Re: What Can and Should Be Mandated

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Date: Fri, 3 Nov 2006 18:00:52 -0500

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Le jeudi 02 novembre 2006 à 16:20 +0000, Stevan Harnad a écrit :

>> 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).

To save time on whom? The full answer to this question on a world scale
is a major undertaking. In the past, I have called on colleagues from
various countries to respond. I have had some, generous, responses but
much more needs to be done. However, even the limited answers are
interesting where we have them because they converge. Canada publishes
around 300 journals and more than half are subsidized. We had a long
discussion about Finland about a year ago, and the result was like 70% at
least were subsidized. In France where perhaps about 1,000 journals are
published, nearly all are subsidized. A year ago, we mentioned Latin
American countries where essentially all local journals are subsidized.
Italy seems to have about 600 plus journals and most appear subsidized.
That is the state of my inquiry right now. Obviously, all the journals in
DOAJ that ask for no payment upstream are subsidized in one way or
another, from departmental contributions to national support (e.g. the
300 plus journals from Scielo in latin America, half of which, more or
less, come from Brazil). It would be hard to imagine Chinese journals
without subsidies and India heavily subsidizes a good number of journals

I am not sure what the disciplinary break down would add to these
statistics. But the variations would indeed be interesting. Again, this
is a question that cannot be answered within the framework of an on-line
discussion. But enough is known to allow speaking about it all the same.

As for the degree to which journals are subsidized, this is a figure that
is even more difficult to find as journals rarely publish their budget.
In the case of the 161 journals subsidized in canada, for which I have
seen precise figures (but they are confidential), subsidies generally
cover between 30 and 50% of the production costs.

In the case of the OA journals with no upstream payment, the subsidy is
obviously 100%. But this is not very important, because, in my opinion,
as soon as a journal receives any significant support from a public
institution, it is amenable to pressure and mandating.

 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.

Samples available certainly place the figure closer to 50% than to 5%.

> 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.

I am not sure one can compare hypothetical "manque-à-gagner" money (i.e.
money that might have been earned if...) with actual cash outlay. This
looks strange to me.

> 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?

Diverting what? Thinking that everyone, on the basis of Stevan's
argument, is going to devote 100% of his/her energy on mandating is not
realistic. Measuring the amount of hypothetical diversion is even less
realistic. If, furthermore, one wants to compare this totally
unmeasurable quantity of  "diversion" with another result just as
difficult to quantify, we reach total science fiction levels.  Both
techniques will yield some results and, therefore, deserve being pursued.

Mandating has the potential of yielding close to 100% OA but this 100%
applies only to the institutions that mandate - not many so far, alas -
and it depends on how strictly this will be implemented. Here again, we
face quantitative uncertainties.

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

Not only are the mandates needed, but one must pay attention to the
actual implementation too. A mandate that is not enforced will be 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?

Every sample examined so far, outside the US, UK and Australia, shows
levels of subsidies that go from significant to almost total. Why play
skeptical on this issue?

> (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

Beside the point and the irony is not needed here. This was an example
used to show what silly results can come out of some subsidy policies; it
was not mentioned to demonstrate the existence of public subsidies to
commercial publishers, at least not in the case of Canada. France seems
to be one of the rare countries where a lot of public subsidies seem to
go to private publishers. There, it looks like a state subsidy to an
industrial branch. Obviously, in such a case, pushing for an OA mandate
becomes more difficult.

> 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.

How can one say that subsidies for non-OA journals are anomalous when
repeated examples illustrate the contrary? One might say that when OA
journals exist, subsidizing non-OA journals is not very coherent. But it

 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

I agree with this more or less. I say "more or less" because the
subsidies do go to publication costs. In fact, some journals in Canada
even practise double-dipping thanks to parallel provincial subsidies.

Rather than put into question the reality of subsidized journals, and its
significance, I wish we all collaborated documenting the phenomenon world
wide. This would not be a waste of time; neither would it be a diversion.
Side by side, mandating self-archiving and pushing, perhaps even
mandating, the conversion of subsidized journals to OA would help reach
OA faster. And that is all I have been arguing for over a year now. I
have even offered to collect the data and give it back to the group in 
comparative tables. This would be more constructive than denyingg what is
obviously a widespread phenomenon.


Jean-Claude Guédon

 Stevan Harnad

Dr. Jean-Claude Guédon
Dept. of Comparative Literature
University of montreal
PO Box 6128, Downtown Branch
Montreal, QC H3C 3J7
Received on Sat Nov 04 2006 - 01:55:53 GMT

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