Re: Journal Publishing and Author Self-Archiving: Complementary Or Competitive?

From: Don Sannella <>
Date: Fri, 26 Aug 2005 13:21:10 +0100

In the spirit of point-by-point logical analysis and rebuttal, let me point out
what I think are some flaws and weaknesses in the Southampton Rebuttal to the
ALPSP Open Letter on the RCUK Policy Proposal. I'm not against self-archiving -
even though my interest in this whole area is related to my role as
editor-in-chief of an Elsevier journal (self-archiving status "green") - and I
don't have a problem with many of the other points made, but I think these
particular points are wrong and an argument with weak/wrong points is a weak


I believe that the following fundamental element of the argument, from near the
beginning of the Southampton Rebuttal (henceforth REBUTTAL: ) to ALPSP, is

> REBUTTAL: "(The reader is reminded, at this early point in our critique,
> that it is impossible for a piece of research to be read, used, applied
> and cited by any researcher who cannot access it. Research access is a
> necessary (though not a sufficient) condition for research impact.)"

Read: yes. Used, applied, cited: no, for the following reasons.

-- Pay-access paper X might be read by researcher A who builds on it and reports
the result in free-access paper Y. Researcher B might read Y without having access
to X, and B's use/application of results in Y may well be indirectly
use/application of results in X. For that reason among others it would not be at
all unusual for B to cite both X and Y.

-- People very often cite papers without reading them, just in order to add some
weight to a bibliography.


> REBUTTAL: "Journals provide access to all individuals and institutions
> that can afford to subscribe to them, and that is fine. But what about
> all the other would-be users -- those researchers world-wide whose
> institutions happen to be unable to afford to subscribe to the journal
> in which a research finding happens to be published? There are 24,000
> research journals and most institutions can afford access only to a
> small fraction of them."

Here and throughout you are ignoring the fact that journals are publicly
accessible via public libraries and interlibrary loan. One doesn't need to
subscribe to a journal in order to get access to its content. (Obviously it is
more convenient if I can get access without leaving my desk, but that is a
different story.)

You are also ignoring the fact that such figures take no account of the extremely
uneven distribution of researchers in specialized fields across institutions. A
journal in a highly specialized field (as most of these 24,000 journals must be)
which is subscribed to by 100 libraries might actually reach the vast majority of
researchers working in that particular field.


>> ALPSP: '[2] Citation statistics and the resultant impact factors are of
>> enormous importance to authors and theirinstitutions; they also influence
>> librarians' renewal/cancellation decisions. Both the Institute of Physics
>> and the London Mathematical Society are therefore troubled to note an
>> increasing tendency for authors to cite only the repository version of an
>> article, without mentioning the journal in which it was later published .'
> REBUTTAL: "Librarians' decisions about which journals to renew or cancel
> take into account a variety of comparative measures, citation statistics
> being one of them [...] journals carrying self-archived articles will
> have higher impact factors, and will hence perform better under this
> measure in competing for their share of libraries' serials budgets. This
> refutes example [2].

"As to the proper citation of the official journal version: This is
merely a question of proper scholarly practice, which is evolving
and will of course adapt naturally to the new medium [...] Moreover,
publishers and institutional repositories can and will easily work out
a collaborative system of pooled citation and reference statistics --
all credited to the official published version. So that is no principled
obstacle either. This is all just a matter of adapting scholarly practices
naturally to the new medium (and is likewise inevitable)."

(This also relates to the argument against [1].) This argument depends on a belief
that proper scholarly practice will evolve in a direction different from that in
which it has demonstrably been evolving lately, and that institutional
repositories will collaborate on citation statistics, quickly enough to counter
the problem that ALPSP is referring to before it leads to subscription
cancellations. This seems pretty shaky to me, despite the assertion that it is
inevitable: why is it likely that these things will happen at all, and why should
they happen quickly?


>> ALPSP: '[4] The BMJ Publishing Group has noted a similar effect; the
>> journals that have been made freely available online on publication have
>> suffered greatly increased subscription attrition, and access controls
>> have had to be imposed to ensure the survival of these titles.'

> REBUTTAL: "Exactly the same reply as above: The risks of making 100%
> of one journal's official, value-added contents free online while all
> other journals are not doing likewise has nothing whatosever to do with
> anarchic self-archiving, by authors, of the final drafts of their own
> articles, distributed randomly across journals."

(This also relates to the arguments against [3] and [5].) You correctly argue that
there is a difference between the effect of self-archiving and a publisher making
100% of content freely available. But this is far from the same as the two things
having "nothing whatsoever" to do with each other, as you assert here and in the
following passage from near the beginning of the letter:

> REBUTTAL: "the prior ALPSP critique of the RCUK proposal (April 19)
> was followed on July 1 by a point-by-point rebuttal. The reader who
> compares the two cannot fail to notice certain recurrent themes that
> ALPSP keeps ignoring in their present critique. In particular, 3 of the
> 5 examples that ALPSP cites below as evidence of the negative effects
> of self-archiving on journals turn out to have nothing at all to do with
> self-archiving, exactly as pointed out in the earlier rebuttal."

Don Sannella
Received on Tue Aug 30 2005 - 11:48:08 BST

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