Re: Critique of Research Fortnight article on RCUK policy proposal

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 6 Oct 2005 16:52:42 +0100

    Prior AmSci Topic Thread (started September 16, 2005):
    "Critique of research Fortnight article on RCUK policy proposal"

                    AUDI ALTERAM PARTEM

                    Stevan Harnad

This is a critique of the following unsigned article that has just appeared in
Research Fortnight (the second of its kind):

    "The Dangers of Open Access, RCUK Style"
    Unsigned Article, Research Fortnight:

> "Research Fortnight does not publish learned journals and has no reason
> to defend commercial publishers, but the publishers are right when
> they say that self-archiving as proposed by Research Councils UK will
> stop new journals being launched and cause existing journals to close."

Someone evidently has Research Fortnight's unsigned article's author's ear
(and it's certainly not your humble archivangelist):

> "Stevan Harnad, professor of cognitive science and one of the most
> vocal advocates of open access, believes the UK in not maximising the
> benefits of its research spend. In his words: 'the UK is losing £1.5
> billion annually, in the potential impact of its scientific research spending.'
> "His argument, set out in a recent paper, goes like this:
> self-archiving increases citation impact by between 50 and 250
> percent; the UK research councils spend £3.5 billion annually; so
> far only 15 per cent of researchers self-archive, meaning another 85%
> could; therefore 50% x £ x 85% = £
> "This argument is so ludicrous it would be a waste of space bothering
> to knock it down."

In place of this risibly unnecessary knock-down counter-argument,
we accordingly have this:

> "What is interesting, though, is that Harnad's paper has been
> self-archived on the University of Southampton's own e-print site and
> shows no signs of having been peer-reviewed or published elsewhere."

It is interesting that a transparent match-box calculation whose outcome
seems to be uncongenial to some ears is discounted by our anonymous
author for not having been "peer-reviewed." One wonders if, following
the same logic, Research Fortnight would have discounted the following
unrefereed observation:

    "Prior (published) evidence has shown that placing unused batteries
    (cost, £1 apiece) in the refrigerator increases their hours of usage
    by 50%, but only 15% of users refrigerate them. We accordingly point
    out here the following match-box calculation: The 85% of battery-users
    who are not refrigerating their batteries are losing 50p's worth of
    potential usage, hence 50p's worth of value for their money."

Ludicrous? In need of peer review? A waste of space to bother
refuting? Or dismissed only as a consequence of having listened only
to the battery-makers who say that self-refrigerating "will stop new
battery-makers being launched and cause existing battery-makers to close"?

> "This demonstrates one of the problems of a switch to open access
> publishing: the pollution of the corpus of scholarship by papers
> that have not been subject to sufficient quality control."

Is Research Fortnight having difficulty distinguishing between research content
and trivial, transparent arithmetic? And does the ironic call for "peer review"
come from Research Fortnight or the disgruntled battery-makers to whom they have
lent their ear, monaurally? (Should the statement "the publishers are
right when they say that self-archiving as proposed by Research Councils
UK will stop new journals being launched and cause existing journals
to close" likewise have been subjected to peer review?)

> "It also shows that advocates of open access have not thought through
> their arguments."

I leave it to the Forum to decide who is not thinking arguments through, or even
listening to them disinterestedly.

(The rest of the unsigned Research Fortnight article is an echolalic
transcript -- uncritical and unfiltered -- of the by now very familiar
arguments we have kept hearing from certain (non-research) lobbyists
against OA and self-archiving, with no sign of having been thought through
[let alone peer-reviewed] by Research Fortnight, or anyone else.)

My advice to Research Fortnight, if it has any wish to play the role
of honest broker in this important issue for research and researchers:
Audi Alteram Partem. So far, Research Fortnight has failed deplorably
in that role, twice.

Stevan Harnad
Moderator, American Scientist Open Access Forum

Chaire de recherche du Canada
Centre de neuroscience de la cognition (CNC)
Université du Québec à Montréal
Montréal, Québec, Canada H3C 3P8

Professor of Cognitive Science
Department of Electronics and Computer Science
University of Southampton
Highfield, Southampton
Received on Thu Oct 06 2005 - 17:20:18 BST

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