A Research Physicist's Objections to a Self-Archiving Mandate

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Wed, 4 Jan 2006 13:49:38 +0000

(Excerpts from an ongoing exchange between RP and SH about open access,
self-archiving, mandates, peer review, research funding and journal

     "RP" is a Research Physicist (who prefers to remain anonymous), very
     used to doing and using what he calls "data-basing" [what we usually
     call here, "self-archiving"], but worried about the implications
     for the survival of journals if data-basing (self-archiving) is
     universally mandated; RP proposes some ideas of his own.
     ("RP1" is the same physicist, from an earlier exchange)

     SH is Stevan Harnad

         "APay": Author pays (or author pays, via research grants)
         all or part of journal production and distribution costs

         "APay hybrid": Author pays only for "refereeing charges",
         subscriber pays for printed version of journal, electronic
         version remains free (OA), or is charged at a moderate rate
         corresponding to actual production costs.

         "SPay": Subscribers pay full costs of journals, both electronic
         and printed version

    SUMMARY by SH: I think this exchange can be summarised as follows:
    RP recognises the benefits of self-archiving (and he self-archives)
    but is opposed to a self-archiving mandate, because he thinks that
    might put journal cost-recovery via subscriptions at risk. If it does,
    and authors' research funders end up paying the OA publishing costs,
    he would not welcome sacrificing any of his research grant funding
    for this except if it came with some reforms in peer review. My
    reply is that we can cross those hypothetical bridges if and when
    we ever come to them, but meanwhile we should delay no further in
    reaping the sure benefits of mandated self-archiving.

    SUMMARY by RP: This is not really an adequate summary of my views,
    since it leaves out much of the point I am trying to make, which
    begins with the assumption that journals are necessary to ensure:
    (1) a reasonable standard of quality control, through peer review,
    and (2) the preservation, in the long term, of a record of research
    results for posterity. I believe that neither of these would be
    adequately provided by the institutional or joint archive data bases,
    and I think it is important to anticipate the likely implications
    for the survival and viability of journals if mandated deposit
    of published articles in data bases makes the identical published
    material available to everyone for free. I therefore put the main
    emphasis on ensuring the "value-added" provided by the journals.


> RP: In order not to confuse the issue, let's not talk about OA journals,
> which really just means: author pays all (or nearly all) publication
> costs, and the journal only charges the subscriber for the printed version
> (while "giving away" the online version). Better to call this: "APay" (author
> pays), since you are using OA to refer to the genuinely free or rather,
> "institutions and funding organizations cover the dissemination costs
> directly" data-base vehicle. The other journals, which at present are
> the majority, let's call "SPay" (subscriber pays the costs).

SH: I think that is not a useful way to cut the cake. Author-pays
is virtually always author-institution (AIPay) or author-funder
pays (AFPay), almost never author's pocket pays (APay). But, even
more important, OA journals are not just AIPay/AFPay/APay journals:
OA journals can be SPay journals too, if their online version is given
away free for all. (Over half of the OA journals listed in the Directory
of OA Journals are SPay journals!) This second sort of OA SPay journal is
a second source of evidence that there can be peaceful co-existence and
successful cost-covering even when all the online versions of articles
are available free (i.e., when the journal, rather than the author,
is giving them away free).

> RP: I am referring to the modality - and don't mean that it would
> come from the authors pocket. As you see below, and I certainly know,
> it would be, mostly "the author's grant pays, if he has one", but APay
> can be used as an abbreviation in any case.
> I view the problematic side as being with the journals, and have nothing
> against encouraging data basing per se, of course. My only
> objections are related to the coercive aspects, and the possible
> negative impact on journals, and researchers, including something where
> I see a problem existing anyway, which could get worse, or better - namely,
> unreliable refereeing - that is intimately linked with their mode of
> operation, and hence inseparable from the question. Let's begin by referring
> to some of my earlier comments.
>> RP1: It is quite possible that the greater cancellation rates haven't
>> YET started in physics, because all the other areas did not as yet have
>> the same logic, and the physicists would have screamed if only THEIR
>> journals had been cancelled by their librarians.

