Re: Maximising the Return on UK's Public Investment in Research

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 28 Sep 2005 21:21:50 +0100

On Wed, 28 Sep 2005 eugene.garfield_at_THOMSON.COM wrote:

> Dear Stevan: There seems to me to be problem with your estimates
> of increased citation due to lack of author self-archiving. Have
> you determined what percentage of citations are made by authors at
> institutions that cannot afford access to the journals?

Dear Gene, good to hear from you!

No, our studies did not analyse the location of the citing authors, nor
their institutional journal holdings. Such a study would be possible,
but rather complicated, and I am not sure it would be necessary. I think
the sizeable citation advantage for the self-archived articles speaks
for itself, without the need to confirm that the increased usage indeed
comes from those who did not have institutional access.

> It would seem to me, from previous experience, that the group of
> institutions that account for a large percentage of the publications and
> subsequent citations, are the ones that can afford and do have access to
> the journals which account for the largest percentage of pubs and cites.

That was true in the days of Current Contents, when the only way
to supplement institutional access was to mail paper reprints to
reprint-requesters. But today, when one can provide help-yourself eprints
to any would-be user webwide, it is very likely that the proportions have
changed. The core journals and institutions are still the core journals
and institutions, both for subscriptions and for use, but the size of
the potential-user population whose access-denial can now be remedied
is far, far larger. Surely you don't think *every* potential user and
citer already has institutional access to *every* article they may wish
to use and cite? The rest is just about how many, where...

> Am I mistaken in making this assumption.

Not at all. Perhaps only about the size of a webwide open-access effect.

> So how will the citations increase if it is mainly the poorer
> institutions that benefit from free access. Just because you provide
> access to journals does not mean that you have made it possible to do
> more research. I of course support the idea of access but see it as of
> great educational value to those in the poorer nations. We must also
> promote increased support for research in those countries if we are to
> see increased citation. Best wishes. Gene Garfield

I will let the researchers from the "poorer institutions" speak for
themselves! But I suspect that it's not true that even the richest
institutions have everything they need -- either in terms of access as
users or impact as authors (the latter being dependent on the access
of *others*), nor that it is quite as closed a circle as it may have
appeared from the old statistics in paper days.

But, when all is said and done, an increased citation rate of
50-250% speaks for itself, regardless of its provenance (rich/poor,
core/non-core). The finer-scale analysis of where the enhanced usage
is coming from and going will all be done in good time. The urgent
priority right now is fast-forwarding the self-archiving rate from its
current 15% level to the 100% where it should be, and should long have
been. That will ensure that we stop losing the benefits. Then we can,
at our leisure, count and classify the ways we've all benefitted.

See "Sitting Pretty":

Best wishes,

> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Scientist Open Access Forum [mailto:AMERICAN-SCIENTIST-OPEN-ACCESS-FORUM_at_LISTSERVER.SIGMAXI.ORG] On Behalf Of Stevan Harnad
> Sent: Saturday, September 24, 2005 9:57 PM
> Subject: Re: Maximising the Return on UK's Public Investment in Research
> Letter to Times Higher Education Supplement for publication concerning:
> Laura Barnett and Hanna Hindstrom, "All research to go online,"
> Times Higher Education Supplement, September 23, 2004
> The Research Councils UK have proposed to mandate that all RCUK fundees
> make their articles openly accessible online by self-archiving them on
> the web. In disappointingly inaccurate THES article ('All research to
> go online' Sep 23), the authors get most of the important details wrong.
> They write:
> THES: '[A] benefit of online *open access publishing* [italics mine]
> would be that academics and researchers would no longer have to
> rely on their institutions to provide access to articles published
> in subscription-only journals.'
> Not only is it not open access publishing but open access self-archiving
> (of their articles published in subscription-only journals) that the
> RCUK is mandating for their researchers, but this does not mean that
> their researchers will no longer rely on their institutions to provide
> access to the journals they subscribe to: How could my giving away my own
> published articles online provide me with access to the articles in the
> journals my institution subscribes to? I give my articles away so other
> researchers worldwide whose institutions cannot afford to subscribe to
> the journals my articles were published in can nevertheless access and
> use them. That is how it (1) maximises my own research impact, and, far
> more important, also (2) maximizes the return on the British public's
> yearly 3.5 billion investment in research.
> But the THES article misquotes me on (1):
> THES ("quoting" SH): 'if citations rose by 50 to 250 per cent because
> of online *open-access publishing* [sic, again: italics mine, but
> not the words] researchers could gain more than 2.5 million a year
> in potential salary increases, grants and funding renewals'
> and simply leaves out completely (2) the far more important loss of 1.5
> billion in returns (in the form of at least 50% more citations) on the
> British public's yearly 3.5 billion pound investment in research. Nor
> is this an if/then pipe-dream: The projections are based on objective,
> published measurements of the degree to which self-archiving increases
> research impact.
> But by far the worst inaccuracy in the THES article -- and it really does
> a disservice to those who pin their hopes on the RCUK policy for
> maximising British research impact -- is the gratuitous exaggeration of
> what is currently a real but remediable flaw in the wording of the RCUK
> proposal. The current draft says
> RCUK: 'Deposit should take place at the earliest opportunity,
> wherever possible at or around the time of publication.'
> But the THES article instead says:
> THES: 'Under the proposals from Research Councils UK, published work
> would not necessarily go online immediately. Academics and publishers
> would be allowed a grace period, which could last anywhere from a
> few months up to several years. The publisher would determine the
> exclusion period...'
> This is utter nonsense, and it would make a nonsense of the RCUK policy,
> if this were indeed the form it took. The RCUK's current language simply
> needs to be made more precise:
> SH: 'Deposit must take place immediately upon acceptance for
> publication, and access should be made open at the earliest
> opportunity.'
> (In the meanwhile, the article is visible, and the authors can email
> e-prints of it to all those e-print-requesters whose institutions cannot
> access it, thereby still maximising its impact, but with more keystrokes
> than would be most efficient.)
> The 8 co-signatories of the open letter in support of the RCUK policy,
> including the inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, are quoted
> correctly on this, but the THES authors don't seem notice that what
> they said is contradicted by the letter:
> TB-L et al: 'We believe the RCUK should go ahead and implement its
> immediate [italics mine] self-archiving mandate, without delay.'
> (More trivially, the THES authors name 4 universities, corresponding
> to one each of 4 of the 8 co-signatories, but omit Southampton, the
> university of all 4 of the remaining co-signatories, including Sir Tim!)
> The last piece of nonsense is this:
> THES: 'Universities are not obliged to implement a repository system,
> which costs about 80,000 to set up and about 40,000 a year in
> maintenance.'
> This too is based on a flaw in the current wording of the policy, which
> actually says that the articles
> RCUK: 'should be deposited in an appropriate e-print repository
> (either institutional or subject-based) wherever such a repository
> is available to the award-holder.'
> But the cost of creating and maintaining a repository is in reality less
> than 10% of the arbitrary and inflated figures cited by THES.
> Stevan Harnad
Received on Thu Sep 29 2005 - 00:50:43 BST

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