What Can and Should Be Mandated

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Thu, 2 Nov 2006 16:20:40 +0000

>> SH:
>> OA publishing is indeed a substitute for non-OA publishing, but not
>> nearly enough publishers are doing it, and there's no way to mandate
>> them to do it. And it would be absurd for the research community to
>> wait until they do, since they can mandate *themselves* to provide OA
>> by supplementing non-OA access with self-archived OA access, immediately.

On Thu, 2 Nov 2006, Jean-Claude Guedon wrote:

> a significant proportion of scientific and scholarly
> journals are subsidized by public money in a variety of ways.

To save time and to put this into context, I would ask Jean-Claude
to please indicate explicitly, by discipline, what proportion of
journals are subsidised (and to what degree).

This information on actual proportions is essential, to keep the
discussion from diffusing into minimal marginal gains. I am sure we will
all agree that if the proportion of subsidised journals is closer to
5% than to 50% or more, then it is hardly worth our time debating the
hypothetical virtues of mandating OA publishing, when the immediate,
actual proposal, already adopted by 6 funders and 7 institutions, and
contemplated by all the major US funders plus the European Commission,
is to mandate OA self-archiving, which can deliver 100% OA.


> Huge amounts of money are spent in various countries to do so.
> For example, in Canada, SSHRC spends 2 million dollars to support
> 161 journals. NRC subsidizes a further 14.

Canada's research access and impact problem problem is not its 161
SSHRC-subsidised journals, nor its 14 NRC-funded journals, but its
annual c. 100,000 research article output (50,000 indexed by ISI),
funded by SSHRC, NSERC, etc., and the annual loss on that research
investment of $1.5 billion, for failing to make it OA.


> All these journals are amenable to institutional pressure, just
> as researchers can be pressured to self-archive by a granting agency,
> through mandating. In each case, a battle is needed to implement these
> policies.

Yes, but should we not get some realistic estimates of the potential
yield of diverting any of the current concerted effort on mandates to
self-archive 100% of research output, in order to capture whatever
percentage of it happens to be published in whatever percentage of
journals happen to be subsidised and can be persuaded (mandated?) to
convert to OA publishing?

For once the self-archiving mandates are adopted, the need to mandate
the conversion of subsidised journals to OA becomes moot.

> The only groups that cannot be pressured are the large commercial
> publishers which presumably are not receiving direct subsidies from
> public sources

Commercial publishers, large and small, and learned-society publishers,
large and small. The burden for the advocate of subsidised-journal
conversion mandates is to show how large the remaining percentage of
subsidised journals actually is (by field, and country/funder). Are we
talking about a significant proportion, or a pittance?

> (although a recent study some of us did recently and
> which will shortly be published on the web site of the Social Science
> and Humanities Research Council of Canada) showed that at least one
> journal was being subsidized *and* published by Blackwell...

That's 1 out of 24,000 so far. We patiently await the rest of the

> Journal subsidies are significant in most places except the US, the U K
> and Australia. Even a good commonwealth country like Canada does not fit
> the commercial model followed by these three countries. Countries like
> India, China, Brazil, Spain, Italy, etc. have large public funds
> allocated to supporting scholarly journals. France may be the worst
> case: huge subsidies to support commercial publishers... No further
> comment needed for this last case.

Subsidies for non-OA journals are anomalous in the OA age; but researchers
not self-archiving their own articles is even more anomalous, and there
is an immediate remedy for that: self-archiving mandates.

The question still stands though: It is not about how much money
countries are currently spending on subsidising non-OA journals, but
about what percentage of their own research output is published in their
subsidised journals. Where that percentage is significant, the effort
to require the subsidised journals to convert to OA would be useful,
if the subsidies were redirected to cover the publication costs. But
the self-archiving mandate should still proceed apace in those countries,
for whatever percentage of their research output is not in their

Stevan Harnad
Received on Fri Nov 03 2006 - 15:01:00 GMT

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