Re: The Harvards, the Have-Nots, and Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 20 Jun 2005 11:35:48 +0100

Prior AmSci Thread:

    "The Harvards, the Have-Nots, and Open Access" (began Nov 2003)

The following is an (anonymized) exchange with a journal editor
in a particular discipline/specialty ("X") who challenged -- for
his particular journal's disicplime/specialty -- my often repeated
estimate -- based on the data (1) from Ulrich's on the worldwide number
of peer-reviewed journals, (2) from ARL on the size of library journal
subscriptions, (3) from estimates of the worldwide number of universities
and research institutions, (4) from (guess-)estimates of average and
min/max journal subscription sizes and (5) from data on the size of the
citation impact advantage for published articles (in the same journal)
that have also been self-archived by their authors -- that it is true
of *every* one of the 2.5 million articles published annually in the
world's 24,000 peer-reviewed journals that it is inaccessible to many
(or even most) of its potential users/citers worldwide.

This is a strong claim (and far stronger than what one would need to
claim in order to argue that 100% self-archiving would be beneficial,
hence desirable, for research, researchers, their institutions, and their
funders -- (5) alone would be enough for that); but it is nevertheless
of some historic and demographic interest to test how true the stronger
claim actually is. That is the subject of this exchange.

> I'm sorry to quibble, but showing that nobody subscribes to all
> journals just says that THERE EXIST papers that are inaccessible to
> many potential users, not that this is the case for EVERY SINGLE
> paper.

But I didn't say nobody subscribes to all journals: I said (and cited the
ARL/Ulrichs statistical evidence to the effect that) most institutions
can only subscribe to a very few, and that no journal is subscribed to
by most, let alone all. Only such a journal could say that it is not
the case that it is inaccessible to many or most of its potential users.

> that they are unaffordable for some institutes doesn't say anything
> about specialist journals.

What would say something to that would be reliable, objective data on (1)
the worldwide number of institutions and their institutional researchers
in that particular specialty relative to (2) the wordlwide number of
institutions (or individuals) that subscribe/license that particular
journal. (If you have such reliable, objective worldwide data for your
own particular journal speciality, and it does indicate that it is *not*
the case that the articles are inaccessible to many or most of their
potential users worldwide, I would be most interested to see those data,
and happy to announce them henceforth as the happy exception to my
general contention!)

>sh> On the other side of the access/impact ledger, the evidence -- across
>sh> all disciplines and journals -- that self-archived articles have
>sh> 50-300+% more citations than non-self-archived articles (in the same
>sh> journal and year) confirms that open-access enhances usage and impact.
> I'm not disputing this. And [my publisher] allows self-archiving so there
> is no barrier for authors in my journal.

That's fine -- and highly commendable that your publisher's journals
are among the the 92% of journals that are green on self-archiving: it
is the research community that is entirely to blame for that fact that
it currently only self-archives 15% of its annual output!

(But does it not make you wonder -- if the publisher's official
toll-version were indeed accessible to all or most of its would-be users
-- why there should be this usage/impact advantage to the author's
self-archived home-brew? If most institutions (in a specialty)
already had an online license to the publisher's deluxe PDF, why on
earth would there be any citation advantage to those articles that also
had a self-archived freebie? Is it not more likely that the freebie is
taken up by those who cannot access the journal version, because their
institutions happen to be unable to afford that particular journal?)

>sh> (What is the size of the institutional subscribership of your journal?
>sh> And how many institutions worldwide do you think there are that have
>sh> researchers in its area -- and how many researchers?)
> I'll try to find the answer to the first question. The number is
> changing (growing) constantly because of [electronic bundling].
> Anyway, that number, whatever it is, is probably not very meaningful since
> some of those institutions have no [X discipline-name deleted] departments.

The data would be useful in any case. The lack of a pertinent department
would increase the numbers and make the estimate of have-nots more
conservative, which is fine: You also need a worldwide tally of
institutions with X departments and/or X researchers too, by the
way, and a specific enough one to be able to estimate from it and the
worldwide subscriber data the number of have-nots, based on those that
do and don't subscribe to your journal!

> I don't know the answer to the second question and I don't have any
> way of finding out. But I would guess that most academic [X]
> departments would have somebody working in the [specialty] area, and
> probably the number that don't is of a similar order as the number of
> non-academic research institutions with somebody in the area. So, how
> many academic [X] departments are there in the world?

Good question!

Stevan Harnad

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Received on Mon Jun 20 2005 - 11:35:48 BST

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