Re: What Can and Should Be Mandated

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Date: Sat, 4 Nov 2006 13:48:44 -0500

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Le samedi 04 novembre 2006 à 12:34 +0000, Stevan Harnad a écrit :

 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).

Rather than expressing skepticism, let us gather the information. This is
more constructive.

 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

The 24,000 journals is a figure I have always felt uneasy with. It relies
a lot on tools such as Ulrich's, etc. which have their own constituencies
and agendas (in this particular case, serving the US library community).
Many journals of a "national" reach - i.e. journals that have not managed
to reach international audiences, yet play enormously important roles at
the national level to help manage careers (that is what impact is also
about, after all) - tend not to appear in such studies. Moreover, the
state of scholarly publishing in the social sciences and the humanities
is regularly described as far more chaotic than in the natural sciences
(see D. Hicks, "The Four literatures of Social Science" in Moed, H. F. et
alii, eds, Handbook of Quantitative Science and technology research
(Kluwer, 2004). As a result, top-down distinctions are much more
difficult to establish. To take a glaring example, how does one determine
if a Finnish journal on Finnish literature, published in Finnish, is
inferior or superior to a Dutch journal on Dutch literature, written in
Dutch? To take another example, a study about paleontology shows that 85%
of paleontology journals are not in the Web of science
(, quoted by C. Steele
et alii "The publishing imparative...",

If impact factors do not work well as tools to rank journals, how does
one go about deciding what is top and what is down? If a number of fields
are not well covered by SCI, how does one use impact factors? etc. etc.
Actually, in each discipline, with its own recognized bibliographies, the
pecking order is there, but it is not always clearly visible if
approached from the perspective of SCI or Ulrich's.

In short, assuming that all of scientific literature is homogeneous in
its behaviour, well identified, well covered by SCI and Ulrich's and well
globalized 9so to speak...) is very daring to say the least. Skepticism
for skepticism, I believe my form of skepticism is easier to defend than
Stevan's disbelief in the significant reality of subsidized scholatly
journals. What is more, let us remember that Stevan's skepticism is
brought forward as a way to support a long-shot argument - namely that we
must not allow for any "diversion" from his own self-defined agenda which
is the mandating of self-archiving exclusively. The fact that subsidized
journals  might not be significant is because they might divert people
from the one and only objective of mandating... ??? Enough said.

 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.

One should introduce a number of distinctions, such as "best" work vs.
"most useful" work. Again, thinking purely in terms of homogeneous usage
is an over-simplification of the realities of science and scholarship. As
a historian, I could not count the number of times when I have scoured
through tons and tons of articles in the hope of unearthing some
important facts, even though most of these articles were mediocre or even
down right bad. In any case, Stevan's point is a minor one since it
refers once more to the need not to divert.

 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.

True. That is why a more comprehensive picture needs to be built.
Preliminary samplings indicate that the situation warrants further

> 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

I am focusing here only on the "potential research access and impact".
The estimates of lost money because of access denial are just that for
the moment: estimates. In the debates with opponents to OA, this argument
has never gained much traction, probably because it is too loaded down by
a large quantity of hypotheses that are quite difficult to verify and
even less to quantify.

> 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).

The proportion of national journals is a first fix on the target. I
accept the fact that it can be refined and looking at disciplines would
certainly improve the understanding of what is going on. Adding quality
(how we do this, I am not sure, as i pointed out earlier, because the
available tools are tricky to handle) would improve this even further.
But saying all this is that the first fix, while not perfect - but what
is ? - is not altogether false either. As all measurements, it would need
some error estimate - a detail sadly lacking in the case of impact
factors, and this despite journals trotting out numbers with three or
four significant figures.

> 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.

Here we go with the diversion thesis again. Stevan should no from the
meeting in Budapest in 2001 that people are motivated to work on
strategies they believe in, not on strategies others believe in. He is a
good example of that behavior himself. Harping about the need not to
divert is essentially believing that everybody believing in OA will work
only on self-archiving and achieving a mandate. The reality is far more
complex and many individuals will continue supporting both approaches,
while putting more or less energy in one or the other strategy.

As for the "marginal gain", I read this as skeptical rhetoric.

 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.

Who is conflating? I certainly am not. These are two different, parallel
strategies. The whole of the BOAI document was also very clear on this

 (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.

One could argue symmetrically that once all journals have turned OA,
self-archiving is moot insofar as OA is concerned. So where does that
leave us?

 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

??? for the first part. I too agree that if OA were to prevail through
self-archiving, journal reform would follow. Actually, looking at the way
various players are reacting to OA in its entirety (and variety), this is
already taking place.

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 Sun Nov 05 2006 - 02:07:16 GMT

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