The Royal Society and Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 29 Nov 2004 16:45:10 +0000

What follows is a Reply to John Enderby, Vice President, Royal Society,
in the Financial Times (November 25 2004)

The Royal Society (RS) seems to be confusing Open Access Publishing
("gold") and Open Access Self-Archiving ("green").

> It is a gradual evolution of the current model for publishing learned
> journals that will yield the best scholarly communication,
> argues John Enderby

No doubt there will be gradual evolution in journal publishing models. But
meanwhile, what research needs *now* (now that it has become both
possible and feasible) is immediate Open Access (OA) to the full-texts
of all research articles, so that no would-be user, anywhere in the
world, is any longer unable to find, access, read, use, apply, cite and
build upon the findings, thereby maximising the impact, productivity
and progress of all published research henceforward.

This was not possible before the advent of the Internet age. It is
possible now. Ninety-two percent of journals -- including the RS's own
seven journals -- have given their official green light to their authors
to self-archive their articles.

The RS needs to make it clear that its reservations are about OA
publishing (gold) not OA self-archiving (green) or OA itself.

> Making the results of peer-reviewed scientific research freely
> available is an attractive and laudable goal. But the debate over
> scientific publishing has been confused by the misconception that the
> author-pays model, which charges scientists to publish their work
> rather than charging libraries to make copies available, is the only
> way of achieving open access.

There has indeed been a confusion about OA. It has been wrongly assumed
that the golden road of OA journal ("author-pays") publishing is the
only road to OA. The other and far larger, faster and surer road is the
green road of OA self-archiving. The RS needs to make it crystal clear
that it is not opposed to authors taking that (green) road!

> There is no reason why current publishing practices, which cover costs
> through library subscriptions, cannot be adapted and developed to
> fulfil these open access aims. Many journals, including those of the
> Royal Society, are already adapting and others will follow suit.

Indeed they are. The RS's own seven journals are among the 92% of
journals that are already green. And there is indeed no reason why
current publishing practices -- i.e., cost-recovery via subscription,
license, or pay-per-view tolls -- should not co-exist in parallel with
the authors' own supplementary versions, self-archived in order to
provide online access for those would-be users worldwide whose institutions
cannot afford the toll-access version.

> The open access movement has put added pressure on journals to examine
> current practices, and that input is welcome in influencing
> developments. But this is only part of a more fundamental,
> long-running approach in which good publishers are responsive to the
> changing needs of authors, readers and librarians.

This is all true, but it needs to be remembered that the OA movement is
not just the OA publishing movement, and never has been. Both the green
and gold roads have been explicit in the 2001 BOAI definition of OA from
the outset (BOAI-1 is green and BOAI-3 is gold):

The subsequent over-emphasis on BOAI-2 (gold) should not be compounded
by the RS equating OA solely, or preponderantly, with BOAI-2 (gold).

> Meanwhile, the costs associated with publishing high-quality research
> articles must be met somehow. Proponents of the author-pays model seem
> happy to propagate the myth that their approach is less expensive.

These are more untested hypotheses than myths, but they are hypotheses
only about BOAI-2 (gold). They are irrelevant to BOAI-1 (green).

> Beyond shifting to an entirely online publication service and the cost
> savings associated with having no paper copies, it is difficult to see
> how further savings can be made, certainly without compromising on the
> quality of the end product.

So let us not speculate about it. Let those who wish to experiment with
converting to OA (gold) publishing do so (as 5% of journals are doing)
and let those who do not wish to experiment with converting to gold
merely convert to green, as the RS (and 92% of journals) have done. But
then let the RS also not oppose the only mandatory policy that the UK
Select Committee proposed, namely, that self-archiving (green) should
be mandated. The RS should not oppose green (which it endorses) on the
basis of arguments against gold!

> There are also worries that the high quality of scientific peer
> review, which plays a vital role in the effective communication of
> research results between scientists,couldbe compromised by the
> author-pays approach. The costs of peer review of papers that are
> rejected must be met somehow. Therefore, in the author-pays model, the
> highest charges will be for the most prestigious journals with the
> highest rejection rates.