SH: That's very possible, but notice a subtle change in your position:
First you said that what was happening in physics was different, and for
that reason did not threaten journals. Now you say maybe it already has
or or maybe it will. So if it already has or eventually does, do you
conclude that physicists should stop self-archiving?

> RP: It isn't a change, but a further viewpoint. I don't know which
> mechanism is foremost - they are all present, in any case, as prior
> conditions. The physics data bases arose through a process that was:
> spontaneous, non-coercive, and gradual, which distinguishes it from
> what you and RCUK propose. If it is the case that no cancellations
> occurred because of it (which I rather doubt), attributing the causes
> is necessarily speculative. It COULD be because of the gradual nature
> of the transition, and it COULD be because physics was the only domain
> in which [self-archiving] was occurring on a large enough scale to even
> theoretically consider using the data bases as an alternative mode of
> access; and NOT cancelling journals because of it was only happening in
> physics. Both these factors could be relevant simultaneously.

SH: Past evidence (whether positive or negative) is never a guarantor that
the future will continue in the same vein -- but it is certainly the
best predictor. Given a choice, I think there is a lot more empirical
weight behind the evidence-based prediction that self-archiving does
not cause cancellations than the evidence-free "prediction" that it does.

> RP: You can use past evidence which does not exactly (or even partially)
> reproduce the projected scenario only as a supportive argument - but
> not as PROOF. There is conjecture involved, and one should make all
> reasonable assumptions (including guesses) when trying to predict the
> future outcome. You are trying to persuade the skeptics there will be
> no negative impact upon SPay journals. Common sense says that if all
> domains have the same articles available on the net for anyone, for free,
> the libraries WILL begin cancelling subscriptions if they cannot afford
> the subscription costs. And journals relying on such subscription costs
> for their continued existence WILL either have to keep increasing the
> charges to survivors, or change their mode of revenue generation to
> APay (or hybrid), or stop functioning.

SH: Perhaps. No evidence at all for it yet, but one can certainly make
that speculation. And it's fine with me if publishing adapts in that

> RP: No conclusive evidence exists either way. (The physics experience
> is not the presumed scenario, since it is not universal, or mandated,
> and hence can just be used to help clarify the perspective, not to prove
> anything.) Common sense must therefore prevail, rather than dubious
> arguments tending to "prove" something that is not provable.
> You say: switching over to APay is no problem, because the LIBRARIES
> would then have a windfall, and could then cover the costs!

SH: Plus there are the research-funders, who are already ready to cover
APay costs.

> RP: But this is based on unproved assumptions. The research funders
> (and this does not just concern RCUK) would likely not make new money
> available to researchers over and above what they already receive -
> the publication costs would therefore have to be covered from research
> grants, and hence diminish the amount usable for "actual" research
> purposes by the researchers themselves. And remember, RCUK does not
> function in a vacuum; it is only UK researchers they fund. The rest
> of the world would also be affected by a switch to APay publishing,
> and the bills would have to paid by sources elsewhere, who perhaps do
> not have the same views as RCUK about funding of publications.

SH: Also, APay costs would be at least 2/3 less than current SPay
expenditure (if/when the print edition is abandoned, which is what
we are imagining, when we imagine catastrophic cancellations as a result
of self-archiving).

> RP: I don't believe that at all. Simply abandoning a proportion
> of the printed version would not lead to such huge reductions in costs,
> even if it amounted to reducing volume by 2/3, since they are not
> simply proportional to the volume of printed material produced.
> Invariant overhead and personnel costs would remain largely unaltered.
> And journals could not suddenly function, with the same end product,
> on 1/3 their current revenues, just because they go over to an APay
> (or hybrid) mode. You are only looking at part of the formula. There
> can be no miracles. The SAME costs have to still be covered, and if the
> subscribers don't pay, the authors will have to take up the slack.
> It is just a shifting of the accounting; nothing suddenly becomes
> cheaper.

