A Prophylactic Against the Edentation of the RCUK Policy Proposal

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Tue, 5 Jul 2005 01:07:10 +0100

Pertinent Prior AmSci Topic Threads:

    "A Simple Way to Optimize the NIH Public Access Policy"

    "Please Don't Copy-Cat Clone NIH-12 Non-OA Policy!"

    "Nature Back-Slides on Self-Archiving [Corrected] (2005)"

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

On Mon, 4 Jul 2005, Sally Morris (ALPSP) wrote:

> It beats me how people can argue on the one hand that repositories
> are necessary to solve libraries' financial problems

If anyone is arguing for OA self-archiving in order to solve libraries'
financial problems, they are certainly barking up the wrong tree. As we
have argued over and over:

    "the journal-affordability problem and the article-access/impact
    problem are not the same"

   Harnad, S., Brody, T., Vallieres, F., Carr, L., Hitchcock, S.,
   Gingras, Y, Oppenheim, C., Stamerjohanns, H., & Hilf, E. (2004) The
   Access/Impact Problem and the Green and Gold Roads to Open Access.
   Serials Review 30 (4) 2004

Institutional repositories (and institutional self-archiving mandates)
are necessary in order to maximise research access and impact, *not*
in order to solve libraries' financial problems. Conflating the two
has always been a fundamental mistake, both practical and conceptual,
and one that has done nothing but lose us time (and research progress
and impact), needlessly delaying the optimal and inevitable outcome
(for research, researchers, their institutions and their funders): An OA
self-archiving mandate has nothing to do with library financial problems.
It is adopted by researchers' employers and funders in order to maximise
their (joint) research impact.

(But I agree that if others had not repeatedly made this unfortunate and
common conflation, Sally could not have made her own specious argument
by way of reply!)

> and on the other [hand, how can people argue that self-archiving]... will not
> lead to increased subscription/licence cancellations and thus, ultimately,
> to the collapse of journals

The argument that self-archiving can and will increase research impact
substantially is based on objective *fact*, tested and demonstrated by
(a) years of self-archiving and (b) repeatedly replicated objective
comparisons of citation impact for self-archived versus non-self-archived
articles in the same journals and issues, across all fields:


The argument that self-archiving will lead to journal cancellations
and collapse, in contrast, is not based on objective fact but on
*hypothesis*. There are of course counter-arguments too, based on


but it is also a fact that all objective evidence to date is *contrary*
to the hypothesis that self-archiving leads to journal cancellation
and collapse:


When in reply to Sally's statement:

   SM: "Although in some areas of physics, journals have so far coexisted
   with the ArXiv subject repository, some of our members in other
   disciplines already have first-hand evidence that immediate free
   access can cause significant damage to sales."

I asked Sally for that evidence, she has now replied:

    SM: "the evidence I've been given so far was in confidence"

So apparently the world research community is to contemplate continuing to
refrain from maximising its research impact -- despite the many-times
replicated objective evidence that self-archiving can and will maximise
its research impact -- on the strength of a hypothesis about eventual
journal wrack and ruin, based on confidential evidence, unavailable for
objective evaluation.

(This kind of empty -- but ominous-looking -- hand-waving, by the way,
is *precisely* the grounds on which the NIH self-archiving mandate was
reduced to the toothless dictum it has become, sans requirement, sans
immediacy, sans everything.)

> Incidentally, the NIH embargoes are slightly more complex than Stevan
> suggests - authors are encouraged to deposit papers immediately on
> acceptance; the embargo relates to the date when they are made publicly
> available; I chose my words with care! Wellcome on the other hand is, as
> I understand it, talking about the date of deposit.

Promptly "depositing" papers in NIH's PubMed Central (PMC) so that they
can sit there, inaccessible, for 12 months, sounds exactly as useless
as it ought to sound to anyone who remembers, if ever so faintly,
that what this was all about was maximising research access and impact
(immediately) -- and not a symbolic central-depositing ritual followed
by a useless, needless, and research-wasting gestation period, in which
the document simply lies fallow, for absolutely no justifiable reason,
at the continuing loss of daily, weekly, and monthly research impact
and progress, *exactly* as it had been before the online/OA era!

