Critique of Graham Taylor's critique of the RCUK policy proposal

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 5 Jul 2005 20:53:15 +0100

    Critique of Graham Taylor's critique of the RCUK policy proposal

    Guardian: Research news, Friday July 1, 2005,10577,1519270,00.html

> "Don't tell us where to publish"
> Graham Taylor, director of educational, academic and professional
> publishing at The Publishers Association
> Graham Taylor, from the Publishers Association, questions the UK
> Research Councils' backing of online access to research
> Repositories are probably a good idea. A technology-driven showcase
> for august institutions, a gathering point for research communities,
> a legacy archive for funding agencies.
> But should they be used as a means for "publication"?
> And what is "publication" exactly?

No one is proposing that institutional open-access (OA) repositories
or archives should be used as a means of publication. They are a means
of providing supplementary *access* to the (final drafts) of published
research articles for those would-be users whose institutions cannot
afford the paid access to the official published versions.

RCUK is not telling its fundees "where to publish," but what *else* they
must do with their published (and funded) research, in order to maximise
its usage and impact, over and above publishing it in the best possible
peer-reviewed journal ("publish or perish").

> This week, the UK Research Councils (RCUK) launched a public
> consultation into their declared policy on "access to research
> outputs". This policy requires that funded researchers must deposit
> in an appropriate e-print repository any resultant published journal
> articles "wherever possible at or around the time of publication"
> (the full version can be read here).

Correct. Notice that it says to "deposit" published journal articles,
not to "publish" them. To publish a published article would be redundant,
whereas to provide a free-access version for those who cannot pay would
merely ensure that the article's impact was more abundant.

> Publication involves a great deal more than mere dissemination. After
> the peer review, the editorial added-value, the production standards,
> the marketing, the customer service, there still remains the
> certification process, what John Thompson has called the "symbolic
> capital transfer", or a publisher might call the "brand value"
> associated with publication in a journal whose reputation and
> authority has been built up over decades by its editorial board and
> its publisher. This certification process is an essential endpoint
> for any research activity.
> How does the RCUK policy relate to this?

It relates in no way at all. The value can continue being added, and the resulting
product can continue being sold (both on-paper and online) to all those who can afford to buy
it. The author's self-archived supplement is for those who cannot afford
to buy the official published version. (Does Graham Taylor recommend
instead that research and researchers should continue to renounce
their work's potential impact from all those would-be users who cannot
afford access, carrying on exactly as they had no choice but to do in
the pre-Web era? Why?)

> Mandating deposit as close to publication as possible will inevitably
> mean that some peer-reviewed journals will have to close down.

This is a rather strong statement of a hypothesis for which there exists no
supporting evidence after 15 years of self-archiving, even in those areas where
self-archiving has reached 100% some time ago; in fact, all existing evidence
is *contrary* to this hypothesis. So on what basis is GT depicting this
doomsday scenario as if it were a factual statement, rather than the
counterfactual conjecture that it actually is?

    "[W]e asked the American Physical Society (APS) and the Institute of
    Physics Publishing Ltd (IOPP) what their experiences have been over
    the 14 years that arXiv has been in existence. How many subscriptions
    have been lost as a result of arXiv? Both societies said they could
    not identify any losses of subscriptions for this reason and that
    they do not view arXiv as a threat to their business (rather the
    opposite -- in fact the APS helped establish an arXiv mirror
    site at the Brookhaven National Laboratory)."

    Swan, A. and Brown, S. (2005) Open access self-archiving: An author study.
    JISC Technical Report, Key Perspectives Inc

> Why should inadequate and overstretched library budgets pay for stuff
> that is available for free?

(1) In order to have the print edition

(2) In order to have the publisher's official online (value-added)
    version of record

> Library acquisition budgets represent
> less than 1% of expenditure in higher education (despite the recent
> Times Higher Education Supplement survey showing that better library
> facilities ranked second only to better teaching quality among
> student expectations in return for higher fees) - a figure that
> has remained stubbornly flat for more than a decade, despite double
> digit growth in research funding. Publication and output management
> costs represent around 2% of the cost of research to our economy,
> yet RCUK appears to want to bring new costs into the system.