This is again speculation about the gold cost-recovery model, when what is needed now is an unequivocal endorsement of green by the RS.

> Learned societies, including the Royal Society, rely on revenues from
> publishing to fund activities that benefit science, such as funding
> researchers and undertaking science communication programmes.

Again, speculations about hypothetical/eventual gold, instead of
specifics about immediate/concrete green.

> Proponents of open access argue that scientists in the developing
> world cannot afford to access newly published scientific research
> because of subscription costs. Simply moving to an author-pays model
> will not solve the problem. Instead, those same scientists will not be
> able to afford to publish their own research in good scientific
> journals.The response is that scientists in developing countries could
> be subsidised by the publishers. Apart from the practicality and
> invidiousness of defining who is a scientist in a developing country,
> the cost would have to be borne by other authors and those who fund
> them.

The would-be users who cannot afford access are far from being exclusively
in developing countries. And the immediate solution to their problem is not
gold, but green.

> The real solution is for all journals to allow free access from time
> of publication to scientists in the developing world, something the
> Royal Society and others are already involved in and want to see
> across the industry. There are already schemes, such as the
> International Network for the Availability of Scientific Publications,
> which distributes journals freely to institutions in developing
> countries with the help of publishers, governments and the research
> community.

And what about all the other would-be users worldwide who don't happen
to be in the developing world?

> For wider public access around the world it is possible to maintain
> free online archives and the Royal Society, along with many others,
> makes its papers free after 12 months. If the content of papers is of
> significant public interest it can be made available free of charge on
> publication. We did this, for example, when our journal Philosophical
> Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences published the
> results of the UK government's farm scale trials on genetically
> modified crops.

What is needed is not "wider public access around the world" 12 months
after publication! What is needed is immediate access for all would-be
users, worldwide, from the moment an article is accepted for publication
(and, optionally, even earlier, in its pre-refereeing preprint form,
at the author's discretion), irrespective of whether their institutions
can afford the toll-access version. This supplementary access need not
be provided by the journal publisher (gold). It can be provided by the
author, via the green road of self-archiving.

    "Shulenburger on open access: so NEAR and yet so far"

> The open access movement must present more than an ideological
> argument and provide evidence that its approach yields better
> scholarly communication.

The OA movement is not the OA-publishing (gold) movement, and the evidence
both for the vast benefits of OA for research impact and the feasibility
of the green road of OA self-archiving to provide those benefits have already
been demonstrated.

> The Royal Society believes the evolution of
> the present business model offers the most sustainable solution.
> Experiments with this and other models should be encouraged and we
> will continue to work with academics, librarians, the government and
> other learned societies to meet the needs of the communities we serve.

And whilst those experiments on gold transpire at their leisure, what is
needed -- urgently and immediately -- is OA via the green road of supplementing
the toll-access version with an open-access version self-archived by the author
for all would-be users worldwide whose institutions cannot afford the toll-access

Stevan Harnad

Pertinent Prior AmSci Topic Threads:

    "The Green and Gold Roads to Open Access" (2003)

    "What Provosts Need to Mandate" (2003)

    Written evidence for UK Select Committee's
    Inquiry into Scientific Publications (2003)

    "The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition" (2003)

    "UK Select Committee Inquiry into Scientific Publication"

    "University policy mandating self-archiving of research output" (2003)

    "Mandating OA around the corner?" (2004)

    "The UK report, press coverage, and the
    Green and Gold Roads to Open Access" (2004)

    "Implementing the US/UK recommendation to mandate OA Self-Archiving" (2004)

    "AAU misinterprets House Appropriations Committee Recommendation" (2004)

    "Victory for the NIH open access plan in the House" (2004)

    "Guide for the Perplexed: Re: UK Select Committee Inquiry" (2004)

    "Critique of PSP/AAP Critique of NIH Proposal"

    "Critique of STM Critique of NIH Proposal"
Received on Mon Nov 29 2004 - 16:45:10 GMT

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