Reasoning by Escalating Doomsday Prophecies: Pascal's Wager

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 26 Jun 2006 15:27:26 +0100 (BST)

In my opinion it is a complete waste of time to speculate about the future
of publishing when what is needed (and so long overdue) is immediate OA.

David Goodman "demonstrates" by hypothesis. I won't go through his thicket
of assumptions and guesses item by item.

Suffice it to say that it is trivially easy to counter-speculate,
with other assumption and guesses
but it is an equal waste of time.

David does make one particularly revealing remark:

> "there is no rational basis for Green OA [via self-archiving]
> except as a stopgap while we all convert to OA Journals"

David is a librarian, and, apparently, his interest is in OA Journals and
in subscription costs, not in OA itself.

The research community, in contrast, is interested in OA (of any color),
so as to put an end, at long last, to the needless loss of research
usage and impact in the online age.

Hence to speak of OA -- achieved via self-archiving -- as a "stopgap" is simply
to reveal that one's agenda is not really OA at all (and never has been)
but something else.

Please believe me, the worldwide research community will be more than
happy with the attainment of this "stopgap"! But they have not attained
it yet. And treating it as just another assumption in an armchair scenario
does not help.

Those with agenda other than 100% OA are of course welcome to pursue
their own agenda, in the armchair or elsewhere. But please don't let your
agenda get in the way of the research community's attainment of this
"stopgap" (namely immediate 100% OA). A good start would be to stop
calling 100% OA a "stopgap".

OA may be an arbitrary way-station for those whose agenda is journal price
reduction/elimination or publishing reform, but for the research community
immediate 100% OA is an end in itself.

And please don't reply with further speculation about what will/won't
happen *after* 100% OA via self-archiving. What is needed is 100% OA,
right now, not more leisurely years of this idle, empty, arbitrary,
fruitless and paralytic armchair speculation.

Stevan Harnad

On Mon, 26 Jun 2006, David Goodman wrote:

> I now will demonstrate that the widespread adoption of Green OA will most
> surely destroy the great majority of the current
> journal publishers (as publishers), using explicit hypotheses, and no
> analogies.
> I assume that mandates come into force, and that increasing portions
> of the literature become OA. I assume that organizations like PMC, and
> projects like OAIster, permit the
> simple identification of these OA copies.
> The journals we are discussing are the large STM journals,
> purchased almost exclusively by research universities. Consider
> some examples of good to excellent very expensive journals (I apologize to
> their publisher, but these are the examples I know
> by heart--their prices seem to stay in the mind.)
> I go step by step, with increasing amounts of OA:
> At present, OA is about 15%.
> At such a research university (suppose my former one) the use of a journal
> like Mutation Research at $12,000 a year is about
> 20 articles a year. I should immediately cancel it, OA or not, and I did
> just that in 2001.
> Suppose, for a $20,000 journal, Biochimica Biophysica Acta, that my
> library has demand for 500 articles a year. If I have
> money, I'll keep it, and so I did.
> Now OA reaches 50%, say in 2008, and my users can link to the OA copies
> right from PubMed. The effective demand is
> now 250/year. Will I cancel? probably not; remember I have more money than
> most, and can afford to keep a few such
> monsters a few more years. To the extent less wealthy ones are forced to
> cancel, the price will increase. Any publisher knows
> the arithmetic. Any library knows the results.
> Now OA reaches 90%, and only 50 articles / year would require document
> delivery. This is a few years later, maybe 2010, so,
> considering all the cancellations, the price might be $60,000. Am i going
> to keep this journal at such a
> price If I were so
> unreasonable, the library administration would undoubted insist that I
> spend the money on more useful things, or give it to the
> budgets of those who could. If the library administration didn't, the
> faculty committee on the library would have something to
> say, and so would the board of trustees.
> Who would be left subscribing? A handful of medical schools that considered
> it their responsibility as part of the archival record,
> some biomedical libraries with considerably higher use, and the national
> libraries. Maybe the editor-in-chief's university, but I
> wouldn't count on it. The journal could not continue on the 100 or so
> subscriptions left, unless it were subsidized by the other
> journals. But at present the publisher relies on the profits from such
> journals to subsidize the even weaker ones. The best
> commercial journals ought to continue, but no large publisher has enough of
> them to pay for the rest.
> A similar thing would be happening with the society journals-- probably a
> little slower, because they cost less money; and more
> would be left, because they are generally the best journals in most fields.
> There will then be two alternatives:
> The best alternative will be to have previously changed the entire
> publications system to OA journals. The recent results from
> OUP are encouraging, but most OA Choice programs have been moving more slowly.
> At 6 a year, Elsevier will need 2 centuries.
> I question whether most journals will be able to change all the way to
> OAJournals before they collapse.
> It's not just the publishers who are the problem--it's also the layers of
> academic bureucracies
> If that hasn't happened in time, the only course is:
> to keep only the sustainable best journals (perhaps 10%, perhaps 5%)
> and to publish the others by cheaper means,
> which probably means using the intended supplemental repositories as
> the major publishing system. I support such repositories. I support making
> them quickly, and after that I support making them
> strong, with all the facilities of arXiv and PubMedCentral. We will need them.
> Some say this will never happen, because even at 90% OA the research
> libraries will have the money and the will to continue.
> Repeat the argument, using 95%. (I give 90% because the Ware Survey of
> librarian attitudes <
> publications/libraryreport-summary.pdf> has about half the librarians
> canceling at 90%. I think they in general don't realize the
> amount of financial pressure they will face, but it's just a year or two
> either way.)
> The counter-example quoted is high-energy physics, where even the most
> expensive journals are being continued by the few
> libraries that get them. There are only a few research institutions
> well-funded enough to do high-energy physics, and the ones
> that exist have enough moneyfor all the journals in the subject. This will
> not hold true for any other STM subject. And I wouldn't
> count on physics: The librarian of one of the few libraries that get
> Nuclear Physics B wrote to me today about it.
> It's on their list.
> Why do you think its publishers are first making these journals Open
> Choice? They knows they can't continue to sell them as
> subscriptions. Being rational, they presumably hope to convert all the most
> expensive titles to OA Journals while they can.
> For this particular journal, they have a extra year or two, because a
> great many of the subscriptions are within a "big deal."
> Those will continue longer -- until the contracts end.
> The time it will take is uncertain,
> but the only way this change or collapse will not happen is if my
> hypotheses do not hold.
> Perhaps not enough organizations will mandate OA.
> Perhaps there will not be enough IRs.
> Perhaps the OA indexes cannot find with it all adequately.
> Perhaps OA --or at least Green OA--will never reach 90%.
> I ask the advocates of GreenOA which of these they think is likely, because
> otherwise there is no rational basis for
> GreenOA except as a stopgap while we all convert to OAJournals. If it is
> only a stopgap, we
> should acknowledge it and proceed realistically.
> There are, to be sure, other unlikely possibilities:
> Perhaps the journals will cut prices--and even quality--so they can continue.
> Perhaps faculty will continue to demand the published version, even as the
> journal gets closer and closer to it. That's demand
> it, and also be willing to pay for it.
> Perhaps some government or equally wealth person or group is prepared to
> pay the necessary money for their support. PLoS
> has set an example for OA Journals, and perhaps someone equally unrealistic
> will pay for Green OA.
> Alternatively, perhaps some expect to be safely retired before it all
> collapses.
> And perhaps some publishers simply intend to make all the money they can in
> the few years remaining.
> Dr. David Goodman
> Palmer School of Library and Information Science
> Long Island University
> and formerly
> Princeton University Library
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Received on Mon Jun 26 2006 - 15:28:09 BST

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