Re: The Green and Gold Roads to Open Access

From: Jan Velterop <velterop_at_BIOMEDCENTRAL.COM>
Date: Sun, 12 Dec 2004 22:06:28 +0000

On 12 Dec 2004, at 19:10, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> Now let me count the ways in which the reality of researchers' needs
> and
> journal publishing goes against the analogy with cell-phones (or diesel
> engines, or motorcars, or computers, or TVs, or the web, or whatever
> piece
> of technology you choose in your sanguine projections -- though there
> will be something more to say about the analogy with the web in a
> moment):
> (1) OA journals are not a new piece of either hardware or software:
> they are
> merely a different cost-recovery model, and one that has not yet been
> tested and
> shown to be viable, sustainable and scalable. (I am not saying it will
> not; I am
> saying it has not yet been shown.)

Economic viability, sustainability and scalability don't need to be
shown. The only thing that needs to be shown is 'cultural' acceptance
in the research community. Or even just in the funder community, which
will do fine. Economic viability and sustainability will follow.

> (2) Until the viability, sustainability and scalability of the OA
> journal
> cost-recovery model has been tested and confirmed, it represents an
> undeniable
> risk for publishers.

True, even when viability, sustainability and scalability are
demonstrated, because the profits/surpluses that some have will be far
less likely to be of the same magnitude of 40% plus. But self-archiving
carries risks for those publishers, too. Even though your
stock-in-trade answer is that such risk is 'counterfactual', given what
happened so far in the high energy physics field. However, just as in
investment banking, past performance is a poor indicator of future
> (3) As a consequence of this risk, very few publishers have dared to
> adopt the
> OA journal cost-recovery model to date. (This is not to say that the
> brave new
> publishers like BMJ or PLoS were wrong to try, nor that they are bound
> to fail;
> just that few have tried, and it is clear why not.)
> (4) Now, because only about 5% of the total 24,000 peer-reviewed
> journals have
> taken the risk of trying the OA cost-recovery model today, it follows
> that
> only about 5% of articles can be published in an OA journal today,
> even if the author, undeterred by the author-institution publication
> cost
> (as, I agree, he should not be, if the journal is otherwise suitable)
> wishes to publish in an OA journal.

This is a logical flaw that presumes that paperflow is always static,
from journal to journal, and that there can be no shift in submissions
from one journal to another. It is plausible that not all articles at
the moment can find an appropriate OA journal to be published in, but
the implied proportionality to the number of journals in your argument
is wrong.
> (5) First pause: There is no counterpart for this in the growth of
> cell-phone manufacture and usage: Providers were quite happy to have a
> go,
> and users were quite willing to buy and use. There was no counterpart
> of the uncertainty and risk about the cost-recovery model (which was
> much the same as with the conventional phone): just ordinary
> innovation,
> competition, and market forces.
> (6) Now let's continue, with the "long-cord" story: Not only is there
> already a viable alternative to the untested and risky OA cost-recovery
> model (in which I believe, by the way -- but I also believe it is
> premature), but, unlike the far-fetched "long-cord" analogy, which
> clearly does not have even an infinitesimal portion of the
> functionality
> of cell-phones, the self-archiving alternative provides 100% of the
> functionality of OA, just as OA publishing does: If the author has
> any benefits from OA at all, the benefits are equal whether the OA is
> achieved via gold or green. Ditto for the user.
> (7) Nor does self-archiving have any of the "long-cord" disadvantages
> dictated by the analogy: Distributed institutional self-archiving is
> simple, easy,

If only. Plenty of institutions do not have a repository yet,
unfortunately. Only a concerted central archiving in
discipline-oriented archives (such as PubMed Central in medicine and
biology), which you seem to abhor, could conceivably deliver the
immediacy you're looking for.

> and highly desirable in its own right, over and above its
> power to confer 100% OA. (It could even eventually take over both the
> access-provision and archiving burden from *all* journals, making them
> all
> "wireless" peer-review service-providers instead of tying them down
> with
> having to provide and distribute and store paper and PDF products! But
> here I speculate only in order to show how unapt the long-cord analogy
> is!)
> (8) Yes, the self-archiving option requires that a few extra keystrokes
> be performed (by the author or by some other designated party), but
> those
> are one-time keystrokes per article (hardly comparable to walking
> around
> with a mile-long cord!) and a lot cheaper (for somebody) than paying
> the OA journal costs.

I have compared self-archiving with a painkiller, as you know: it works
to relieve the symptoms, but doesn't cure the underlying problem. This
is not to say that painkillers are a bad thing. If you suffer, you
should take them. They are most valuable and desirable and always good
to have at hand. But you shouldn't confuse painkillers with a cure.

> (9) The same is true of archive creation and maintenance. It costs a
> little (very little) to an institution, to provide OA archives for all
> its authors article output, but it costs incomparably less that
> creating
> and maintaining a new journal, and has none of the attendant risks.

