Re: Guide for the Perplexed: Re: UK Select Committee Inquiry

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 16 Dec 2005 17:03:23 +0000

On Fri, 16 Dec 2005, Barry Mahon wrote:

> IMO, it is not often that Governments are so logical in their approach to policy.

Barry then goes on to cite the following as an example of this logical approach to

        "The Government's position on open access is that we need to
        ensure, as we have heard from many quarters, a level playing

A "level playing field" in what? for whom?

The problem OA is meant to solve is *access to research*: Researchers
whose institutions can't afford to subscribe to the journal in which
a piece of research appears cannot access and use it, which means
lost research uptake, impact, productivity and progress.

Now, what is the playing field and who are the players and how is it to
be levelled, and by whom?

        "in order that research funding authorities can have the
        discretion to provide the funds if the author prefers an open
        access route.

The Select Committee's only recommended policy requirement, and RCUK's only
recommended policy requirement, is self-archiving.

No mention whatsoever of that. Nor are all these football slogans
in any way relevant to that policy requirement.

Instead we hear about "providing funds". One guesses this is about the
peripheral recommendation (not a requirement) that funds be provided to
help pay RCUK fundees' OA publication costs? How did that take its place
at centre-field, instead of the real substantive policy issue at hand?

        "Given the uncertainty with current business models,
        that position is the most appropriate in order to encourage
        competition and innovation in publishing models and to retain
        freedom of choice for authors.

Business models? How did that come to centre-field? Sounds as if the
government is against providing funds to help pay RCUK fundees' OA
publication costs. Pity. Foolish. But purely peripheral. What has become
of the central, substantive issue: to require self-archiving?

        "The Government need to consider a number of important issues
        with regard to scientific publications.

Scientific publications? What has become of the problem of researcher
access to research? And the resulting lost research usage, impact
and progress?

        "Hon. Members will be
        aware that different disciplines, ranging from social sciences
        to astrophysics, have different needs, so a one-size solution
        would not necessarily fit all.

Do any disciplines *not* need research access and impact? Do any not have
the problem of researcher access to research? Are there any disciplines
for which it is not true that researchers whose institutions can't afford
to subscribe to the journal in which a piece for research appears cannot
access and use it?

If the answer is no, why are we talking about discipline differences? The
one size that surely both fits and is necessary for all research disciplines
is 100% access to all would-be users of their research findings.

        "We have to take into account
        the specific needs of many very different disciplines when
        formulating policy.

Do any disciplines *not* need research access and impact?

If not, why are we talking about discipline differences?

        "Much has been said about the vital issue of
        peer review. Researchers need to be confident that the article
        that they are reading has been vigorously and rigorously peer
        reviewed, whatever the business model might be.

What has this to do with anything? The proposed self-archiving requirement
is to require the self-archiving of the final, peer-reviewed draft that has
been accepted for publication by the peer-reviewed journal. Where is the
vital peer review issue there?

And OA journals (*not* the subject of the policy requirement) are likewise
peer reviewed.

So what has this to do with anything?

        "Peer review is
        crucial for quality control, whether in print format or in an
        electronic journal, whether using open access or traditional
        subscription approaches.

Why are we being regaled with such homilies, when peer review is not at issue?

        "It is imperative that the quality of research articles be
        maintained and not compromised by financial considerations or
        hasty changes to business models.

Who is proposing a change in business model, hasty or otherwise?

The only substantive recommendation of both the Select Committee and
the RCUK is to require self-archiving (of peer-reviewed journal articles
accepted for publication, to maximise access and impact).

       "As has been said, the leading
        journals have significant rejection rates, and it is that that
        drives up the quality of the articles"

What on earth has this to do with anything?

What logic is it that Barry espies here: The logic of the non sequitur,
or the petitio principii?

All I espy is a reductio ad absurdum of any Government claim to have
the faintest idea of what it is talking about, or what is really at issue
in all this.

Does Barry have any idea what is at issue?

> I am not sure that this comment meets Stevan's criteria for distribution....

I would not have posted it except to point out the *illogic* of the
series of non-sequiturs about which Barry had nothing more to say than
that he found them logical.

Stevan Harnad

P.S. I do have to add that in watching the debate I too was struck by the
fact that some, at least, of the MPs were remarkably well-informed about
some aspects of the OA issue. But even these more sophisticated MPs,
and even those of them that were OA partisans, kept, without exception,
either begging the question or missing the point, in their blinkered
fixation on publishing and OA publishing, without a hint of a sense for
the fact that self-archiving is the policy issue here, not OA publishing.
Received on Fri Dec 16 2005 - 17:08:57 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:48:09 GMT