Re: A Note of Caution About "Reforming the System"

From: Richard Wellen <>
Date: Sat, 11 Sep 2004 04:38:27 +0100

I'd like to thank Stevan for adding me to the list and for affording me
the chance to respond to some of the criticisms (below) he made of my
article a few days ago.

The critical dimension of my argument was that any reform - or even
evolution - toward one or more versions of open access will entail
changes to the institutional ecology of scholarly communication. Much of
my discussion deals with "author-pays" journals, and so on. As for the
distributed self-archiving approach, I observe that Stevan and others
advocate it as a scientifically beneficial dissemination solution,
requiring not much more than bringing in relatively cheap and effortless
supplemental archiving by researchers and their institutions which will
become more natural and normal with time (as Stevan foresees). However,
this is not the end of the story. If the very practices of distribution
and unpriced access it calls for were to reach critical mass there would
likely be a non-neutral change in the incentives impacting the
publishing game for all actors involved (publishing intermediaries,
authors, editorial boards, etc.). In this case (I argue):

    "Journals would still be indispensable both for peer review and for
    mapping and filtering the world of scholarly achievement yet fewer
    subscribers would want or need to pay for them" - ("Taking on
    Commercial Scholarly Journals..,"/ Journal of Academic Ethics/, 2
    (1) p.115)

My view is that we shouldn't ignore the problem of what might happen to
the journals. However, in his response to me Stevan writes:

> "My speculations about what journals may or may not have to do in
> response to 100% self-archiving are merely speculations,
> like everyone else's."

My question is: when we advocate for something why shouldn't we also
think about its possible or foreseeable consequences? Stevan himself is
concerned about consequences, such as eliminating lost "research impact,
which means lost research productivity and progress."

But productivity is not the only value at stake, and maybe increased
productivity doesn't always equal progress. At a certain point the
prevalence of supplemental unpriced access to the journal literature
could increasingly affect the *how* and *what* of many aspects of
journal publishing and its social and intellectual forms. What we lose
(or gain) in this respect can't be measured by Stevan's criterion of
research productivity. If this is the case my concerns can't be reduced
to idle speculation. My larger worry is that research communities,
fields, approaches and ambitions that can thrive on
non-subscription-based funding and self-organized (fully or partially
disintermediated) communication likely will fare better than those that
can't. I admit that I am pointing to a dilemma without offering much in
the way of solutions or alternatives.

In any case, one person has asked me to post a version of the article
on the public Internet, and I see that this publisher allows a "pale
green" approach to self-archiving. So, the pale green version is now
available here:

Richard Wellen
Division of Social Science
York University
Toronto, Ontario

Stevan Harnad wrote:

>Commentary on:
> Richard Wellen, Taking on Commercial Scholarly Journals: Reflections
> on the 'Open Access' Movement, Journal of Academic Ethics, 2, 1
> (2004) pp. 101-118.
>This is a good article, although the author has perhaps over-complicated
>what is happening and why. It is understandable that he should do so,
>however, as developments are not always described or seen (or portray
>themselves) in the most straightforward way.
>What is really happening is extremely simple: For hundreds of years the
>way peer-reviewed research findings have been reported is that scholars
>first submit them to journals for peer review. These journals have
>known public track-records for their quality standards. Once an
>article has been accepted and certified as having met the peer-review
>standards of a given journal, it is published -- which used to mean just
>being printed and distributed on paper. Those users -- scholars/scientists
>and their institutions, for the most part -- who can afford access to
>the journal in which they are published can then use them; those who
>cannot, cannot.
>The only thing that has changed is that there is now a new form of access:
>online access. In principle, every scholar/scientist could access every
>one of the 2.5 million articles published yearly in the 24,000 peer-reviewed
>journals -- if he or his institution could afford the access-tolls.
>But no individual or institution can afford all the access-tolls; most
>can afford only a small fraction of them.
>The resulting losers are not just the would-be users who cannot afford the
>access, but the authors of the articles, who lose all those would-be users'
>potential impact (in the form of reading, usage, and citation). The other
>losers are the authors' employing institutitions and research-funders,
>who also lose all that research impact, which means lost research
>productivity and progress.
>And the remedy is super-simple, even though it has been obscured by
>speculative and ideological talk about "reforming the system," with
>reforms ranging from hypothetical changes to (or even abandonment of)
>peer review to experimental changes in the cost-recovery model of (or
>even the abandonment of) journals. Yet these are not the remedies at all,
>and are mostly just speculations or experiments with a tiny fraction of
>the literature.
>The remedy is for authors to simply supplement the toll-access version
>of their article -- which they continue to publish in the peer-reviewed
>journal, as before -- with a self-archived (online) version that is
>made accessible toll-free for all would-be users webwide.
>That's all! In discussing my approach, Richard Wrllen discusses the
>speculative factors that have nothing to do with the concrete proposal
>I am recommending -- which does not reform or replace either journals or
>peer review, but merely supplements toll-acccess with open-access. This is
>already being done for 10-20% of the yearly journal articles published. It
>remains to be done for the remaining 80-90%. The retardant is not the
>journals, over 90% of which have already given their green light to
>author self-archiving.
>The retardant is the research community itself, which has not yet realized
>how much potential research impact it is losing by not self-archiving:
> Harnad, S. & Brody, T. (2004) Comparing the Impact of Open Access
> (OA) vs. Non-OA Articles in the Same Journals, D-Lib Magazine 10
> (6) June
>And the remedy is also already at hand: Self-archiving needs to be mandated by
>their employing institutions and research-funders, in a natural online-age
>extension of their exsiting publish-or-perish mandate:
>It is hard to see what this simple, fully within-reach remedy has to do with
>what Richard Wellen writes in his abstract:
> "certain proposals and models for reform are premised on
> over-optimistic views about disintermediation in scholarly
> communication as well as exaggerated assertions about the benefits
> of removing price barriers when larger issues about the system of
> 'open science' remain to be addressed."
>I don't know about other proposals, but my own is optimistic only about
>one thing: that researchers (or their institutions and funders) will
>realize that maximizing their impact by maximizing their access is within
>their own hands in the online age, and 100% of them will accordingly
>go ahead and do it, as 10-20% already have! No "disintermediation" is
>needed, price barriers need not be removed (access merely needs to be
>author-supplemented), and no larger "open science" issues are involved.
>Richard writes write that:
> "Hence [according to Harnad], although journals will still be
> necessary, they may have to "scale-down" to become mere peer review
> "services" (Harnad, 2003b). Yet Harnad cannot explain why journals
> would still survive in any meaningful way at all, since, in his
> system, they would only be able to sell "add on" services like
> printing which he says no one will need."
>My speculations about what journals may or may not have to do in response
>to 100% self-archiving are merely speculations, like everyone else's. (I
>rather regret having made them, as they are irrelevant and superfluous.)
>What is relevant is the concrete proposal that researchers can and should
>self-archive, immediately.
>But there is a contradiction in the very way my view is described in
>the above passage! For Richars writes I cannot explain why journals would
>survive if they scaled down to just peer-review service-provision
>(and certification), because they would have nothing to sell: But the
>peer-review service-provision/certification itself is what they could
>sell (at $200-$500 per article, to the author-institution)!
>Richard goes on to add:
> "Neither can Harnad explain why academics in some (perhaps most)
> disciplines are still attached to journals as authoritative organizers
> of the literature, and not simply as review services. To put it
> simply, many academics still like to browse journals (on-line or in
> the library stacks) rather than simply search for articles through
> indexes and Google."
>But (if we refrain from speculating), what is there in the concrete
>proposal to supplement toll-access with open-access through author
>self-archiving that prevents those who are still attached to journals
>from continuing to pay the tolls to access them? or to browse them in
>any way they desire?
>Stevan Harnad
>Pertinent Prior Topic Threads:
> A Note of Caution About "Reforming the System"
> Peer Review Reform Hypothesis-Testing
> Self-Selected Vetting vs. Peer Review: Supplement or Substitute?
> "Copyright: Form, Content, and Prepublication Incarnations"
> "Savings from Converting to On-Line-Only: 30%- or 70%+ ?"
> (Started Aug 27 1998)
> "Online Self-Archiving: Distinguishing the Optimal from the Optional"
> (Started May 11 1999)
> The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)"
> (Started July 5 1999)
> "Separating Quality-Control Service-Providing from Document-Providing"
> (Started November 30 1999)
> "Distinguishing the Essentials from the Optional Add-Ons"
> (Started July 2001)
> "Journal expenses and publication costs"
> (Started January 10 2003)
> "The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition"
> (Started January 7 2004)
Received on Sat Sep 11 2004 - 04:38:27 BST

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