Re: Southampton Workshop on UK Institutional OA Repositories Jan 25-26 2005

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 10 Jan 2005 23:06:28 +0000

Below are excerpts from a useful news article about which no
reasonable person can have any cavils (but I have a few comments!):

    Southampton Uni goes Open Access
    By Lucy Sherriff
    Monday 10th January 2005

> Southampton University has made all of its academic and scientific
> research output available for free on the web. The University said
> the decision marks a new era in Open Access to research in the UK;
> it will host workshops for other academic institutions thinking of
> making a similar transition.

> Southampton describes the self-archiving project's purpose as
> "to make the full text of the peer-reviewed research output of
> scholars/scientists and their institutions visible, accessible,
> harvestable, searchable and useable by any potential user with access
> to the Internet". This is not a bypass of the traditional publishing
> mechanism, but another form of access to already published material.

Lucy Sherriff makes it clear here that author/institution self-archiving
is not a substitute for publishing in a peer-reviewed journal, but
a supplement to it, in order to provide wider access.

This is followed by several paragraphs (which I omit here) with
quotes about about GNU Eprints and Southampton. Then this:

> Southampton's ePrints database has run as an experiment since 2002. It
> was established as part of a project to explore issues around Open
> Access publishing. The repository provides a publications database
> with full text, multimedia and research data, and it will now become
> a core part of the university's publishing process.

The issues explored were not around Open Access *publishing*; they were
around Open Access *provision* (via the self-archiving of supplementary
verions of published articles). The database of published Southampton
University articles will now be a core part of the university's
infrastructure for maximising worldwide access to -- and thereby alsothe
worldwide usage and impact of -- its published research article output.

> The question of public access to scientific research has become
> increasingly controversial in recent years, particularly since the
> summer of 2004, when the House of Commons Science and Technology
> committee published its report... "Scientific Publications:
> free for all?".

> The situation can be rather simplistically described as follows: The
> more prestigious a journal, the more important it is for scientists
> that their work is published in that journal. This means that the best
> work goes to few journals, whose publishers have free rein to charge
> what they like for subscriptions. But not many people can afford to
> subscribe to journals that can cost over£2,000 per year, each.

This is all true, but not quite the point: About 2.5 million articles
are published annually in 24,000 peer-reviewed journals worldwide.
There is certainly a problem with the affordability of those journals,
some of which are quite pricey. But that is not the research access problem,
for even if all 24,000 journals were sold at-cost (zero profit)
there would still be the research access problem -- which is that not all
would-be users of those articles could access them because no institution
could afford all, or most, or even many of the 24,000 journals, even then.

(It is mostly institutions that subscribe these days, by the way, with
online site-licenses for all their users; individual subscriptions have
been dying away for some time.)

> In addition, once the article is accepted and published, the
> journals own the copyright. Unravel this one: we have a situation
> where government-funded research is being published in proprietary
> journals. For other public bodies to subsequently access this
> research, more government funding is needed [to] pay for subscriptions
> to these same journals.

True, but it is also true that 93% of the nearly 9000 journals surveyed
so far (and that includes all the top journals) have given their official
"green light" to author/institution self-archiving. So those authors and
institutions that wish to provide supplementary access to their research
article output for those would-be users whose institutions cannot afford
access to them can already do so (and that is what the Southampton
workshops are about -- and what the GNU Eprints software is for.)

> The House of Commons reports [sic] says the Institutional Repositories such
> as the one being permanently funded at Southampton, will "help improve
> access to journals, but a more radical solution may be required
> in the long term". The report points out that re-publishing papers
> accepted for publication in journals does have copyright implications
> - although at the beginning of the enquiry, 83 per cent of publishers
> did allow authors to self-archive after publication.

That figure has since risen to 93% (and self-archiving a supplementary
copy of a publication does not mean re-publishing it). Moreover, it
is not clear what requires a more radical solution! If 100% of authors
self-archive, no would-be user is denied (online) access, anywhere. The
trouble is that not even 93% of authors are self-archiving yet: at most
15% are.

> In June last year, Reed Elsevier, one of the biggest academic
> publishers, dipped a toe into the choppy waters of open access. It
> said that authors may put a plain text version of their papers up
> on their own websites or websites of their non-commercial research
> institutions. However, Reed insists that the sites link back to
> its own front page, and say there must be no external links to the
> re-published text. Campaigners in favour of author-pays publication
> denounced the move as a cynical public relations stunt, pointing
> out that research articles often consist of more than just text.

It is only good scholarly practice (and costs and loses no one anything)
to link the self-archived supplementary copy to the publisher's official
version. Moreover, Elsevier did not stipulate a "plain text" version,
and it is not even clear what "no external links to the re-published text"
might mean! (Can anyone be stopped from linking to or from anything on the Web?)

I suspect that some of this confusion was inherited from a prior newspaper
article already that has already been commented on in this Forum:

Rather than denouncing Elsevier and the publishers of the other 93% of
journals that are green for behaving responsibly in the interests OA,
should we not rather prod the remaining 7% to follow suit? Or, more
important, prod the authors of the remaining 85% of articles to go ahead
and self-archive them?

> The internet provides an obvious alternative venue for publishing
> research. But making information freely available online has
> its downsides: where is the peer review, for example? How can a
> person accessing a research paper online judge the merits of the
> research? The problem now is not too little information, but too much,
> and of varying quality.

It is not clear how we have segued from self-archiving to re-publishing
to publishing, but clearly there is no problem judging the merits of a
self-archived article if it has already been published in a peer-reviewed

> Various solutions to this have been proposed, such as author-pays
> publishing systems, or a scoring system where papers are ranked by
> how many other research papers cite them, and so on. But peer review
> is a cornerstone of the scientific process, and many researchers
> would be loathe to bypass it altogether.

Right: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
What's broke is access, not peer review!

> The debate on this issue does not look like fading anytime soon. The
> House of Commons report recommended that all academic institutions
> establish repositories of their research, and admonished the
> government for doing so little to support such action. "The UK
> government has failed to respond to issues surrounding scientific
> publication in a coherent manner," it said. "We are not convinced
> that it would be ready to deal with any changes to the publishing
> process. The Report recommends that the government formulate a
> strategy for future action as a matter of urgency."

The government has already formulated a strategy, and has expressed it
clearly: All UK research article output should be self-archived.

It remains only to put that strategy into practice, as a matter of
urgency. That is what the Southampton workshops are about.

See also:
Received on Mon Jan 10 2005 - 23:06:28 GMT

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