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

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 11 Sep 2004 05:19:17 +0100

On Fri, 10 Sep 2004, Richard Wellen wrote:

> Stevan and others advocate [the distributed self-archiving approach]
> 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).

This is an accurate statement of the facts, well-tested now, after a
decade and a half of successful self-archiving, the quantitative evidence
of how it enhances impact, and the historical evidence that even in fields
where self-archiving approaches 100%, nothing else changes.

> 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...

as it already has, in, for example, high energy physics...

> 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.).

But the only change that has actually occurred in physics is that most
physics journals, formerly "gray" on self-archiving (i.e., not giving
it their official green light) are now "green":

    "(3) The Risk of Going Green is Low: There are physics journals
    that have been effectively green since 1991, and some of their
    contents have been 100% OA [Open Access] through self-archiving for
    years now, yet their subscription revenues have not eroded. The
    American Physical Society (APS) was the first green publisher.
    One physics journal (JHEP), born gold (subsidised),
    even converted back to green, successfully,
    by migrating to a green publisher (IOP) ."

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

What is needed now is more OA (we have only about 10-20%),
not more conjectures about what might or might not happen if OA
reaches 100%. I can speculate as well as the next guy (and have):

but speculation is what we have had for a decade now, whereas what we
need is OA. And the benefits of OA are not a matter of speculation but
of objective empirical evidence:

> 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."

Because all evidence so far is that the consequences are good (and
impact is indeed enhanced), whereas bad consequences are so far merely
in the mind of the speculator -- and that speculator (n.b., not Richard,
see below!) is invariably a non-self-archiver, afflicted with Zeno's
hence stuck squarely in the status quo.

Meanwhile the self-archivers who have been doing it since as far back
as the early '90's proceed apace, self-archiving, and enjoying the OA

> But productivity is not the only value at stake, and maybe increased
> productivity doesn't always equal progress.

Research impact is both productivity and progress: It means research is
read, used, applied, built-upon and cited more.

> 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.

Perhaps it will, perhaps it won't. Let's cross that bridge if and when we
ever come to it. Meanwhile the green road of self-archiving is a tried and
tested one, quite safe for passage, and already demonstrated to enhance
research impact. Should researchers take this road, or ponder instead
on possible changes to publishing that might or might not result?

> 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.

I'm not even sure you're pointing to an actual dilemma, rather than merely
a hypothetical dilemma. When all evidence is positive, and only
counterfactual conjectures negative, the best motto is:
"Hypotheses non fingo!"

(It is tautological to say that if my worries are not groundless, then
they are not groundless!)

> 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:

That is what I like to see! Someone who preaches gloom but practises

Stevan Harnad

> 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 - 05:19:17 BST

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