Re: Lord Sainsbury on the RCUK OA Proposal: Drubbing Peter to Pox Paul

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 29 Oct 2005 15:32:12 +0100

On Sat, 29 Oct 2005, Subbiah Arunachalam wrote:

> My point is scientists, like the British Minister, are highly educated and
> yet they find it difficult to appreciate what to you and me appear to be
> simple.
> We must think through this phenomenon and come up with a good workable
> solution.

Dear Arun,

You are quite right that it is both puzzling and frustrating that such
simple, transparent and even trivial things keep being systematically
misunderstood by people who not only speak the language but are quite

There are only a few possible explanations. I have no idea which is
correct (though I have my hunches), but here they are:

    (1): The premises of Open Access are wrong. There is in fact either
    (1a) no need for all those who do not currently have access to have
    access, or, if there is a need, then there is (1b) no way for all of
    them them to have access, or, if there is a way for all of them to
    have access, then (1c) it is either illegal or financially nonviable.

    (2): (1) above is false, but people do not know how or why.

    (3): (1) above is false, and people know how and why, but they have
    reasons for preferring that it should not come to pass anyway,
    hence they treat (1) as if it were true.

My own hunch is that (2) is closest to the truth. There may be some in
the publishing community who are closer to (3), but I do not believe
that it is they who are holding back OA. OA is provided by and for the
research community. It is in reality 100% in their hands, and always has
been. Hence if they are not yet providing it, it is certain that this is
not because of publishers. It is because of (2): the research community
does not (yet) know that (1) is false, nor how, nor why.

And if you want a functional analogy to this state of anosognosia (a
neurological condition in which a patient -- with intelligence fully
intact -- keeps systematically failing to perceive what is amiss, and
what to do about it), here is an example.

A professor, an intelligent professor, with full command of the English
language, has a stroke that leaves all of his intellectual faculties
unimpaired but (temporarily) paralyses the left side of his body,
leaving it unable to move or feel. You visit the professor in his
hospital bed and he is of course perfectly lucid, sharp as ever, reading
the latest edition of PLoS Biology, etc., but his left leg is dangling
off the side of his bed.

You ask him "What is happening here√"

He asks what you mean.

"I mean this" (pointing to the leg).

The professor seems not to have noticed it, but now that you draw it to
his attention to it, he says: "Oh, that. It's a leg. It was in my bed,
so I pushed it out."

Astonished, you reply: "But it's *your* leg!"

Professor (not astonished, but puzzled): "My leg√"

"Yes, your leg. Look, I start from the foot and trace it up, you see it
is connected to and leads to your body√"

Professor (still puzzled): "Quite so, I suppose you are right."

"Here, I will put it back in your bed for you: But are you in the habit
of seeing disembodied legs, and merely pushing them out of your bed
without asking any further questions?"

Professor (still puzzled): "No, of course not, you are quite right. How
silly of me. I don't know what came over me!"

The conversation continues, on other matters. Ninety-seconds later, the
professor pushes his leg out of the bed, without missing a beat.


And that is what it has felt like for years, explaining OA and
self-archiving to researchers, till they nod with apparent understanding,
only to relapse within 90 seconds. I've even given the syndrome a name --
Zeno's Paralysis -- and prescribed the FAQ to be ingested whenever any of
its 32 symptoms (so far known) manifest themselves.

    "Zeno's Paradox and the Road to the Optimal/Inevitable"

Let us hope that an appeal to their employers and funders will be
more successful. After all, it is not *their* leg that is in question.
Perhaps, like hospital attendants, they can see to it that researchers
do the right thing. Then the patients can go back to reading and writing
their journals...

The epidemiology and chronology of the pandemic can then be left to
the psychohistorians.

