Re: Open Letter about OA to the Royal Society by Fellows of the Royal Society

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 8 Dec 2005 21:27:32 +0000

     Re: "Science academy defends open access policy"
     Donald MacLeod, Guardian: Education
     Thursday December 8, 2005,10577,1662988,00.html

On Thu, 8 Dec 2005 wrote:

> Dear Stevan
> Royal Society response to my website piece
> is this true?
> best wishes Donald

Dear Donald,

You ask whether BMC coordinated the Open Letter from Fellows of
the Royal Society dissenting from the Royal Society statement. The
answer is yes, in part (and PLoS too).

My understanding is that the negative reaction to the Royal Society
statement occurred, in part, among FRSs who were either editors or on the
editorial board of some BMC (and probably PLoS) journals. This formed a
point of focus for a collective action, which BMC helped coordinate --
which is a very good thing, because otherwise it may have taken longer
to reach critical mass. (It would almost certainly have happened anyway.)

But before you make too much of the spin that the RS's publicist, Bob
Ward, is trying to put on it ("potential vested commercial interest"),
please note the following two facts:

    (1) There are far more signatories than the small initial
    seed-population of BMC Editors


   (2) This was a rather disinterested contribution of BMC toward OA,
   because it is not OA publishing that the RCUK is proposing to require,
   but OA self-archiving -- of articles published in *non-OA* journals.

This means that BMC (and PLoS) helped for the sake of OA, not for the sake
of BMC journals, which, from the financial point of view, are actually
in a kind of *competition* with OA self-archiving. For BMC's and PLoS's
primary appeal to authors is that they should publish in BMC or PLoS
in order to make their research OA. But the RCUK mandate will make all
RCUK-funded articles OA through self-archiving, making it *unnecessary*
to publish in an OA journal in order to make an article OA.

So Bob Ward sees a "potential vested commercial interest" only
because he and the RS continue to see this all (rather jadedly)
as a competition for money (in this case: money via subscription-charges
vs. BMC's money via author-charges). In reality, it is not about
money or competition at all: it is about OA.

I will be responding publicly to the "RS"'s response (I have not yet read
it) and particularly to whatever they imply publicly about BMC's very
welcome and commendable help in rousing the growing FRS response. I myself
am drawing it to the attention of FRSs I know too, including Tim Berners-Lee,
who (I still hope) might agree to sign Friday.

You might also note that BMC (unlike those who drafted the Royal Society
statement, which looks to have been largely the RS's publishing wing) at
least had the courtesy to actually inform and contact the FRSs about what
is going on! (This rather nullifies Bob Ward's plaint that the signers
of the Open Letter "did not offer the Society a chance to respond." This
sort of clumsy self-servingness will not wash well in public. And I'll bet
this is not really the voice of the RS at all: It's just the pub-ops tail
wagging the regal pooch...)

Cheers, Stevan
Received on Thu Dec 08 2005 - 21:49:51 GMT

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