Sally is right, however, that the NIH policy is more complicated than
merely being the empty "request" to deposit papers ("immediately"),
only to wait 12 months for them to become accessible to their intended
users (6 months for the marginally less unwelcome Wellcome Policy). It is
also only a *request* to deposit them in PMC, rather than what it could
have been and should have been, namely, a *requirement* to deposit
them *immediately* in each researcher's own *institutional repository*
(with NIH/PMC harvesting them centrally if/when they see fit).

*That* would have been a policy that actually maximised research access
and impact, rather than locking in a gratuitous year of access/impact
loss (with the whole thing merely optional rather than obligatory to
boot -- and almost *inviting* publishers to back-pedal on their existing
immediate-self-archiving policies... in the name of NIH-compliance !)

And now here is RCUK, proposing precisely the optimal policy for
maximising research access and impact, and here's Sally hoping to pull
its teeth much the way NIH's were pulled!

Fortunately, there is a way the RCUK policy can be protected from
unneeded and unwanted NIH-style dental work! The key would be that the
RCUK mandates distributed, institutional self-archiving rather than
NIH-style central archiving. Hence each author can decide for himself
whether and when to set access to his own full-text as "Open Access" (OA)
rather than just "Institution-internal Access" (IA). Both the full
text and the metadata, however, must be deposited immediately in the
fundee's own institional repository. Those *keystrokes* *must* be
performed. The metadata of course always immediately become openly
accessible to all, webwide. (There is not even the semblance of a
juridical issue about the author's metadata!) But the single keystroke
that determines whether access to the full-text is institutional or
worldwide can be left to the author (with strong encouragement to make
it OA as soon as possible).

With such a policy, there is no point in anyone's lobbying RCUK about
embargoes: RCUK has simply mandated the immediate keystrokes and strongly
encouraged the Nth one ("OA"). And research is still leaps and bounds
ahead as a result. For not only do over 90% of articles already have
their journal's green light for the Nth keystroke, but for the less than
10% that don't, the author can, for the time being, simply respond to
email eprint-requests for the full-text (based on the openly accessible
metadata) by doing the further keystrokes needed to email out the postprint
to each eprint-requester.

Eventually, of course, nature will take its course, the author will tire of the
needless keystrokes, and simply do the Nth keystroke to make his postprint OA
(as the sensible authors will all do in the first place). (The long overdue
transit to the optimal and inevitable has -- it is now patently obvious -- always
been just a *keystroke* problem all along. Once the keystrokes are mandated,
nature can be safely trusted to pursue its optimal course forthwith, guided
by the incentive of impact -- and prodded by the nuisance of eprint-requests!)

But the point is that in the meanwhile, it will not be possible to
edentate (q.v.) the RCUK policy in the same way that the NIH policy
managed to get itself so sadly disfigured. And all the keystrokes will
get done.

(Sally is characteristically coy about coming out and saying whether she
is for or against giving the publisher's green light to the immediate
institutional self-archiving of the author's own "inadequate" [Sally's
word] final revised draft: She is eloquent about its inadequacies,
but rather evasive about whether she would be for authors [immediately]
setting that Nth keystroke -- for that self-same inadequate full-text --
as OA, or merely IA!)

I close by re-quoting in full the call for evidence in support of Sally's
rather alarmist hypothesis of doom and gloom:

>sh> It would be helpful to see precisely what this "other" evidence is, and
>sh> precisely what it is evidence *of*. As physics and computer science are
>sh> the fields that have self-archived the most and the longest, and all of
>sh> their evidence is for peaceful co-existence between the author's drafts
>sh> and the publisher's value-added version, it would be very interesting
>sh> to see what evidence, if any, exists to the contrary. But please do make
>sh> sure that the putative evidence does address the issue:
>sh> How much (if at all) does author self-archiving reduce subscriptions?
>sh> The evidence has to be specific to author self-archiving, anarchically,
>sh> article by article. It cannot be based on experiments in which journals
>sh> systematically make all of their own value-added contents free for all
>sh> online, for that is not the proposition that is being tested, nor the
>sh> policy being recommended by RCUK!

And, to repeat Sally's reply:

    SM: "the evidence I've been given so far was in confidence"


Stevan Harnad

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Received on Tue Jul 05 2005 - 01:07:10 BST

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