Cheers, Stevan

PS I suspect that conflating/confusing green and gold will turn out to
have played a big part in the long road road to the optimal/inevitable

On Sat, 29 Oct 2005, Subbiah Arunachalam wrote:

> Dear Stevan:
> We should try to understand why many people have problems in understanding
> what we think is simple English. For example, Lord Sainsbury, you say, has
> misunderstood the RCUK proposal as well as the earlier Select Committee
> proposal. He is a Minister in the UK Government and obviously must be an
> educated person. And English is his mother tongue. He is not a second
> generation immigrant from the subcontinent or Africa. And yet you find him
> 'misunderstanding' simple English statements.
> A number of Indians, many of them very bright young graduates, are unable to
> go to US (or British) universities to pursue higher studies because they
> fail to clear English as a Foreign Language test. I can understand that, as
> even today many rural Indian schools have problems hiring good English
> teachers. Is there a similar problem in the UK too?
> More importantly, if people in positions of power take decisions on the
> basis of wrong perceptions, how can we correct what we see as their wrong
> decisions?
> Yesterday I was returning from Bangalore by a late evening flight, after
> attending a conference on India's competitiveness and preparedness to
> progress in a knowledge economy/society, which was attended, among others,
> by the chairman and most of the members of the high power Science Advisory
> Council to the Prime Minister. On the flight I met an old friend, a marine
> zoologist and a Fellow of the Indian national Science Academy. I tried to
> explain to him the advantages of OA self archiving, but he was insisting
> that as far as he was concerned it was enough if he published in a reputed
> journal (most journals in his field he told me were published by commercial
> publishers). I said even then he could still deposit his papers in an
> archive, to which he replied that it would lead to copyright violation and
> the journals would refuse to publish his papers any more.
> My point is scientists, like the British Minister, are highly educated and
> yet they find it difficult to appreciate what to you and me appear to be
> simple.
> We must think through this phenomenon and come up with a good workable
> solution.
> Regards.
> Arun
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Stevan Harnad" <>
> To: "King MPST" <>
> Sent: Friday, October 28, 2005 10:24 PM
> Subject: [BOAI] Lord Sainsbury on the RCUK OA Proposal: Drubbing Peter to
> Pox Paul
> > BioMed Central (BMC) has written a very good reply to Lord Sainsbury's
> > recent remarks about the RCUK policy proposal:
> >
> >
> >
> > BMC's point that it is untrue that there is a decline of interest
> > in open access publishing is quite correct. Interest continues to rise.
> >
> > Minor point: Rather than cite over-reliance on Journal Citation Impact
> > Factors
> > (though there *is* over-reliance on Journal Citation Impact Factors)
> > as a "level playing field" matter, disadvantaging new OA journal
> > start-ups,
> > my strategy would have been to stress the overwhelming evidence of the OA
> > Citation Advantage at the author/article level, as demonstrated by the
> > within-journal comparisons between what has and has not been made OA
> > through
> > self-archiving.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > BMC's passage about ignoring the UK Select Committee's impartial advice
> > on Open Access Self-Archiving is also very helpful and spot-on (though
> > I rather wish -- again a very minor point -- that Matt had called it
> > "Self-Archiving" rather than just "Archiving," which always makes it sound
> > ambiguous as between OA provision itself and mere preservation-archiving).
> >
> > It might also have been helpful to point out to Lord S that 93% of the
> > journals in the Romeo index have already given their green light to
> > self-archiving, whereas it is Lord S who appears to be ambivalent about
> > RCUK's proposal to mandate it. Lord S wrote:
> >
> > Lord S: "what [RCUK] said effectively is we want you to publish it as
> > soon
> > as you can, subject to reaching agreement with the publishers as
> > to when that would be. That seems to me to put researchers in an
> > impossible position, ie, every individual researcher has got to
> > start negotiating with the publisher as to what that means."
> >
> >
> > I would say that the one nearer an impossible position is not the
> > researcher, but Lord S, who has not understood the RCUK proposal; he has
> > (yet again) conflated OA publishing (which is not what RCUK is proposing
> > to mandate) with OA self-archiving (of *published* articles), which is
> > what RCUK is proposing to mandate. Lord S is (yet again) drubbing Peter
