Re: The Geeks and the Irrational

From: Velterop, Jan Springer UK <Jan.Velterop_at_SPRINGER.COM>
Date: Tue, 5 Sep 2006 14:29:32 +0200

On 04 September 2006 21:18 Stevan Harnad wrote:

> (For the fully hyperlinked version of this posting, with figures see:
> )
> ...
> My guess, though, is that researchers are no more likely to
> do, spontaneously, for a fee, what they would not do,
> spontaneously, for free, for well over a decade now, despite
> its substantial benefits to themselves and their research. [...]
> Most researchers will not bother to self-archive until and
> unless they are required to do so by their institutions
> and/or funders [...]

Stevan guesses right, of course, and it's hardly a guess. There is a lot
of benefit for science and society as a whole, but in general there simply
isn't enough in open access for individual researchers to voluntarily
make the extra effort ("Can't be bovvered."). So the discussion is not
'do scientists provide open access or not', but it is 'do funders mandate
open access or not'.

This mandating they can do in one of two ways: they can mandate so-called
self-archiving the published version of the articles based on the research
they fund, or they can mandate open access publishing of those articles.

Stevan c.s. argue that researchers do not self-archive the 'published'
version, but their own manuscript version, and that the two are not the
same. This is nonsense, of course. Apart from cosmetics, a self-archived
manuscript version is (at least can be) the same as the formally published
one, especially if it is accompanied by a 'label' indicating that the
article has been peer-reviewed, accepted, and published by journal X. And
you can be sure the depositor will always self-archive it accompanied
by those 'metadata', lest the article is not taken seriously at all.

Self-archiving is thus the perfect way of having one's cake and eating
it. The premise in this model is that librarians keep on paying for
the cost of sustaining the journals. And, of course, librarians still
do. At least in physics. Illogical and irrational as it may be. The
model therefore seems to be based on illogical and irrational behaviour
by librarians. Long may it last.

The other way of achieving open access is for funders to mandate and
support open access publishing. No need to rely on illogical or
irrational behaviour of anybody, but simply a scaleable economic model
in which what journals and their publishers undertake in order to make a
potentially interesting article into an open access peer-reviewed,
formally published and 'certified' one, financially supported via
article processing charges. Not only is such a model not dependent on
illogical and irrational behaviour, but it is aligned with the 'force
fields' in the scholarly research domain, best described by 'publish or
perish' (and not by 'read or rot'). As a result, this would be a system
with much less tension. Some prestigious funders have already acted upon
that insight and formulated policies that support open access
publishing, providing a solution at the very roots of the access
problem. May many follow soon.

> (IF AND WHEN the urgent question should ever become (1) how
> to pay publication costs (subscriptions having been
> cancelled) rather than
> (2) how to end access-denial and impact-loss (as now), THEN
> the windfall savings from the subscription cancellations will
> be the rational source out of which to pay the publication
> costs. To pay for OA now, in advance, when all the money is
> all still tied up in subscriptions, when all costs are still
> being covered, and when catastrophic cancellations are only a
> hypothetical possibility -- well, you find your own preferred
> i-word for describing it...)

Stevan is very clear here: leave the writing of the cheques to support
of the journals system entirely in the hands of the librarians in their
traditional role and with their inadequate library budgets. Never mind
the growth of research output; never mind the fact that this growth is
unconnected to library budgets; never mind the extra cost of
repositories; never mind the extra bother of self-archiving for the
researchers; never mind the complete disconnect between what's paid for
(access) and the deliverable (the service of publishing). Until that
support system collapses completely, and then we'll reinvent publishing.
It's a method.

Jan Velterop

> Hajjem, C., Harnad, S. and Gingras, Y. (2005) Ten-Year
> Cross-Disciplinary Comparison of the Growth of Open Access
> and How it Increases Research Citation Impact. IEEE Data
> Engineering Bulletin
> 28(4) pp. 39-47.
> Sale, Arthur (2006a) Researchers and institutional
> repositories, in Jacobs, Neil, Eds. Open Access: Key
> Strategic, Technical and Economic Aspects, chapter 9, pages
> 87-100. Chandos Publishing (Oxford) Limited.
> Swan, A. (2006) The culture of Open Access: researchers'
> views and responses, in Jacobs, N., Eds. Open Access: Key
> Strategic, Technical and Economic Aspects, chapter 7. Chandos.
Received on Tue Sep 05 2006 - 14:16:00 BST

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