Interesting data, but what on earth do they have to do with what we
are talking about here? We are talking about increasing the impact *of*
research by increasing the access *to* research -- in the online age,
which is what has at last made this maximised access/impact possible
(and optimal for researchers, their institutions, their funders, and
for research progress itself).

We have already established that self-archiving the author's final draft
of a published article is not publishing, that it is done for the sake
of those who cannot afford the published version, and that those who
want and can afford the published version can and do continue to buy
it. So why are we here rehearsing the old and irrelevant publishers'
plaint about the underfunding of library serials budgets? No one has
mentioned the librarians' counter-plaint about publishers' over-pricing
of journals. So why not let sleeping dogs lie? They are in any case
irrelevant to the substantive issue at hand, which is: maximising research
impact, by and for researchers.

> We need a sustainable, scaleable system for publication, which
> means making a "surplus" in the process to invest for the future,
> to fund the activities of the learned societies, to fund the
> cost of capital. This is a vibrant age of innovation in models
> of publication. Experiments are happening anyway. The RCUK policy
> assumes that someone else is handling publication in a sustainable
> way so that outputs can be lodged with repositories. But deposit on
> publication can only cannibalise the very system that makes mandating
> deposit viable in the first place.

How did we get onto the subject of publishers' profit margins and investments,
when the problem was needlessly lost research impact? Is lost research impact
supposed to be subsidising publishers' venture capital schemes?

> And then there are the costs. Is the current system failing? If access
> is a problem, where is the evidence?

The problem is needlessly lost research impact, because not all of the
potential users of a research finding are necessarily at an institution
that can afford to subscribe to the journal in which it was published. The evidence
that the paid-access version alone is not reaching all or even most of
its potential users is the finding -- replicated in field after field --
that the citation impact of self-archived articles is 50%-300+% higher
than that of non-self-archived articles (in the same journal and issue)
-- in all fields analysed so far:

Lost impact is the evidence that lack of access is a problem.

The system is not "failing" -- it is merely extremely sub-optimal in its
access provision in the online age. In fact, the system is only *somewhat*
better than it was in the paper age, but far from the *substantially*
better that it could and should be (and already is -- for the 15% of
articles that *have* a self-archived supplement of the kind the RCUK
now proposes to require for 100% of UK research article output).

[Food for thought: This needlessly lost research access and impact would
still be a problem if journals were zero-profit and sold at-cost! There
would still not be enough money in the world so that all research
institutions could afford to purchase access to all the journals their
researchers could conceivably need to use. A self-archived supplement would
still be needed then, as it is now, to maximise impact by maximising access.]

> Is funding repositories the right way to spend scarce funds? Maybe,
> for reasons other than publication, but isn't this a high risk
> strategy? So where is the impact assessment and the rigorous cost
> appraisal in the RCUK policy?

It is not altogether clear to me why the publishing community should be
asking about how the research community's research funds are spent; but
it's a fair question all the same, so here's a reply: *However* research
money is spent, the greater the usage and impact of the research funded,
the better the money has been spent. And self-archiving enhances research
impact by 50%-300+%. (There's your "impact assessment"!):

    The output of one research-active university might range from
    1000 to 10,000 or more articles per year depending on size and
    productivity. Researchers are employed, promoted and salaried --
    and their research projects are funded -- to a large extent on the
    basis of the usefulness and impact of their research. Research that
    is used more tends to be cited more. So citations are counted as
    measures of usage and impact.

    The dollar value (in salary and grant income) of one citation varies
    from field to field, depending on the average number of authors,
    papers and citations in the field; the marginal value of one citation
    also varies with the citation range (0 to 1 being a bigger increment
    than 30 to 31, since 60% of articles are not cited at all, 90%
    have 0-5 citations, and very few have more than 30 citations:

    A still much-cited study estimated the "worth" of one
    citation (depending on field and range) in 1986 at $50-$1300.
    (This dollar value has of course risen in the ensuing 20 years.)