> > (OA self-archiving, green) to pox Paul (OA publishing, gold), as he did
> > with the Select Committee proposal, which he also misunderstood:
> >
> > "Drubbing Peter to pox Paul"
> > Thursday December 2, 2004
> > Guardian Education
> >
> >,11056,1364556,00.html
> >
> > With about 93% of journals already green on OA self-archiving, Lord S is
> > being
> > more royalist than the sovereign, more catholic than the pope...
> >
> >
> >
> > The following (*extremely* hirsute) passage from Lord S alas does not
> > attest
> > to a clear grasp of what is at issue, even when he endeavours to consider
> > OA self-archiving separately:
> >
> > Lord S: "The question of institutional repositories is a slightly
> > different one because I think there is a role for institutional
> > repositories [SH: So far so good], but in rather specific
> > circumstances, which is there is a whole series of fields of research
> > where the people like publishing their papers and what they are doing
> > before they send them to the journals, and this is a very good way
> > of communication between research communities. The question here
> > is what is the requirement or the desire for people to publish
> > them alongside publishing them in the actual journals? [SH: Lord S
> > seems here both to be conflating (1a) publishing with (1b) providing
> > access to the publication and (2a) pre-peer-review preprints with
> > (2b) post-peer-review postprints] I think that is for individual
> > universities to decide for themselves as to whether that is a cost
> > [SH: Cost? Cost of what? Cost to whom?] that they think is justified
> > subject to whatever agreement is reached with the publishers on what
> > is the proper thing to do."
> >
> >
> > Agreement? 93% of journals have already given their blessing to author
> > self-archiving. But so preoccupied is Lord S with the costs to and
> > of the journal trade that he seems to be missing entirely the fact
> > that the RCUK self-archiving mandate is meant to recover a needless
> > ongoing cost to the British tax-payer, who funds RCUK research, namely,
> > the loss of at least 50% (i.e., about £1.5 billion's-worth) of citation
> > impact on the RCUK's annual £3.5 billion investment in research, a loss
> > that occurs because currently the only researchers who can access a UK
> > research finding are those whose institutions can afford access to the
> > journal in which that finding happens to be published. Access denied to
> > all the rest of its would-be users.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> > The RCUK self-archiving mandate is intended to make RCUK-funded research
> > output accessible also to those would-be users who cannot afford
> > the journal in which it happens to be published, so as to remedy the
> > needlessly lost usage and impact of UK research findings, to maximise
> > their uptake, usage, and applications, and thereby to maximise the
> > benefits to British tax-payers resulting from the research that they
> > have paid for.
> >
> > Where do journal-costs and publishing-models figure at all in this
> > equation? The transaction seems to be primarily one between the British
> > tax-payer and the British research community that it funds to produce
> > research, research which is in turn intended to be used and applied for
> > the benefit of the British tax-payer, not to serve as a product to be
> > sold, as in a supermarket, for the benefit of some other party. Publishers
> > certainly add value (and earn revenue) from this transaction too, but
> > their retail side-trade surely is not what it is all about!
> >
> > Surely Lord S is not just our trade minister, but our science minister
> > as well. As such, he should stop conflating trade matters with research
> > matters, especially when it otherwise entails the tail wagging the dog.
> >
> > Stevan Harnad
> >
> > A complete Hypermail archive of the ongoing discussion of providing
> > open access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2005)
> > is available at:
> >
> > To join or leave the Forum or change your subscription address:
> >
> > Post discussion to:
> >
> >
> > UNIVERSITIES: If you have adopted or plan to adopt an institutional
> > policy of providing Open Access to your own research article output,
> > please describe your policy at:
> >
> >
> > BOAI-1 ("green"): Publish your article in a suitable toll-access
> > journal
> >
> > OR
> > BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a open-access journal if/when
> > a suitable one exists.
> >
> > AND
> > in BOTH cases self-archive a supplementary version of your article
> > in your institutional repository.
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
> >
Received on Sat Oct 29 2005 - 15:41:51 BST

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