Re: Royal Society Offers Open Choice

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 25 Jun 2006 12:55:51 +0100


The gentle reader need not cringe at the prospect of yet another
verbose Jan/Stevan exchange. The reply here is mercifully short:

With all his lurid analogies below, Jan is merely reasoning by escalating
the shrillness of his prophecies of the doom and gloom that will befall
us should the many research funders (US, UK, EC) who have proposed to
mandate OA self-archiving actually go ahead and adopt their mandates
(instead of paying publishers' asking price for paid OA).

The strategy is simple: To every point showing that one's own view is
contrary to the evidence, improbable or illogical, one simply responds
by escalating the direness of the consequences, should one's view (per
impossibile) nevertheless prove right.

This reasoning is exactly the same as that of Pascal's Wager, which
"proved" that it was more rational to believe and do as Scripture
dictated, *whether or not it was true*, because otherwise one risked
burning forever, if, against all evidence, Scripture turned out to be
true after all.

    "Pascal's Wager and Open Access (OA)" (Dec 2004)

The trouble is that any belief and action *and its opposite* can be
defended in this way, simply by raising the agony ante in the other

Should I now reply with lurid stories about how CURES for diseases will
be lost, and millions will perish, because we failed to provide access to
research findings for the scientists who could have used and built upon
them, simply because we were afraid the sky might otherwise fall down,
as per publishers' rival prophecies?

Enough said. Time to mandate OA self-archiving.

Stevan Harnad

On Sun, 25 Jun 2006, Jan Velterop wrote:

> I'm glad Stevan agrees with me on so many points. The only thing that
> seems to separate us is the judgement that an unfunded self-archiving
> mandate carries an appreciable risk of destroying the valuable system
> of formal peer-reviewed journals to communicate and preserve
> scientific findings. Stevan thinks there is no such risk. I think
> there is, and that it is a wholly unnecessary risk. My motive is to
> come to a solid, stable, economically sustainable, and reliable
> method to ensure open access to the formal research journal literature.
> I'm also glad that Stevan is a psychologist and not an engineer. The
> 'empirical' evidence on which he bases his no-risk hypothesis is
> comparable to the evidence that a layer of 10 centimeters of snow
> doesn't cause a roof to collapse and that there has been at least 10
> years with no more than 10 centimeters of snow on any given day. He
> would construct a roof that can deal with 10 centimeters of snow,
> only to see it collapse when that one night comes when there is
> snowfall of 25 centimeters. He would say "no problem, we'll just
> rebuild the hall".
> I'm also glad that he is not in charge of fire prevention. His
> empirical evidence from establishing that an unsupervised toddler who
> lit a whole box of matches and yet somehow didn't burn the house down
> would lead him to happily hand out matches to all toddlers, since
> lighting matches is a valuable learning experience for them and there
> is no proof whatsoever that any houses might be burnt down. And if
> they do he would simply say "no problem, we'll just rebuild them".
> Stevan asks: "Can we agree to focus on money only if and when there
> is objective evidence that immediate OA, through immediate self-
> archiving mandates, is actually starting to make someone lose money?"
> No. I'm afraid I cannot agree. First of all, I'm not focussing on
> money. I'm focussing on a solid, stable, economically sustainable,
> and reliable method to ensure open access to the formal research
> journal literature, which I do not accept that Stevan's desired
> mandates in their current formulation would bring. Secondly, would we
> allow the engineer to wait for objective evidence, i.e. the collapse
> of a roof, before using higher specifications with ample safety
> margins? Is it necessary to wait for such objective evidence? Would
> we wait for the objective evidence of a house burning down before
> making sure that matches cannot be reached by toddlers?
> Jan Velterop
Received on Sun Jun 25 2006 - 15:43:02 BST

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