On OA Self-Archiving Mandates and the Prospect of Rerouting Cash Flow Toward OA Publishing

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 14 Jul 2006 19:29:53 +0100

Jan Velterop (Springer Open Choice) in "Open access, quo vadis?" wrote:

> Now that alternatives for the term 'self-archiving' are being suggested
> -- presumably in an attempt to increase the number of self-archivers --

Actually, alternative terms are not needed, and will not be adopted,
and the reason alternatives were even being mentioned was because of the
distracting and irrelevant associations with _preservation-archiving
of originals_, rather than _access-archiving of supplementary copies_
(authors' final refereed drafts) of journal articles.

> it may be time to face up to some uncomfortable truths. Let's be honest,
> open access is just not all that attractive to individual researchers
> when they publish their articles.

If that were indeed true, it would of course be just as uncomfortable a
truth for Open Access journals as for Open Access self-archiving. But I
think it is very far from being true! Jan is conflating two separate things,
both of which researchers indeed do find unattractive, but neither of
which is Open Access (OA) itself: (1) paying OA journal publication
charges and (2) doing the keystrokes to OA self-archive.

In reality, researchers find it no more nor less attractive to provide
OA to their publications than they find it attractive to publish at
all: For let us not forget that without "publish or perish" mandates,
Springer's journals would be a lot thinner in content!

Fortunately, the publish-or-perish mandate can be naturally extended,
in the online age, to "publish and self-archive" -- in order to maximize
each article's usage and citation impact. Both publications and citations
are already being counted and rewarded by researchers' employers and
funders today, and the two JISC author surveys by Swan & Brown (plus
several subsequent replications as well as concrete implementations) have
confirmed that about 95% of authors will comply with self-archiving mandates
(81% of them willingly, only 14% of them reluctantly).

    Swan, A. (2005) Open access self-archiving: An Introduction.
    JISC Technical Report. http://eprints.ecs.soton.ac.uk/11006/

Nor (as the surveys likewise show) is it the case that OA is not
attractive to researchers (and Jan too had better hope it's not the
case!). It is the case that many researchers still don't know about OA,
and that many of those who do know still think OA means they would have
to publish in journals other than their currently preferred ones.

Researchers are mistaken, of course, on both counts. Researchers'
first mistake is unawareness that with journals that offer Open Choice
there is no need for them to switch journals: they are given the option
to pay their chosen journal to provide OA for their article. Researchers'
second mistake is that there is no need for them (or their institutions
or their funders) to pay for Open Choice either, because authors can
self-archive their own published articles.

It may be the combination of these truths that causes Jan's heartache:

> I say that with pain in my heart, but
> we have, as proponents of open access, singularly failed to get enough
> support among researchers. Not for want of trying. The proposition is
> simply not strong enough.

Yes, telling researchers about OA and its benefits -- whether gold OA
publishing or green OA self-archiving -- is not enough to induce more
than about 5% - 25% of researchers to go ahead and provide OA. That's
why OA mandates from their institutions and funders are needed to
induce researchers to do it, for their own (and the public) good, just
as mandates were need to induce them to publish at all for their own
(and the public) good.

But only OA self-archiving can be mandated: OA publishing cannot be
mandated (1) until enough publishers offer at least the Open Choice
option *and* (far more important) (2) until the cash that is currently
tied up in paying for institutional journal subscriptions is freed to
pay for institutional OA publishing costs.

So instead of feeling a pain in his heart, Jan should be vigorously
supporting OA self-archiving mandates because (a) they are sure to
provide immediate (at least 95%) OA and (b) if they ever do cause
substantial subscription cancellations, they will free up the cash to
pay for OA publishing.

> That doesn't, of course, make open access any less desirable. But
> researchers, as we all, do live in an ego-system and the strength of a
> person's interest in anything seems to diminish with at least the square
> of the distance (metaphorical or otherwise) to his or her id.

How far are citation-counts from a researcher's ego or id?

