Re: Open Access vs. NIH Back Access and Nature's Back-Sliding

From: Alma Swan <a.swan_at_TALK21.COM>
Date: Thu, 3 Feb 2005 15:47:44 -0000

In recent days there has been some discussion as to whether NIH's retreat
may in fact be due to a fear of adverse effects on the scholarly publishing
industry if immediate self-archiving were to be mandated by NIH for its
grantholders (
And, certainly, the Nature Publishing Group appears to be changing its
policy on self-archiving. It is not easy to follow NPG's arguments so far
because they are rather complicated, but it appears to be suggesting that it
is aiding Open Access by moving from allowing immediate self-archiving by
authors in their institutional repositories to allowing it only after a
period of six months post-publication of an article. The logic of this is
not at all clear. It would be very helpful if NPG would clearly explain the
causal inferences and its policy but one has to infer that NPG has
apprehensions about a possible adverse effect of self-archiving upon its

Many publishers, particularly some learned societies, share these
apprehensions and that is perfectly understandable if they base their view
of the future on imaginings rather than on actual evidence.

In the case of self-archiving, there is absolutely no need for this sort of
self-terrorising. The experiment has been done and the results are
clear-cut. Fourteen years ago the arXiv was set up ( It
houses preprints and postprints in physics, predominantly in the areas of
high-energy physics, condensed matter physics and astrophysics. It is the
norm for researchers in these areas to post their articles either before or
after refereeing to this repository. In 2003, the 421 physics journals
listed in ISI's SCI published a total of 116,723 articles. The arXiv
receives approximately 42,000 articles per annum, meaning that around a
third of all physics research articles appear not only in journals but ALSO
in the arXiv.

Have physics publishers gone to the wall in the last 14 years? No, and not
only have they continued to survive, they have also continued to thrive. I
have recently asked questions about this of two of the big learned society
publishers in physics, the American Physical Society in the US and the
Institute of Physics Publishing Ltd in the UK. There are two salient points
to note:
1. Neither can identify any loss of subscriptions to the journals that they
publish as a result of the arXiv.
2. Subscription attrition, where it is occurring, is the same in the areas
that match the coverage of the arXiv as it is across any other areas of
physics that these societies publish in.

Both societies, moreover, see actual benefits for their publishing
operations arising from the existence of arXiv. The APS has "cooperated
closely with arXiv including establishing a mirror (jointly with Brookhaven
National Laboratory)... We also revised our copyright statement to be
explicitly in favor of author self-archiving. These efforts strengthened
(rather than weakened) Physical Review D [an APS journal that covers
high-energy physics] ...I would say it is likely we maintained subscriptions
to Physical Review D that we may otherwise have lost if we hadn't been so
pro-arXiv .."

In answer to the question "Does arXiv worry or threaten your business?" the
APS answered: "We don't consider it a threat. We expect to continue to have
a symbiotic relationship with arXiv. As long as peer review is valued by the
community (and it seems to be), we will be doing peer review. While the APS
aspires to open access and is not threatened by, we do have strong
reservations about government requirements for open access."

The Institute of Physics Publishing's response was: "IOPP's experience as a
learned society publisher illustrates the strong synergies and mutual
benefits that currently exist between major peer-reviewed journals, such as
our Classical and Quantum Gravity, and the arXiv e-print server. Both
systems continue to serve the scientific community very effectively.
Journals act as the "brand", setting standards for scientific quality. Our
authors and editors tell us that they value publishing in a peer-reviewed
journal because this continues as an essential requirement for establishing
reputation and authority of the research they publish. Whilst posting an
pre-print or post-print is becoming more of an essential in some areas of
the physics community for immediate and wide dissemination, we do not see
the arXiv or repositories threatening our business."

Publishers who prefer to base their future strategies on experimental data
rather than untested apprehensions may be heartened by these findings.
Institutions that prefer explicitly to help their researchers to disseminate
their research results should provide archives for the purpose. And
researchers who prefer to have their results available to as many people as
are subscription-based publications - should get on with self-archiving
their articles.

Alma Swan
Alma P Swan, BSc, PhD, MBA
Key Perspectives Ltd
United Kingdom
Received on Thu Feb 03 2005 - 15:47:44 GMT

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