CURES trump publisher revenue risks, SPPP-READS do not

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 12 Jun 2006 20:05:08 +0100

[Identity deleted] wrote:

> Your arguments are totally logical. However, a factor you are not
> taking into account: if researchers are focused on their research-
> impact - politicians are focused on their own image and reelection
> potential. It is the politicians who need to vote in FRPAA.

And it is the publisher lobby that will be pressuring them not to.

SPPP (Student/Practitioner/Patient/Public) access is a good intro,
to get the politicians' and voters' attention, but then you need a
follow-through that can hold up against the publisher lobby -- and
SPPP-access has no follow-through when publishers inevitably say,
as they will (and are already):

    "You want to mandate that our business revenue should be put at
    risk for the sake of SPPP-access, yet there is no evidence that the
    SPPP reads (or has the slightest wish to read) most of the highly
    specialized research that we publish! Why not just make a side-deal
    that we make publicly accessible that tiny fraction of (mostly
    clinical-medical) research that is likely to be of SPPP interest,
    and leave the rest of it -- which is the overwhelming majority of
    it -- alone, rather than putting *all* of our revenues at risk for
    no objective reason?

(And denigrate logic all you like, in the end, the pro-mandate argument
has to make sense, otherwise the publisher lobby wins and the OA
self-archiving mandate -- and the best interests of research and the public
that funds it -- lose.)

The requisite follow-through is CURES, not SPPP-access. Students,
practitioners, patients and the public do not produce CURES,
*researchers* do. And the reason researcher usage and impact is so
important is not because it produces money and prizes for researchers,
but because it generates CURES. In fact, that is what research is funded
for, not to produce reading matter for the SPPP.

("CURES" is of course over-simplified too, and medically biassed,
but it will do, as long as it is put in scare-quotes or CAPs: more
generally, it means applications of research, including technology;
even more generally, it means pure research progress itself, which might
eventually lead to applications; and when it comes to social science
and especially the humanities, which rarely has any applications at all, it
means the production of specialized scholarship, which we presumably
fund because we think it is a social benefit to promote scholarship,
not because the general public or even students actually need or wish
to read the peer-reviewed journal articles reporting the research the
public funds, written by specialists for specialists, but because the
public wants to promote scholarly progress, which may eventually trickle
down into education.)

> Is there evidence that FRPAA will result in the kind of citations
> that politicians care about - photo ops and positive pieces in the
> news, funding support and votes so that they can be re-elected?

CURES produce photo-ops, and for researchers to produce CURES,
*researchers* (not SPPP) need to have access to the ongoing research,
in order to use it and build on it.

Moreover, the politicians are not just responsive to votes, as you
know, but also to money and lobbying, especially from big business,
and to what fosters or threatens business revenue flows. Yes, "public
access to publicly funded research" sounds like a good vote-getter on
the surface, even if it doesn't extend to much of research the public
actually wants to access. But the publishing lobby is another matter,
and they are the ones to contend with now.

It's not the vote-getting power of the OA principle that has been
blocking the RCUK policy for two years and that has watered down the
NIH public access policy to near-nothingness: it's the publisher lobby;
and this time FRPAA has to come forearmed: If it tries to coast on the
public-access-to-publicly-funded-research slogan alone, or primarily, it
will be defeated, no matter how sexy it may sound as a vote-getter. (And,
by the way, most individual citizens don't read research and couldn't
care less about this issue, one way or the other.)

Publishers will float doomsday scenarios about ruinous risks to their
ability to make ends meet if self-archiving is mandated (not based on
any evidence, but sounding ominous just the same). These doomsday
scenarios need a more convincing answer than that "we are doing it so
the public can read the research it funds" -- because then then
publishers will simply adduce the abundant evidence that the public is
not reading most of the research they publish, and would not and could
not have the slightest interest in reading it. So the revenue-risk is
completely unjustified.

Not so if the rationale is CURES rather than SPPP READS, for research
progress and the possibility of cures is the very reason we fund
research in the first place. CURES -- but not READS -- offsets
publishers' hypothetical doomsday scenario very effectively.

> To put it another way: is there research showing that politicians
> care about researcher-impact at all, never mind enough to stand up to
> the publisher anti-OA lobbying?

They care about CURES, and "cures" is the simple (simplistic)
encapsulation of research uptake, usage, application, productivity
and progress. That's something that comes from *researchers* using and
applying research, not from the public, reading it. And CURES is why
the public is funding research, not for its own READing delectation.

So the right public issue politicians need to focus on is CURES, not
SPPP-access; and CURES means research usage and impact, which comes from
researcher-use, not from SPPP-reading.

> Arguments focussed on students, patients, and the public are much
> more likely to persuade politicians than arguments based exclusively
> on benefits for researchers. The two streams of arguments complement
> each other. It is not necessary, or desirable, to limit pro-OA
> arguments.

It is not about benefits to researchers! It is about CURES. Researcher
access means more progress and momentum toward CURES.

Moreover, it is now no longer just about persuading politicians but
about resisting the publisher lobby, which is trying to *dissuade*
politicians. Answers to their objections are needed; and SPPP-access is not
the answer, CURES is; and that means researcher-access, not SPPP-access
(although, let us not forget, SPPP-access will come too, with the
OA territory!).

> The politician who cares about patients but thinks the researcher-
> arguments are abstract, will support a patient-based OA argument. It
> is unlikely that a person with this viewpoint would support a
> research-only focused argument.

The focus is on CURES, not on abstract researcher-arguments: Everyone
knows that CURES come from researchers, not from students,
practitioners, patients or the general public. I think that is a
concrete matter that politicians and voters are quite capable of
understanding. And it has the virtue of trumping the publishers'
arguments about hypothetical revenue risks: progress toward actual CURES
( monitored in the form of research impact) trumps hypothetical
revenue risks; SPPP-READS do not.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Mon Jun 12 2006 - 23:17:36 BST

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