It has the risk that the journals whose articles are being
self-archived disappear for lack of subscription income. Not a bad
thing, perhaps, but surely a risk. If they don't disappear, then the
institution pays two bills: first for the subscriptions, and then for
the maintenance of the repository. So where does the idea come from
that it's cheaper? For a handful of very well endowed and
research-intensive institutions subscriptions may be (not *are*; just
*maybe*) cheaper than paying for dissemination, as in the OA journals
that charge article processing fees. For the majority OA is cheaper. A
simple calculation tells us that the average price of an article paid
by Academia is in the order of $3000-4000 at least. No OA publisher
charges that, and certainly for the bulk of scientific articles the
fees necessary for OA publishing to be sustainable, viable and
scalable, are nowhere near such amounts. But even if they were; or even
if they were higher; OA publishing would still be the better system, as
for that amount all scientific research results could be freed up. Why
would that be the case? Because "no achievement in science is
exclusively the product of one brain" (John Waller, in 'Leaps in the
Dark'). With OA, there can be more and faster 'interconnectivity' with
more brains, so to speak.

> (10) Now back to innovative technology and the web. For if you really
> want an apt analogy with cell-phone uptake, it is probably web uptake:
> They both happened so fast, and conferred such huge benefits. Are OA
> journals their counterparts here, or is it rather online self-archiving
> itself?
> (11) I would say that if anything is analogous to scepticism about the
> functionality and desirability of cell-phones in 1983, and preference
> for just
> making the conventional telephone line longer, it is authors' failure
> to
> self-archive and reach 100% OA already a decade ago.
> (12) Since then, OAI-interoperability has come along to sweeten the
> package. So have free OAI-compliant software, citation-counting
> research
> engines, green lights from publishers, and growing empirical evidence
> of the impact-enhancing power of OA.
> (13) Yet it still looks as if it will require stronger incentives from
> researchers' employers and funders (in the form of requiring OA
> provision
> as a condition of funding and advancement, by way of an extension of
> publish-or-perish, in the interest of maximizing the research impact of
> those publications) in order to get them to take advantage of the new
> medium
> at last.
> (14) OA-provision mandates from employers and funders cannot and will
> not dictate
> where researchers may publish. (So they cannot be mandates for
> publishing in OA
> journals.)
> (15) But OA self-archiving can be mandated it. And that will bring
> 100% OA
> (wireless) with 100% probability.

Of course. As it is beginning to happen. But to think that that means
that traditional publishing is *not* moribund if it were take up even
to 50%, is not understanding the business of publishing. If OA
archiving is mandated immediately upon publication, traditional
publishing is dead. If it is with a 6-months delay, subscriptions pay
for no more than a brief time advantage, and for that, current price
levels may just prove far too high, so cancellations are pretty sure to
follow. I know you call this speculation, but I prefer calling it
'looking ahead' or 'anticipation' and would like to plan for that
future which I regard as inevitable (though it's anybody's guess how
long it will actually take).
> (16) It may or may not also eventually usher in the era of OA
> publishing.

OA publishing is already here, albeit still small. To use Robin Cook's
(a UK Member of Parliament) metaphor when talking about climate change:
the pressure (that this small amount of OA exerts) is like the pressure
on a light switch: small, but making a major sudden change when the
switch is flipped.

> (17) But that is not something that authors are or should be concerned
> about.
> Nor does it matter remotely as much as reaching 100% itself.
> (18) For 100% OA (wireless) will already satisfy all authors' needs --
> at least all those needs that would have inclined them toward OA at
> all, in either its gold or its green varieties!
> Stevan Harnad
> P.S. A much more interesting critique of my argument that you can't
> squeeze 95% of the current literature into 5% of its current journals
> would be something along the lines of the Parmenides Paradox or the
> Ship
> of Theseus (by way of a critique of my induction on 1, 2, 2%, 5%,...).
> But
> the answer to this has been given already: We need to create/convert
> roughly 23,000 more OA journals to scale up to 100% OA whereas we could
> already do so virtually overnight via OA self-archiving.

This presumes the absurd notion that we actually *need* 23,000
journals. We may have them, and OA publishing may result in 50,000 or
100,000 journals, but we only *need* enough journals to have an
appropriate outlet for each paper.

> But alas it is
> easier to squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle than to get most
> publishers to adopt the OA cost-recovery model today. It is hence
> incomparably easier and more sensible to squeeze researchers just a
> little, so they self-archive: After all, the OA is all for their
> benefit anyway!

(Is this Bible quote one of those things that give the OA 'movement' a
religious aura?). Some authors do realize he benefits, but some don't.
Just like with paying tax. It's for your benefit (at least
theoretically and if you live in a democracy). Yet lowering taxes (even
just promises of the 'read my lips' kind) are great vote winners. And
how many would pay less if only they could?

> And researchers have already *told* us what they will and will not do:
> They will
> not self-archive if they are not required to do so -- but if they
> *are* required
> to do so, the vast majority say they *will* do so, and do so
> *willingly* (just as
> they already comply willingly with the requirement to "publish or
> perish").
> So if OA is worthwhile at all, it is worthwhile mandating that
> researchers
> do their part to make it happen.

Couldn't agree more.

Jan Velterop

> Swan, A. & Brown, S.N. (2004a) JISC/OSI Journal Authors Survey
> Report.
> Swan, A. & Brown, S.N. (2004b) Authors and open access publishing.
> Learned Publishing 2004:17(3) 219-224.
Received on Sun Dec 12 2004 - 22:06:28 GMT

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