Re: Open Choice is a Trojan Horse for Open Access Mandates

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 5 Sep 2006 16:07:52 +0100

    Re-directed from "The Geeks and the Irrational" to:
    "Open Choice is a Trojan Horse for Open Access Mandates" (Jun 2006)

On Tue, 5 Sep 2006, Velterop, Jan Springer UK wrote:

> >
> The discussion is not 'do scientists provide open access or not',
> but it is 'do funders mandate open access or not'.

Agreed! (but its funders *and* universities...)

> 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.

Researchers have their (research) cake, but they have been needlessly
losing at least half its potential use, and OA self-archiving is intended
to remedy that.

As long as there is demand for (1) the paper edition and (2) whatever
value is added to the publisher's official version (over and above what
is in the author's refereed final draft), librarians will use their
serials budgets to subscribe to pay for as many of those journals as
they need and can afford.

If and when the demand disappears and the journals are cancelled, the
(part of) the institution's windfall savings from the budget for incoming
serials can and will be redirected toward paying publication costs of
the institution's outgoing articles.

Nothing irrational in that. What would be irrational would be to pay for
publication *now*, when the subscriptions are still being paid, and when
it is still unknown whether and when demand will disappear -- whereas
it *is* known that potential research impact is needlessly disappearing

> The other way of achieving open access is for funders to mandate and
> support open access publishing.

Why should funders pay a penny more now, when (1) all publication costs
are still being paid out of institutional subscriptions, (2) no one knows
whether and when they will cease being paid, and (3) what is missing is
not extra funds for publication costs, but lost research impact?

Why should universities and funders mandate anything but the stemming,
at last, of that needless research impact loss, by requiring that the
research be self-archived?

And this is without even bringing up the vexed question of *how much
OA publication should cost* if and when it ever becomes necessary to pay
for it. Not only is paying now a needless extra expense, but the amount
paid is arbitrary.

Offering Open Choice is fine. Paying for it voluntarily is fine too. But
trying to get funders to *mandate OA publishing*, and pay for it --
rather than to mandate OA, and wait and see whether, when, and how much
needs to be paid -- well, it's an understandable strategy on
the part of publishers attempting to minimize all possible risk to the
bottom line. But I hope it will be understand that for the research
community, maximizing research impact is a far greater priority that
minimizing all possible risk to publishers' bottom lines.

Yes, the research community is unspeakably sluggish about pursuing its
own Rational Self-Interest, which is why OA mandates -- like "publish or
perish" itself -- have proven necessary. But these OA mandates are meant
to serve the research community's interests, to minimize the research
community's liabilities not to minimize the publishing community's risks
-- particularly at a time when the publishing community is still handily
making daily ends meet, whereas research impact is being needlessly
hemorrhaged daily, with cumulative, unredeemable losses.

The actual present needs of research surely trump the hypothetical
future needs of publishing.

> 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.

Please recall that all those institutional library budgets are inadequate
for each institution's access needs, but *they are adequate for covering
publishers' revenue needs*!

> Never mind the growth of research output; never mind the fact that
> this growth is unconnected to library budgets;

OA self-archiving is intended in order to remedy research access
needs, and the resultant research impact losses. OA is about research
accessibility, not about journal affordability. Libraries buy what they
can afford, as long as there is demand. Researchers need maximized access
and impact right now.

> never mind the extra cost of repositories;

What extra cost? And why are publishers worrying about that? It's not
their problem!

    "Institutional Cost of Creating/Maintaining an OA Repository"

> never mind the extra bother of self-archiving for the researchers;

Researchers will not know how little bother it is until/unless they do
it. That's what the mandates are for:

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

> 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.

I couldn't quite follow that, but it sounds like the understandable
risk-averseness of an industry. Fair enough.

But the "support system collapse" you speak of is not actual but
hypothetical, contingent on demand, and its remedy (redirection of what is
currently being spent on subscriptions) is obvious. Whereas the loss of
research access and impact is actual, and cumulating daily, needlessly,
because the remedy is also completely within reach: Self-archiving
mandates by researchers' institutions and funders.

Let us remedy the actual acute problem, and deal with the hypothetical
problem if and when it actually manifests itself. (The means are there.)

(Jan, your arguments are awfully familiar, and they sound very much like
those of the non-OA publisher lobby that has been opposing the OA
self-archiving mandates...)

    "Open Letter to Research Councils UK: Rebuttal of ALPSP Critique"
    Berners-Lee et al. (8 signatories)

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Sep 05 2006 - 16:22:22 BST

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