Re: Leading academics back UK Research Councils on self-archiving

From: adam hodgkin <adam.hodgkin_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2005 21:31:10 +0100

It is hard to get clear-cut, decisive empirical evidence on economic
behaviour or on pricing decisions. Twenty years ago when I was an
academic journal publisher we 'knew' that the pricing of journal
subscriptions was relatively inelastic (shows monopoly power). Much less
elastic than say 'student textbook' pricing. This meant that if the
subscription to a journal went up (down) by 10% it would be extremely 
unlikely to affect the circulation by 20%, perhaps a perturbation of
1-2-3% would be expected. Some radical souls though that pricing made
almost no difference at all to circulations.

I think the proponents of OA can agree with the publishers that the
monopoly power and the pricing power of the traditional academic journal
is obviously affected by the availability of open access options for
reading the scientific and scholarly literature. The publishers may not
like it when it is pointed out that this previous pricing power and
economic resilience reflects an unjustified monopoly (a no longer
justified monopoly), but I dont see why the proponents of OA should mind
recognising that the technology of OA (the internet au fond) is a
disruptive technology and will change economic behaviour of libraries,
publishers and researchers.  That is indeed part of the point.

It is odd that we should be arguing that there is no sure fire proof that
behaviour will change, when we fully expect that behaviour should change
and IS changing the way things are done.

All sides can also agree that the continuing provision of quality control
by editors and referees is also important. This is something no one wants
to lose and provides a continuing rationale for the role of the


On 8/23/05, Stevan Harnad <> wrote:
      On Tue, 23 Aug 2005, J.F.B.Rowland wrote:

> I think Sally Morris is on somewhat stronger ground than
      Stevan alleges -

      It would be useful if Fytton made it clear in precisely what
      "somewhat stronger ground consists." It is not clear whether
      he has read
      the two rebuttals in question:


      A quick summary is this:

          Sally hypothesises that the RCUK Self-Archiving Policy
      would lead to
          the (strong version) "destruction of journals" and/or
      (weak version)
          "negative effect on subscriptions."

          Sally provides no evidence whatsoever in support of this
      (either version).

          (She cites 5 examples, 3 of them having nothing at all to
      do with
          self-archiving -- concerning only journals that make
      their contents free
          online; plus 2 examples having to do with author citation
      and usage
          statistics, both of which can and will be easily and
      naturally adapted
          to the new medium, hence have no implications one way or
      the other.)

          All actual evidence is contrary to both the strong and
      weak versions
          of Sally's hypothesis: Self-archiving has been
      co-existing peacefully
          with journal publication for 15 years now. And even in
      areas where
          it has been practised the longest (physics) and
      approaches 100%
          in some fields, the journals report no cancellations
          with self-archiving.

      Fytton is not providing any further evidence here, for or
      against the hypothesis
      (either the strong or the weak version). He is merely stating
      that he too holds
      the hypothesis.

      But there's no more accounting for hypotheses than for
      tastes, in the absence of
      any supporting evidence, and in the presence of nothing but
      contrary evidence.

> although the suggestion that widespread use of OA
      repositories will
> ultimately harm the subscription sales of journals is only
      a prediction, it
> is a fairly logical one.  If an item can be obtained free
      of charge, for how
> long will people go on buying it?

      If every prediction that was not in contradiction with logic
      were provisionally
      taken to be true, Doomsday Prophecies would indeed rule.

      The question is not whether the prediction is contrary to
      logic but whether it is
      contrary to the evidence: And it is contrary to all the
      evidence to date.

      The rest is speculation: Why do libraries still subscribe?
      Here are a couple
      of logical speculations:

          (1) They still want the print edition

          (2) They want the publisher's value-added online edition,
      not just
          the author's self-archived final draft.

      Probably there are more one can think of. But note that they
      are all speculations
      about the reasons why the destruction/cancellation
      speculation is *not* supported
      by any evidence. In other words, they are merely

      But why are we speculating and counter-speculating, when one
      body of evidence is
      substantial and irrefutable: Self-archiving increases
      research usage and impact
      dramatically. That is extremely good for research. And there
      is no sign of its being
      bad for publication either.

      So RCUK is taking the logical step of increasing
      self-archiving, so as
      to increase research usage and impact, and Sally and Fytton
      are instead
      just speculating.

> On the other hand,  it seems likely that any such effect
      will occur gradually
> over a period of years.

      Which effect? We have different effects in mind. I am
      thinking of the
      *demonstrated* effect of self-archiving: increased usage and
      a face-valid benefit for research and researchers.

      Sally and Fytton are instead thinking about an
      *undemonstrated* negative
      effect of self-archiving: increased journal cancellations,

      And the net result is that a hypothetical, undemonstrated
      negative effect
      (for publishers) is being taken (by Sally, perhaps not
      Fytton) as grounds
      for delaying or derailing a real, demonstrated positive
      effect (for researchers).

      Let us hope that the RCUK will not be persuaded by such

> This gives all parties concerned time to adapt.

      The RCUK immediate-self-archiving policy needs to be adopted
      immediately. Whether
      or not there is something that publishers will need to adapt
      will be seen if and
      when there are any signs of it. Right now, there are none.

> OUP and Springer are each starting to do so

      Fytton is again changing the subject: OUP and Springer are
      experimenting with
      making their journals free online, or with giving their
      authors the option to pay
      them to make the journal version of their articles free
      online for them. That is
      an adaptation, to be sure, but it is not an adaptation to the
      effects of
      self-archiving (of which there are none, insofar as journal
      renewals and
      economics are concerned).

      There are also logical things one could say about these
      experiments, but never
      mind: let 1000 flowers bloom. The only thing about OUP and
      Springer policy that is
      remotely pertinent to self-archiving is that Springer is
      full-green (green light
      to self-archive both postprint and preprint) and OUP is only
      pale-green (green
      light only for preprint). That's
      not tragic:
      There's plenty of wiggle room in what counts as the
      "preprint" -- and,
      at bottom, authors don't really need their publishers'
      blessing to
      self-archive their own drafts; it's just a sop for the
      timorous and
      the pedantic.

      But the point is that self-archiving is the green road to OA,
      and what OUP and
      Springer are experimenting with is the golden road, which is
      perfectly fine
      (though probably premature).

> and Bo-Christer Bjork from Finland has also recently made a
      proposal for
> transitional arrangements that look as if they could work

      One can speculate about hypothetical transition scenarios --
      and I have not been
      un-guilty of doing a spot of that myself, in my more naive
      past -- but it is now
      clear that among the many things that have been needlessly
      delaying the optimal
      and inevitable -- 100% OA -- was this constant predilection
      for counterfactual
      speculation while ignoring and failing to act upon the actual
      facts on the ground.

      So, for now, I declare, with Newton (and for the sake of
      research progress):
      Hypotheses non fingo.

> There are potentially greater problems for learned society
      publishers, for whom
> Sally speaks, than for larger publishers.

      I think the research community would do better to deal with
      its actual problem of
      needless research impact loss, rather than subordinating it
      to publishers'
      hypothetical/potential/maybe problems -- whether the
      publishers be commercial ones
      or those that are *nominally* closer to the research
      community, the learned
      society publishers (though one wonders, sometimes!).

> A current JISC-funded project being undertaken by Mary
      Waltham is
> investigating possible future business models for them; I
      look forward
> with interest to reading her report.

      It is splendid to be working on possible future business
      models for publishers,
      but you will forgive me for being far more concerned about
      the actual impact loss
      for research and researchers, today...

      Stevan Harnad

Received on Tue Aug 23 2005 - 23:40:59 BST

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