But it is not ego that's keeping researchers from performing the few
extra keystrokes it takes per article (over and above the keystrokes
to write it) to self-archive it: it's ergo and igno: ergonomic inertia
together with ignorance about how few keystrokes and how little time
are actually involved in self-archiving:

    Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2005) Keystroke Economy: A
    Study of the Time and Effort Involved in Self-Archiving.

Researchers who have never self-archived imagine that it takes a lot of
time and trouble. In reality it does not. The self-archiving mandates
will see to it that researchers discover for themselves how little
effort it takes, for such a substantial benefit (to themselves).

> The benefits of open access 'to science' are apparently pretty distant to an
> average researcher.

But his own citation impact is not.

> Now, I know that the case has been made that there
> are benefits at closer proximity to researchers' ids, such as increased
> citations to their articles, but they seem, grosso modo, wholly
> underwhelmed by those.

(1) More underinformed than underwhelmed (but time is remedying that).

(2) Information about personal benefits alone, however, is not enough
to induce researchers to provide OA, any more than information about
the personal benefits of publishing alone is enough to induce them to
publish. The carrot/stick of "publish or perish" was needed for the one,
and its natural online-age extension to OA self-archiving is now needed
for the other.

(3) On the other hand, researchers' institutions and funders seem to be
less "underwhelmed" about the benefits of OA self-archiving, for they
(RCUK, FRPAA, NIH, CURES, EC, CERN, and several individual universities)
are evidently inclined to mandate it

(4) Who is opposing the mandates? Not researchers: publishers.

(5) Where does Jan (with all the pain in his heart) stand on
self-archiving mandates?

> So what now?
> Mandates, it appears. From the funders -- organisations in charge of the
> scholarly super-ego, as it were. They have the power to impose OA on
> their grantees, and maybe the duty. And as they mostly pay the bill for
> library subscriptions anyway (indirectly, via overhead charges of
> institutions, but they pay nonetheless), they could simply re-route that
> money to OA article processing charges and reform publishing in the
> process. They may still, and follow the excellent leadership of the
> Wellcome Trust in this regard.

But dear Jan, the message does not seem to be sinking in: It is not OA
publishing that funders are proposing to mandate, it is OA
self-archiving. And there is no money (nor need) to "re-route" while it
is all tied up in paying the bills for publication via subscriptions!

> There seems to be one thing standing in the way. Conflation of financial
> concerns with open access is, unfortunately, a major barrier to open
> access.

Whose financial concerns? Whose conflation? Funders are proposing to
mandate OA self-archiving, and publishers are opposing it, claiming it
puts their finances at risk. So what, exactly, is the "major barrier" to
OA at this moment?

> If open access were a real priority, in other words, if the
> starting point would not so much be cost evasion, but the principle that
> for the amounts now spent on scholarly literature one could, and should,
> have open access, and if a widespread willingness were displayed on the
> part of funders and librarians to help flip the model, then I'm
> thoroughly convinced we would be much, much further with open access.

"Cost evasion"? When, as you say, correctly, "the amounts now spent on
scholarly literature" are tied up in subscriptions? Isn't it closer to
reality to say that this is, if anything, "re-routing evasion," since
the costs are all being paid?

Let me translate what you are saying, Jan: If all publishers
converted to Open Choice, and if all institutions cancelled all their
subscriptions, then there would be plenty of cash to pay for taking the
paid-OA option. But this is evidently not happening, and it cannot be
mandated. "Re-routing" cannot be mandated.

Self-archiving, however, *can* be mandated. And perhaps it will eventually
lead to the same outcome ("re-routing"). But before that it will certainly
lead to the OA that is already long overdue.

It is not a matter of springing still more cash, in advance, to
pay for OA, at a time when journals are already making ends meet via
subscriptions. The available cash is all tied up; moreover, there's no
*need* for further cash: There's need for further OA. And that's what
OA self-archiving mandates will deliver, now.

Moreover, re-routing is not the goal of OA or the OA movement: OA is!

> And as for financial concerns, inherent in an author-side payment model
> is a much clearer scope for real competition, and that will put downward
> pressure on prices and upward pressure on efficiencies as any economist
> will tell us. Putting the horse before the cart might be a good idea,
> for a change.