SH: I'm not imagining covering the same costs: I am imagining that
subscriptions are cancelled; that means no one is paying for the print
version because there is no longer any demand for it. The online-only
costs are 1/3.

> RP: If subscriptions are cancelled, and no-one is paying for the printed
> version, the journal would go out of business; no publisher would be
> interested in functioning as a charitable institution at their own cost.
> If only a portion of the paper subscriptions are cancelled, and the online
> version is virtually free, the revenues will have to either be generated
> by increasing the subscription rates proportionately or shifting the charges
> to the authors and whoever supports them.
> As for this being covered by their institutions, on the grounds
> that the libraries will be making a huge savings by canceling their
> paper subscriptions, when have you ever heard of any researcher's
> LIBRARY paying for his publication costs! These are entirely separate
> budgets, and I see no realistic expectation that institutions would
> suddenly, for the first time in history, decide that they should be paying
> the big bucks involved by researchers having to publish in APay journals.

SH: People made the same "when have you ever heard" arguments against
self-archiving mandates, yet they are quite possible, quite practical,
and quite possibly coming now, at last. The exact same thing is true here.
It is quite possible to redirect a portion (< 1/3) of institutional
windfall subscription cancellation savings if/when there are ever
catastrophic global cancellations, toward covering institutional APay
costs. Necessity is the mother of invention.

> RP: It is possible, but you are confusing an "is" with an "ought",
> and you cannot be the spokesman for those who control university or
> library budgets. I rather doubt they would ever be persuaded to rechannel
> library money saved by subscription cancellations, or reduced rates,
> to the subsidization of research publications costs. It would have to
> come from another direction - and, most likely, out of the author's
> research funds (for those who have them).
> So, this would more than likely mean that the publication costs would
> have to come out of the researchers' research grants, as in the bad old
> days, and not from his institutions library fund!

SH: Who knows; who cares? This is a hypothetical problem, based on
imagining this and that, for none of which there is as yet any actual
evidence; whereas daily access/impact loss is a real concrete problem,
with a real concrete solution, that has been tested, and works:

