Re: Open Letter to Philip Campbell, Editor, Nature

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 30 Nov 2006 11:14:27 +0000

    Below is (Colin Steele's summary of) what may seem like a rather
    one-sided view of OA developments from Philip Campbell, the Editor
    of Nature. However, the most important OA developments today, by far,
    and OA's best hope -- namely, institutional and funder self-archiving
    mandates -- are passed over in silence by the Editor of Nature, who
    discusses OA as if it were only or mainly a publishing reform model
    (Gold OA).

    Publishing reform is indeed a possible, eventual, but so far
    largely hypothetical matter. The immediate reality of OA is the
    growing presence and prospects of OA self-archiving mandates (Green
    OA). It is quite appropriate, however, that publishers should refrain
    from expressing their opinions on the subject of OA self-archiving
    mandates, as OA self-archiving mandates are *entirely* a research
    community matter and not a publishing matter at all.

    Let us hope that publishers are equally circumspect in their lobbying
    efforts, not attempting to treat the sluggish but sensible stirrings
    in the research community toward maximising the usage and impact of
    their own research findings -- by requiring them to be deposited, free
    for all users, in their own Institutional Repositories -- as if this
    optimal and inevitable practice were somehow conditional on whether
    or not it might put publishers' current revenue streams at risk.

    Research is not funded, conducted, and published in order to provide
    or protect publishers' revenues but to benefit the tax-paying public
    that funds research and research institutions. The views of publishers
    (and their employees) are hence quite welcome and natural on the
    subject of publishing developments, and their silence is equally
    welcome on the subject of research's quite natural efforts to widen
    its reach in the online era. Publishers can and will adapt to whatever
    is best for research, if need ever be. Till then, a tactful tacet
    is indeed the best policy, and the one that will be most mercifully
    judged by history.

    (That goes for Learned Societies too, who seem to have got their
    wires crossed, and need to sort out whether they represent research
    interests or publishing interests! If there is a conflict of interest,
    they need to lay that bare and sort it out too, not keep it wrapped
    in a sanctimonious and self-serving bundle...)

    Pertinent Prior AmSci Topic Thread:
    "Open Letter to Philip Campbell, Editor, Nature" (began Jan 2003)

    Berners-Lee, T., De Roure, D., Harnad, S. and Shadbolt, N. (2005)
    Journal publishing and author self-archiving: Peaceful Co-Existence
    and Fruitful Collaboration

Stevan Harnad

COLIN STEELE (excerpts):

Dr Philip Campbell, the Editor-in-Chief of 'Nature', gave a presentation
on November 29 at CAMBIA in Canberra (details of CAMBIA below) on the
topic "Challenges of Openness in Science Communication and Publishing".

The seminar, which may be of interest to this list, was chaired by Dr
Richard Jefferson who has recently been the subject of a profile by
Richard Poynder in 'Open and Shut', September 22.

It was an interesting presentation from Campbell, an influential figure,
who was progressive in his advocacy of 'supplementary' science data
collection, communication and manipulation but was more conservative in
looking at the total research publishing field

Campbell said that he was speaking as an editor "not threatened by Open
Access developments". He wondered if the "author pays" (always confusing
term to an academic audience?) model was sustainable, given that it
required a "big subsidy/investment from the owner (eg BMC) or philanthropy
(PLOS)". I pointed out in the question time that the current system
which he seemed to assume as a given, was based on the "philanthropy" of
the university and research sector supporting many of the costs of the
current system, for example through the university library budgets (Jan
Velterop has made some cogent points in this context in his 'Parachute
Blog' of 17 November,

Campbell cited the non-mandatory policy of the US National Institute of
Health as a "critical moment" which will "have been seen to have affected
the Open Access movement". He cited "only limited support from funding
agencies" but omitted to mention any specific UK examples such as the
Research Councils. He stated,however, there was "a need to maintain
political and moral pressures on funding agencies".

He believed that 'Nature' in its editorials/articles, etc had given a
"balanced view of Open Access" and that there was no evidence so far of
"lower quality thresholds in top Open Access journals". He cited in why
"I dislike author pays" as follows - it puts downward pressure on the
quality of the literature; over-states the problems of public access;
understates true costs; and "I like being rewarded by lots of satisfied
readers than by a few authors".

His "neutral" question was "is it possible to have one model for high
selectivity journals and another, author pays, for the rest?". He praised
Hinari and Agora as having "traction" but not being very well known. He
noted that while a time delay for Open Access had been accepted by
some publishers, eg 'Science', it had not been accepted by the 'Nature'
publishing group, although it allowed immediate free access to encrypted
text for computerised data mining. Free access to "authors versions"
after a six month delay was supported by NPG.

Campbell did not seem to be across the institutional repository advances
in specific terms only citing "D-Base" (sic) developments at MIT. He did
not mention any of Stevan Harnad's prolific output and advocacy in this
context instead focussing largely on the OA journal route. He did say
however, IRs were "here to stay" but indicated that he was uncertain
how open some institutional IR content was. (Surely the vast majority
are?) He also cited the development of central repositories as being an
alternative to IRs.

Open peer review was "not for us at the moment" and felt that many
academics would not engage in unsolicited peer reviewing unless there
were incentives and motivations. Interestingly, he then went on to
state that there would be a marked decline in people volunteering to
peer review as the science market place became more competitive and
selfish. Researchers would still review for journals such as 'Cell'
but not for the "lower journals" which he described as those with lower
citations. Having said that, he indicated that he was not in favour of
surrogates such as citations being utilised for individual and collective
assessments although he recognised this was an increasing trend.

He spent considerable time on the 'Nature' developments in the collection
of data, the importance of grey literature, blogs, wikis and the need
for high value content to be recognised. He pondered whether quality
blog commentators could be enshrined in evaluative value systems (but
if RAEs and RQFs are going to adopt largely conservative metrics this
may not be likely in the short term?)

He noted that perhaps the NIH is "not sure what it is there for in
terms of databases". This support of data collection and the need for
its acceptance within the scientific process was in some contrast to his
implicit acceptance of the status quo of the STM market- "I'm not sure
what 'Nature' can do to impact on the big STM publishers" - a sotto voce
from a librarian at the back said "don't keep increasing 'Nature's'
pricing models"! He did state later "that it was up to librarians to
cancel journals from high cost publishers".

Colin Steele
Emeritus Fellow
Copland Building 24
Room G037, Division of Information
The Australian National University
Canberra ACT 0200
Tel +61 (0)2 612 58983
University Librarian, Australian National University (1980-2002)
and Director Scholarly Information Strategies (2002-2003)
Received on Thu Nov 30 2006 - 12:59:43 GMT

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