    The UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) ranks UK Universities
    according to their research productivity and provides a
    substantial amount of top-sliced research funding proportional to
    each university's RAE ranking. It turns out that this ranking is
    largely determined by the total citation count of each university:

> Worldwide, 2,000 journal publishers are publishing 1.8 million articles
> per year (and rising) in 20,000 journals. Remember the UKeU - 50m to
> attract 900 students? The House of Commons education select Committee
> concluded that supply-side thinking was to blame. Is the RCUK policy
> really based on demand and need, or is supply-side thinking creeping
> in again?

What on earth is all of this about? RCUK is talking about maximising
the impact of UK research output by supplementing paid journal access
with free author-provided access -- provided by and for researchers,
for their own research output -- and we are being regaled by irrelevant
figures about numbers of articles published per year, the UKeU distance
learning schemes that flopped, and "supply-side" thinking! What is Graham
Taylor thinking?

> The RCUK policy is based on four principles that we (anyone would)
> support: wide and rapid access, rigorous quality assurance,
> cost effective use of public funds and preservation for future
> generations. Our problem is that we harbour deep concerns that
> the proposals founded on those principles will bring unforeseen -
> and potentially irreversible - consequences that we will all live
> to regret.

In other words, the principles seem unexceptionable, but Graham Taylor
has a doomsday scenario in mind to which he would like us to attach equal
(indeed greater) weight, despite the absence of any supporting evidence
and the presence of a good deal of contrary evidence (vide Swan &
Brown supra).

> Instead, we offer some principles of our own: sustain the
> capacity to manage and fund peer review; don't undermine the authority
> of peer reviewed journals; match fund access to funding for research;
> invest in a sustainable organic system based on surplus not grants.

Translation: Pour more money into paying for journals, but don't encourage
authors and their institutions to maximise the impact of their research by
making it accessible for free to potential users worldwide who cannot
afford to pay for access.

> Publishers will support their authors in making their material
> available through repositories, provided they are not set up to
> undermine peer-reviewed journals. We say to RCUK, by all means
> encourage experiments, but don't mandate. Don't force transition
> to an unproven solution.

You would not call a solution that has proven across 15 years to enhance
impact by 50%-300+% and has not generated any discernible journal
cancellations -- even in fields where self-archiving reached 100%
years ago -- a *proven solution? And you would like RCUK to refrain
from mandating it on the strength of your doomsday scenario, which has
no supporting evidence at all, and only contrary evidence?

> Whatever you do, make the true costs transparent. The paper backing
> up the policy makes little or no acknowledgement of what the learned
> societies and publishers have achieved over the last 10 years.

The proposal is to *supplement* the current system, not to *replace*
it. The value of the system is implicitly acknowledged in that it is
the content of peer-reviewed journal articles to which RCUK proposes
maximising access -- not something else in their stead.

> This is not to say that the
> current system is perfect - it's not, but it's getting better fast as
> societies and publishers innovate and experiment with the technology
> that enables access. Evolution is inevitable, but we should allow time
> for the evidence to make the case, rather than standing on principle
> - the very basis, in fact, of most of the research outputs that this
> debate is all about.

It is now over 25 years since the advent of the Net and the possibility
of 100% self-archiving in FTP sites, 15 years since the advent of the
Web and the possibility of 100% self-archiving on personal websites, and
6 years since the advent of the OAI protocol and the possibility of 100%
self-archiving in distributed interoperable institutional repositories.

So far, only about 15% of articles are being self-archived, but in two
international surveys commissioned by the UK JISC, researchers have
indicated exactly what needs to be done to get them to self-archive:
Over 80% of authors replied that they will not self-archive, until and
unless their employers or funders require them to do so; but if/when they
do require it, they will then self-archive, and self-archive *willingly*:

Graham Taylor seems to be saying:

    "No, don't act upon the existing evidence. Keep losing impact. Don't
    mandate self-archiving. Wait."

Wait for what? How much longer? and *Why*?

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Jul 05 2005 - 20:53:15 BST

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