Re: What Can and Should Be Mandated

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 4 Nov 2006 12:34:33 +0000

On Fri, 3 Nov 2006, Jean-Claude Guédon wrote:

> Samples available certainly place the figure [proportion of journals
> that are subsidised] closer to 50% than to 5%.

I am afraid I'm still not sure that's accurate (or if so, what it means).

If it were really true that half of the world's 24,000 peer-reviewed
journals are subsidised, it would be important to know *which* half --
top or bottom? This is not snobbery: The need for OA is definitely
top-down insofar as the user-end need for *access* is concerned. What
users need first and foremost is access to the articles in the best

And on the author-end, although all authors yearn for more *impact*, the
findings are that the size of the OA Advantage is greater for the higher
quality articles (the "Quality Advantage," QA) in that the proportion of
self-archived articles is higher in the higher citation brackets. (This
is the effect that some have interpreted -- wrongly, in my opinion, --
as a non-causal Self-Selection effect, or Quality Bias, QB, rather than
QA. There is both a noncausal QB and a causal QA component in the OA
advantage, and I am betting QA is the bigger component). The majority of
articles are not cited at all, and for the worst of them, making them OA
does not help! OA allows the best work -- the work destined to be used
and built upon -- to be used and built upon purely on the basis of
its quality and relevance, no longer constrained by its affordability.

Even if half of a country's national journals are subsidised, it does
not follow that half of that country's research output is published in
its national journals, let alone subsidised journals; and that's without
even asking which half.

> I am not sure one can compare hypothetical... money that might have
> been earned if... with actual cash outlay [in pitting money spent
> on subsidising journals against the monetary value of lost potential
> research impact].

I'm afraid that here I disagree very fundamentally: Although the serials
crisis definitely helped alert us to the OA problem, historically,
OA is not in fact about saving money spent on journals -- neither the
money spent on subscribing to overpriced journals nor the money spent
subsidising journals. It is about ending the needless loss of potential
research access and impact. And the estimates of the amount of money
lost because of that access denial are the real measures of the cost
of not providing OA. Neither journal prices nor journal subsidies are
measures of that real, preventable loss to research progress and

> 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?

Because my question was not about what proportion of a country's national
journals are subsidised, but about what percentage of that country's
research output is published in subsidised journals (by discipline --
and, to get an even better idea: by quality-bracket).

> Side by side, mandating self-archiving and pushing, perhaps even
> mandating, the conversion of subsidized journals to OA would help reach
> OA faster.

In my opinion, complicating and handicapping the (still not yet adopted)
self-archiving mandate proposals with journal-conversion mandates at
this time would make it harder, not easier, to get the self-archiving
mandates adopted at all -- especially because it would couple mandates
with funding commitments. Moreover, until the question of the true
proportion of the 24,000 peer-reviewed journals (by discipline, as well
as their standing in the quality hierarchy) is answered, it is not even
clear what marginal gains in OA are to be expected from trying to convert
subsidised journals to OA.

There is nothing wrong with continuing efforts to convert non-OA journals
into OA journals, including the subsidised non-OA journals, but I do not
think this should be conflated or combined with the efforts to get the OA
self-archiving mandates adopted. (And, to repeat, once the self-archiving
mandates prevail, the issue of converting subsidised non-OA journals to
OA becomes moot, insofar as OA is concerned. It reverts to just being
a matter of the evolution of journal publishing: No more access/impact
problem making it seem urgent -- though I do think that reaching 100% OA
through self-archiving mandates is likely to accelerate journal reform

Stevan Harnad
Received on Sat Nov 04 2006 - 16:53:24 GMT

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