact problem itself, and hence too focussed on the
"gold" solution of converting journals to the OA journal cost-recovery
problem (and providing the Wellcome-funded researchers with the author
funds to cover the publication costs) instead of on the "green" solution
of converting Wellcome-funded researchers to providing OA to their own
articles by self-archiving them.

    "Wellcome Trust statement on open access"

Wellcome, like the UK Committee, may still come round to the optimal
solution, upon a little further reflection.

> Under open access, scientists pay a fee to have their research
> published.

Incorrect! Under Open Access (OA), all would-be users worldwide
have toll-free access to journal articles. That's all. The journal's
cost-recovery model (and whether it is the journal or the author that
provides the OA) is *not* part of the definition or meaning of OA. This
journalist is not writing here of OA itself, but only of the golden
road to OA (OA journal-publishing). This omits the much wider, faster,
and already far more advanced green road to OA (OA self-archiving):

> Currently, the cost of printing research and having it
> reviewed by other scientists to ensure accuracy is borne by publishers.

Correct, but irrelevant. OA is not about who pays those costs but about
who has access to the articles.

> Reed has responded by placing back issues of its medical journals,
> including the Lancet, online, but users still have to pay a
> subscription fee.

Reed has also responded by giving its authors the green light to
self-archive their articles -- a far more important and relevant
development for OA:

    "Elsevier Gives Authors Green Light for Open Access Self-Archiving"

> The company argues that Britain as a whole would be a
> net loser from any wholesale move to the open access model, because
> British researchers produce far more research than they consume.

But moving to OA does not mean moving to the OA journal cost-recovery
model, and Britain as a whole would be a net gainer if it made all its
own research output OA, for all consumers worldwide, by self-archiving

    Brody, T., Stamerjohanns, H., Vallieres, F., Harnad, S. Gingras,
    Y., & Oppenheim, C. (2004) The effect of Open Access on Citation
    Impact. Presented at: National Policies on Open Access (OA)
    Provision for University Research Output: an International meeting,
    Southampton, 19 February 2004.

    Harnad, S., Carr, L., Brody, T. & Oppenheim, C. (2003) Mandated
    online RAE CVs Linked to University Eprint Archives: Improving the
    UK Research Assessment Exercise whilst making it cheaper and easier.
    Ariadne 35 (April 2003).

Stevan Harnad

If you have adopted or plan to adopt an institutional policy of providing
Open Access to your own research article output, please describe your
policy at:

    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.

A complete Hypermail archive of the ongoing discussion of providing
open access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2004)
is available at:
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Received on Sun Jul 11 2004 - 21:20:48 BST

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