> RP: I care. I am a researcher. I don't want to have to support fewer
> students or postdocs, or buy less equipment, or take fewer trips,
> because my research grant has to pay annually some $1000 - $2000 for each
> research paper I publish! (Although, who knows, globally such a scenario
> might be beneficial, by making people more judicious about what they do,
> or do not choose to publish! More stuff would perhaps go into non -
> APay conference proceedings, or such.)
> But I have to add: IF I have to pay such charges, I would feel MUCH
> better about it, if I knew that they were all (or mostly all) going to
> pay for high quality refereeing. I would feel that the benefit gained
> by such a switch would largely counterbalance the sacrifice of research
> $$'s for the purpose.
> It seems to me that a "hybrid" model might, in the end, be the most
> effective: There should be a "refereeing charge" (not a page publication
> charge), which could be made to the author - (if the article is accepted)
> - and would entirely go to paying the referees (plus a small amount for
> overhead). This could, and should, be of the order of $30 - $50 per page
> in highly technical areas, where each page requires that much work to
> check through, or a much lower rate in easier areas, where the referee
> can quickly read through many pages, without, e.g., laboriously having
> to check calculations, look up background sources, etc.
> Then there could be a further charge to subscribers which only
> covers the production and distribution costs. If the journal is purely
> electronic, these could be pretty low (basically, payment of editorial
> staff for its time, plus pertinent overhead.) and entirely within reach
> of any modest library's budget, or given fortuitously to institutions
> that cannot even afford this.
> Then, there could be a further charge, for those who can afford it,
> for the "Printed edition". Since this would be the "prestige version",
> in part, for posterity, and would not be very frequently accessed anyway,
> it could be given something like the current, high subscription rate -
> and the libraries can just decide to take it, or leave it. Presumably,
> a few libraries will take it (LC, e.g., or the richest universities
> and laboratories), and the others may decide to leave it, opting only
> for the much cheaper electronic version, which most people would be
> accessing from their offices anyway (and) are so doing right now).
> This formula would mean that everyone is paying for what they are getting:
> the authors, for good refereeing procedures, and dissemination, the
> readers (institutions), for access, and those who can afford it, for the
> "prestige versions", that lasts as long as paper lasts (as now).
> The "page charges" get converted to "refereeing charges" and are
> proportional to the amount of work and expertise needed in the
> refereeing. (And - since, I am setting the rules here - the referees
> names get attached, partly to give them credit for the work - which they
> can henceforth honestly cite in their CV's - and partly to make them
> responsible for the guarantee of quality. And the "prestige" of journals
> is determined, henceforth, not by snobbery, prejudice and hearsay -
> but by the objectively verifiable calibre of their refereeing. )
> The cost- revenue balancing formula would then be pretty well
> correlated with the value-added benefits:
> I, as a researcher, pay from my grant, to have high quality
> refereeing. Also, it saves me time, indirectly, by helping me to know what
> is, or isn't worthwhile reading in the vast literature. Meanwhile, the
> remaining costs are covered equitably, and correspond to the additional
> "value-added": small additional charges, or none, for electronic access,
> which costs very little to the publisher anyway; higher costs for the
> traditional, printed versions, which are the most expensive production
> cost from the publishers viewpoint.
> For the researcher, this is a "luxury" item that he can survive
> without - but still, wants to have exist , at least, in "limited editions"
> for posterity. The sum of the three: (1) reasonable "refereeing charges"
> ( high, or not so high, depending upon the typical amount of time,
> within any domain, for papers to be checked conscientiously by the referee)
> paid by the author, and used (almost) entirely to reimburse the referee
> for his efforts, time and expertise + (2) very small, or no electronic
> version subscription costs + (3) pretty high paper subscription costs,
> with an expectedly somewhat diminished number of library subscribers,
> together, provides adequate revenue to keep the publisher in business,
> without shutting out those who cannot afford high subscription costs.

SH: All very reasonable and possible, but not happening, not soon likely
to happen, not clear how to make it happen, and even if one could and
did it happen, it still leaves the problem of OA, which, by definition,
is the would-be users who cannot afford online access no matter how low
the tolls!

It is fine, but rather premature, being based only on speculation.
APay can be both for submission and for publication. Those are all
possibilities, if/when their time ever comes.

But you have just reverted (in speculation-space) to lowering journal
subscription costs, which is fine (if we are speculating about library
budget problems). I was interested in something completely different:
Providing 100% OA, to everything, now, with no further waiting or
speculation. And lowering journal prices will not do that.

> RP: I am trying to view it from the journal's functioning viewpoint on
> the assumption that it must coexist with (OA) data bases. Mandating the
> data base solves one problem (OA), but potentially creates another
> one (journals disappearing). I am concerned about the need to solve
> THAT aspect of it! The solutions should be beneficial to researchers,
> underfunded institutions, libraries without killing the essential role
> that journal publishes play by strangling them.
> From my viewpoint, ONLY the change in refereeing mode and
> compensation could justify the switch to APay or hybrid mode.
> Otherwise, I would feel cheated of my research funds, which would
> then only benefit library budgets, and I would receive nothing in
> compensation as a researcher.

SH: These are all fine conjectures and suggestions, if one's interest
is in either second-guessing or guiding the possible eventual future of
publishing. I am not interested in doing that. My interest is in 100%
OA, now.

> RP: That means you addressing the "front-end" of the problem, and saying
> "apres moi le deluge". That will not convince those people very much,
> who care about the further implications. Furthermore. everything is a
> conjecture. One can "use" statistics to prove anything - true, or false,
> if it is based on data about only a "reasonably related" set of events,
> rather than representative statistics about the actual scenario
> envisioned (which don't, as yet, exist here).
> In the absence of definitive proof, it is reasoning, experience,
> and common sense that must prevail.

