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

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 16 Jan 2006 03:00:43 +0000

RP offers some further hypotheses and recommendations about the possible
future of journal publishing and peer review, so I will not reply
(not necesarily because I disagree, but because I don't think
speculation is the priority at this time: reaching 100% OA is)
but make only these four minor points of clarification:

    (1) The Royal Society is indeed "green" on (i.e., endorses) author
    self-archiving. (The point of contention was not that, but the Royal
    Society's attempt to delay or deter the Research Councils UK proposed
    policy to require self-archiving.)

    (2) Open Access (OA) is not the same as Open Access Publishing.
    OA Publishing ("gold") is merely one of the two ways to achieve OA
    (free online access to the final draft). OA self-archiving ("green")
    is the other way.

    (3) The only requirement of the proposed RCUK policy is that all RCUK
    fundees self-archive RCUK-funded research. There is no requirement
    to publish it in an OA journal, merely an offer to help fund it if
    they do.

    (4) If/when there were ever a mass transition to OA publishing,
    there is another obvious source (other than research funds) for
    covering the remaining costs, namely, the institutional windfall
    savings from the subscription cancellations.

Stevan Harnad

On Sun, 15 Jan 2006, R. Physicist wrote:

> You (SH) stated:
> >SH:
> >The self-archiving right is absolutely all that is needed and
> >perfectly "OA compliant". (Actually, OAI-compliant means compliant
> >with the OAI metadata tagging protocol, and that's a good idea too,
> >but peripheral). IOP, by the way, is already a 100% green publisher,
> >so there is no need even to specify this:
> >
> RP: Actually, if you go by what is listed at
> then the Royal Society is a "green" publisher as well - and, so
> it seems, are the vast majority of the other standard journals and
> publishers that I know of. (However, the Royal Society of Medicine,
> e.g., is not.)
> But I think that this criterion - which is just tolerance of
> depositing some sort of copy of the papers they publish in a publicly
> accessible data base, is not the same as what people like to refer
> to as "Open Access" journals. The latter, as I said in our exchange,
> is really what I would call "Author Pays" (or, in some instances,
> 100% institutionally subsidized) journals, which subscribers get
> for free (at least, in their electronic version).
> I don't think the latter is actually at all desirable, for the
> reasons that I described in our posted exchange. I would prefer
> to see the publication of journals, if they are viable at all,
> "subsidized" by the (relatively few) paper subscriptions sustained
> at those rather wealthy institutions that can afford it, while the
> electronic version is "sold" to all others, but at cost price. (By
> "cost price", I mean recovery of incremental overhead and production
> costs, beyond whatever is required to publish the paper version.)
> If this latter formula could be made to work in a stable way, the
> funding organizations could perhaps help keep such journals afloat by
> paying a part of the huge paper subscription costs at a sufficient
> number of large libraries to assure their viability. This would be
> much more effective than subsidizing large page charges billed to
> individual authors to allow them to publish in them. (Of course,
> this would mean funding certain library budgets, which research
> funding organizations may not like to be seen doing - but what
> is wrong with using a small fraction of their money, effectively,
> to fund "research libraries"?)
> The currently proposed RC UK's alternative of encouraging publication
> in "Author pays" journals, besides removing a substantial chunk from
> the funds available for their research, would also especially impair
> those authors whose grants (across disciplines) are on a relatively
> modest scale, or who have none at all. This sort of mechanism, though
> by current definitions is labelled as "Open Access" has nothing good
> about it - since it effectively subsidizes the "reader", or library,
> community, while taxing the research community producing the results.
> The "generous offer" of the RC UK's to subsidize page charges at
> such OA journals will, no doubt, turn out to be completely phony,
> of course. They will not agree to simply pay, sight unseen, the page
> charges of any author publishing in any such journal ( "Just send us
> the bill!" Ha!). What they will do is to say that putting a certain
> figure down for publication charges when calculating the budget in a
> research grant proposal is legitimate - which is already the case,
> and has always been, e.g. at NSF or NSERC - and if these rise,
> to finance such "OA" journals, then this is still legitimate. If
> they didn't do this, they would have to subtract such page-charge
> subsidies from the funds globally made available for research funding,
> since no-one is going to make more public money available to the RC's
> just because they adopt such a policy. In the end, the authors pay
> from their research grants, one way or another, if they have them,
> and from their pockets, if they do not.
> And if in one area (say, medicine, or chemistry, or high energy
> physics), these are on average of the order of five to ten times
> higher than another (say, mathematics, or mathematical physics),
> with the consequence that for one researcher, the publications costs
> only represent, say, 3-5% of their grants, while for another, it is
> more like 15-25%, then ... too bad! (Not to mention the percentage
> increments for individual researchers, which could be anywhere from
> these figures up to infinity.
> The ONLY conceivable virtue of a page charge to authors would be that,
> by paying this, they are purchasing something that is valuable to
> their work which they would not have otherwise - such as a referee
> who is willing to properly invest the time to check over the details
> of their results, and vouch - openly - for their validity. The
> author and the research area benefits (doubly) from this service,
> since it enhances the degree of credibility of such published work
> significantly, relative to other, less carefully scrutinized work. But
> the referee, who doesn't get credit for the original scientific
> content, only the scrutiny, needs to be compensated otherwise for
> his possibly considerable efforts. The journal is only acting as an
> intermediate agent in this process, and hence cannot legitimately
> charge more for it than its own overhead cost, which could be a modest
> "agents fee" for arranging for the refereeing service - say 10% ,
> at most, of the referee's fee. This would be something completely
> independent of (and in addition to) the other, currently applicable
> economic considerations involved in the publishing of the journal.
> This could become the "standard model" for most journals that want
> to keep afloat, in parallel with freely accessible data bases,
> and also to guarantee a high scientific standard.
> The other one, which is what people like the Journal of Nonlinear
> Mathematical Physics group would like to have implemented, is that the
> journal REALLY be a user (i.e. researcher) based vehicle, sustained
> by community effort. Then, everything must be done to keep costs
> at a minimum, and the page charge notion is anathema, as are high
> subscription charges. The only way to do this is that the "editorial
> board" take it upon themselves to assure the quality of refereeing,
> while keeping it strictly a nonreimbursed process. This can be
> achieved, but to a lesser degree of reliability, by doing much of the
> refereeing themselves, or asking colleagues, students and friends to
> help pitch in, as a "common interest". This could made to work, as a
> "community based effort", but would not work if it is perceived as
> a vehicle for making profit for a commercial publisher. The quality
> would probably not be as reliable as the former "standard model" ,of
> course, but people would nevertheless continue to publish in such
> a journal, since it would be viewed as an "in-house" product. The
> "impact factor" of such journals would naturally be relatively lower,
> since they cater primarily to a restricted "user community". But
> they would certainly have their useful place as well.
Received on Mon Jan 16 2006 - 03:03:04 GMT

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