Fine, but first we would have to get from here to there. And there --
i.e., OA publishing -- is not the pressing goal: OA is. And that is
what OA self-archiving mandates will provide. The horse is OA, which
can be mandated through self-archiving mandates. The cart (publishing
reform) is hypothetical, but if the cart ever does get re-routed in that
direction, surely it will be driven by the horse (the self-archiving
mandate) not by a re-routing mandate!

> There is of course the hypothesis, consistently put forward by Stevan
> Harnad (and Stevan is nothing if not consistent, you have to give him
> that), that we can have OA without reforming publishing and without
> damaging journals.

Jan, you are (knowingly or unknowingly) misrepresenting what I have been
saying all along, despite the frequency (and consistency) with which I
have been pointing out this published set of conditional probabilities
for years and years now:


What I have been consistently saying is that we can have immediate (and
long-overdue) OA (e.g., by mandating self-archiving), right now, without
having to first reform publishing. What subsequent effect that will in
turn have on publishing is an empirical question, to which no one has a sure
answer, so all we can do is speculate (see above link). I personally think
100% OA self-archiving will eventually lead to subscription cancellations
and a transition ("flip") to OA publishing.

So what is your point, Jan?

> Consistent, but unfortunately, that doesn't make it
> right. In his world of self-archiving, all peer-reviewed and formally
> published articles would be freely available with open access --
> although perhaps in an informal version, but still -- and librarians
> would continue to pay for subscriptions to keep journals afloat.

That is again an incorrect statement of my view. What I have said is:

    (1) All evidence to date indicates that mandated self-archiving will
    generate 100% OA (1a) and will increase research usage and impact

    (2) There is no evidence to date that it will decrease subscriptions,
    but it may or may not eventually do that.

    (3) If mandated self-archiving ever does decrease subscriptions
    sufficiently to make it impossible to make ends meet via
    subscriptions, it will then also have increased subscription
    cancellation savings to pay for OA publishing.

But (2) and (3) are hypothetical speculations whereas (1) is
a certainty. And (most important), a certainty whose demonstrated
benefits are *not* out-weighed by the hypothetical risk to publishers'
subscription revenues.

> As evidence he puts forward that having effectively had a physics archive
> in which published articles have been available freely for a decade and
> a half or so, this has not discernibly reduced the willingness of
> librarians to keep paying for subscriptions to the journals with the
> very same material. And indeed, he makes very plausible that in
> physics, over the last decade and a half, there has been no damage to
> journals. But then he extrapolates.

I do not extrapolate. I say (truly) that there is no evidence as yet of
self-archiving's decreasing subscription revenues; but if and when it ever
does, the system will adapt naturally, with institutional subscription
cancellation savings being "re-routed" toward institutional OA publication


> And although Stevan may even turn out to be right -- only hindsight will
> tell and we have to keep an open mind on that -- for societies and other
> publishers just to take his word for it or even his 'evidence' that his
> extrapolations are valid, would be a serious dereliction of fiduciary
> duty, and sooo unnecessary. Because with some political will, publishing
> can be reformed, and reformed very quickly, without damage, or even the
> threat of damage, to anyone. And thus the problems could be
> fundamentally solved instead of treated with sticky-plasters such as OA
> through self-archiving (great as institutional repositories otherwise
> are).

May I make a proposal? Go ahead and reform publishing! But in the
meanwhile, please let self-archiving be mandated and let events take their
natural course in the OA age, with no more of this needless delay (of
OA), so obviously optimal for research, and already so grotesquely

Publishers should stop delaying and disparaging the OA self-archiving
mandate and re-route their energy and attention toward publishing reform.
Then everyone will be happy: Researchers, their institutions, their
funders, and the public that funds them will be happy with their
maximized research access, usage and impact, and publishers, with
whatever they wish to do toward re-routing publishing toward another
cost-recovery model.

Let one not stand in the way of the other.

Stevan Harnad

PS There is perhaps also something to be said in defence of consistency
(and clarity too): One cannot both affirm and deny the very same thing,
no matter how one blurs it and how wishfully one thinks...
Received on Fri Jul 14 2006 - 20:45:43 BST

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