Re: Green Party Green on Gold but not on Green

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 10 Sep 2005 19:47:24 +0100

On Sat, 10 Sep 2005, Michael Eisen & Jean-Claude Guedon wrote:

> > SH: funders can tell their fundees what to do,
> > but publishers are not their fundees.
> M.E.: This is a ridiculous argument. If funders tell their fundees to
> publish in gold open access journals they will do so. There are
> plenty of them out there, and, should funders mandate authors publish
> in gold journals, there would be many more.

Unlike Mike, I don't find it at all ridiculous to want to (continue to)
choose which journal I want to publish in.

The JISC survey reported that 95% of authors would comply (81% of them
willingly, 14% reluctantly) with a mandate to self-archive their articles
(published in the journals of their choice). I don't recall their being
asked how compliant they would be about giving up their choice of
journal. Nor even about how many of them felt there were suitable gold
open access journals in their fields.

I know I would not comply with a mandate dictating my choice of journal.
Especially because it is so obvious that it is entirely unnecessary,
if all I want is OA for my articles. I can keep my journals of choice
and self-archive the articles I publish in them.

PLoS has already misjudged research community behaviour: They elicited
34,000 pledges from biomedical researchers worlwide to boycott journals
that did not go gold by September 2001. The journals did not comply,
and the signees did not abide by the boycott.

And no wonder, since PLoS had no plan B: There were almost no other
journals to turn to in September 2001. Today there are about 1800 gold
journals, including, among the biomedical ones, BMC's fleet of over 150
and PLoS's few but prestigious titles. But only about 8% of the total
number of 24,000 journals is gold, and most of them are not yet among
the top journals in their fields.

So there would be a good deal for researchers to resent and resist if
it were mandated that their choice of journal was henceforth restricted
to that 8%. All the more since there *is* a plan B, which is: If there
is no suitable gold journal, publish in which ever journal you choose,
and self-archive the article.

That is 100% OA while retaining the freedom to choose one's journal. And
it is precisely the policy that both the RCUK and Berlin 3 have recommended:
A self-archiving mandate plus encouragement to publish in a gold journal
if/when a suitable one exists.

Perhaps the reason I don't find this argument ridiculous is because I
am just concerned with reaching 100% OA as soon as possible, at long
last -- not with filling the pages of any particular journal -- or kind
of journal, nor with reforming publishing.

On Sat, 10 Sep 2005, Jean-Claude Guédon wrote:

> J-CG: When governments financially support (directly or indirectly) scholarly
> journals, these journals are governmental (i.e. public money) fundees.

I agree. And I fully agree that in such cases the funder is fully within
its rights to require that those journals go gold, if the funder wishes
(and ends can still be made to meet).

But my question stands: What proportion of the 24,000 journals that exist,
or even the top 8000, does Jean-Claude imagine to be publicly funded in
this way?

(We are not disagreeing about these special cases: We are disagreeing
about their representativeness, hence their relevance to the OA problem).

> J-CG: In Canada, the Federation for the Social sciences and humanities manages
> a half-million dollar fund to support the publishing of scholarly
> monographs... publishers are being subsidised by public money (not libraries in
> this case) to produce monographs they would simply not produce
> otherwise. One may well wonder whether these books should not be added
> to the OA concern...

They can, and should. But again, these are minority exceptions, not the rule.
Most (scholarly/scientific) books are not subsidised and many are not intended by
their authors as give-aways.

> > SH: What proportion of the planet's 24,000 peer-reviewed journals does
> > Jean-Claude think that corresponds to -- and what proportion of the
> > budget of those journals does he think that covers?
> J-CG: A lot more than you seem to think, Stevan. Take the case of
> Canada alone, hardly a big player in the publishing world: SSHRC alone
> subsidizes around 150 journals; the Quebec equivalent subsidizes around
> 40 (the total is less than 190 as there is some overlap between the two
> sets). NRC supports 14 scientific journals with a yearly governmental
> grant that stands somewhere between 2 and 3 million CDN$. In France,
> CNRS subsidizes over 200 journals.

I repeat my question: What are the proportions? Absolute numbers do not convey
proportions. It would also be useful to know where these nationally subsidised
journals rank in quality in the full international arena of research journals.

> J-CG: Research ought to be done on this topic to give a clearer picture of the
> whole...

Yes, by all means. But in the meanwhile, can we get on with mandating
self-archiving, so we can have 100% OA?

> J-CG: you constantly seem to reason as if the only important actors were the
> scholars themselves. This is patently incomplete as a faithful picture
> of scholarly publishing and its social environment.

The authors are the primary content-providers -- the providers of the
content that we are seeking to make OA. Moreover, the authors (unlike
the secondary providers, the publishers) are not interested in earning
revenue from the sales. Indeed, they are interested in reaching as many
users as possible. Their institutions and their funders share the same
motivation (and benefits). And self-archiving one's own articles has been
tried and tested and demonstrated to be both feasible and as generating
50%-250% greater citation impact. And the two institutions that have
already adopted one (CERN and Southampton ECS) have demonstrated that
a self-archiving mandate successfully generates >90% compliance.

So is it any wonder that I focus on the primary content-providers as the only
important actors? Even the success of changes in "scholarly publishing and its
social environment" depend on the primary content-providers being willing to
choose to provide their content to gold journals.

Anyone is free to focus on trying to reform the publishing system -- the
secondary providers -- whether by cajoling or coercing. I just think that
the fast track, and the sure one, is to focus on the primary providers
(and their employers and funders), and their shared self-interest in the
benefits (to them) of OA -- attainable by self-help/self-archiving.

> JC-G: Mandating can be applied to certain categories of journals and publishers.
> That is all I am saying.

And that is all that the Green Party was saying too. And the point of my
original posting was that something (green, and far more important) had
been, ironically, left out. (To repeat: I completely agree that publicly
subsidised journals can and should be required by their subsidisers
to become OA journals as a condition for receiving further subsidy --
if they can still make ends meet that way).

> For your part, you are not even able to obtain a self-archiving mandate
> in your own university even though you are sitting on a committee
> dealing with OA.

Patience, Jean-Claude! It took a few years with my former university
(Southampton), but now it is one of the first two institutions in the world
that already have a self-archiving policy, and the whole of RCUK may be on
the verge. UQaM will come through too, never fear...

> Meanwhile, 20% here, and there, including the 15% of present
> self-archiving, with a variety of parallel strategies may get us there
> faster than just chanting the self-archiving mantra as the only possible
> way to OA salvation.

The 15% above refers to *actual* self-archiving today. (The corresponding
figure for OA journals is 8%.) The 20% estimate above referred to the
*potential* for coercing journals to go gold by attaching conditions
to support they receive from host institutions and research funders'
subsidies. The tertium comparationis for that potential 20% is
the potential 85% (77% if we adjust for OA journal articles) from a
self-archiving mandate. Adding up, that means a gold mandate could yield
the actual 8% plus about a potential 12% more to give 20% OA. A green
mandate could yield the actual 15% + the potential 85% = 100% OA.

Which is why (although I have nothing against parallel strategies) I keep
chanting the self-archiving mantra as the fastest and surest and fullest
road to 100% OA. I just don't like to hear the sound of one hand clapping
(as in the Green gold vote, omitting green).

Stevan Harnad
Received on Sat Sep 10 2005 - 21:21:27 BST

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