SH: No "proof" here, one way or the other. And what evidence there is gives
no sign of any impending deluge. And what the statistics say (without any
assumptions or interpretations) is that self-archiving enhances usage and
impact and has not yet caused detectable cancellations, even in fields
where it has gone on for a decade and a half and even in fields where
it reached 100% years ago. All empirical good sense suggests that these
empirical findings should now be *applied*, so as to generate still
more self-archiving, still more research impact. RCUK is proposing
to apply the findings. If and when there are any detectable signs of
the possibility of a deluge, the experiment can be reconsidered,
if we wish. It is still just an experiment, and UK research output
does not even account for a significant proportion of any international
journal. So it will not even go as far as it has already gone in physics
alone (unless other countries follow suit, as I hope they will!).

> RP: No proof, and hence, as I said, reasoning, experience, and
> common sense must prevail. Whether impact is enhanced
> by data-basing one's publications or not, the survival of a sustainable
> mechanism for assuring the filter of credible peer-review of
> published scientific work, and the long term guarantee of its
> availability for posterity, are of primary concern to all researchers.
> If an experiment is made without adequate forethought for
> the consequences, which leads to the extinction of many of
> the leading journals in an area, or to the compromising of
> the quality of peer review, it would be a bit late to say "We
> can try another experiment instead."
> I think that we are addressing different priorities. I would
> only become a supporter of any global scheme that changed the publication
> paradigm to guarantee OA if it also guaranteed no negative impact on the
> quality and dissemination, and permanence of scientific work, and not
> just a shift of the costs from the libraries to me. Only a global scheme
> that takes all sides of the formula (in which the journals are essential)
> into account can do this.
> The scenario I am proposing (the whole picture, not part) would be
> desirable to aim for. But it is not, by a long-shot, the "primitive"
> "OA" scenario, which seems only suitable for librarian's purposes,
> and makes no one else (in particular, not the researchers) happy.

SH: The OA scenario -- at least the OA self-archiving, "green" scenario
that I promote -- has next to nothing to do with librarians' purposes
or with changes in publishing. It is strictly a researcher-to-researcher

> RP: This is because you are choosing to ignore the possible negative
> implications for journal operations and survival, or you are convinced
> that they do not exist. Others don't agree and want to address the
> possible consequences. They want to take them into account before
> coming down in favour of a decision that will have impact that goes
> beyond just the data base (OA) aspect in isolation.

SH: I think it's just fine that people should keep speculating -- or
even planning -- for a change in publication cost-recovery models, or
even for what to do in case of a deluge. But, if you look at all the
actual, existing evidence (rather than the "possible negative implications," for
which there exists no evidence) then you will find that the picture
is simple: Self-archiving is feasible; it works; it enhances usage
and impact; and so far it has not caused any detectable decline in
subscriptions, not even in the fields where it has been going on the
longest, and reached 100% years ago. By all means plan for how to handle
"possible negative implications"; but meanwhile full speed ahead for
the certain positive implications! (A decade of delay has been long

> RP: What exists to date can only provide evidence for plausible
> arguments about what might occur in the future. Since no scenario
> has ever existed in which OA data basing of all published articles,
> in all fields receiving support from a major national funding
> agency is mandated as a condition for such funding, any conclusions
> about the implications for the traditional peer-reviewed journal
> publication methods can only consist of plausible conjectures.
> Some may be more optimistic than others that no major damage
> will be incurred regarding two of the features of the process that are
> of considerable concern to researchers: adequate standards of
> peer-review, and preservation of published results in a form
> accessible for posterity. But you shouldn't be surprised that
> many are cautious about supporting such an initiative, and
> concerned that the implications not turn out to include either an
> impairment of these aspects of scientific publication, or a
> transference of the costs of publication to their research
> grants, even if the benefits might possibly include enhanced global
> rates of citation.
Received on Wed Jan 04 2006 - 14:33:50 GMT

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