Re: Journal publishing and author self-archiving: Peaceful Co-Existence and Fruitful Collaboration

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2006 13:44:44 +0000

On Thu, 14 Dec 2006, Sandy Thatcher wrote:

> Thank you for the welcome, Stevan, and for your helpful and
> illuminating responses to various of my comments.

A very fruitful exchange, I think, Sandy. You are quite right that there
are (at least) three possible hypotheses about how change could take place
after self-archiving is mandated: (H1) No change (we both doubt that);
(H2) gradual change; (H3) rapid change.

If I were a journal publisher, and I held the third hypothesis
(rapid change), I would prepare for it not only by adopting the
Springer/Cambridge "open option" of letting the author-institution pay for
publication up-front, per article, right now (because until/unless there
is rapid cancellation pressure and resultant cost-cutting there is likely
to be little uptake of this option by authors and their institutions and
funders): In addition, I would "modularize" my operations, in preparation
for a possible rapid jettisoning of some of the modules.

The three principal separable modules would be:

    (a) All essential components of generating a paper edition
    other than (b) or (c).

    (b) All essential components of generating an online edition
    other than (a) or (c)

    (c) All essential of implementing peer review
    other than (a) or (b).

(Based on the PRC study's outcome, for example, I would not include
copy-editing among the essentials for (c).)

Then some realistic independent pricing of all three modules would need
to be done, both for doing them together, as now, and for doing them *and
selling them* as unbundled separates. Even if the change is sudden (H3),
it does not follow that (a) and (b) will not still retain a market as
separates for years to come. It all depends on supply, demand and costs,
as usual.

But the critical module is (c), because that is the bottom line: It
has to be costed out how much (c) alone would require to make ends meet
along with a fair return. There might be economies of scale there, if
peer review is implemented for many journals at once; or there might
not. (I am not a publisher, so I cannot guess in advance; it may well
depend on journal sizes and submission rates, or other factors.
Consortial arrangements with other publishers for pooling resources are
possible: Most journals' author niches are non-competing, so there is no
risk in pooling resources.)

Unless this modularizing and pricing is done in advance, today, a sudden
change (H3) *would* cause problems for publishers. The likely outcome
would be that titles migrate separately, rather than jointly in the
same cluster that they had formed with their former host publisher. I am
certain that today's actual and would-be OA publishers, large and small,
will be doing complementary costing and analysis, to see how many titles
they could absorb, and how they could do it smoothly.

If your sudden-change hypothesis (H3) proved incorrect, however, then
gradual change (H2) would sort these things out with less urgent need of
advance planning: If subscriptions decline, costs will be cut gradually;
inessentials, or products and services that have lost their market will
be phased out, and the downsizing will be like Darwinian gradualism,
as you rightly state, below.

Out of prudence, though, I would say that planning on the possibility
of sudden change (H3) would be the least risky strategy for today's
established non-OA publishers: And of course new and aspiring OA
publishers, planning to host the migrated titles, should be doing similar
preparations of their own.

    "The Urgent Need to Plan a Stable Transition" (began Sep 1998!)

Now I reply to your thoughtful points below:

> I think that, while our long-range goals are similar, our ideas
> about how to get there differ. In particular, we are operating
> with different models of change. Yours is a linear model,
> predicting gradual change to which the various players will be
> able to adjust over time, thus making the transition relatively
> smooth for everyone involved, with minimal harm (expect, perhaps,
> to a few major STM publishers) and many benefits accruing
> especially to researchers. I have a quite different model in
> mind, which is nonlinear and predicts a point at which major
> disruption to the system could occur, with at least very harmful
> short-term consequences.

I actually have no model at all, and am quite ready to agree that there
are roughly three possible outcomes: no change (H1), gradual change
(H2), or sudden change (H3), and that it is best to plan for all possible

> You are no doubt familiar with the differences in biological
> theory between standard evolution and what has come to be known
> as "punctuated equilibrium." The first is linear, the second
> nonlinear. I'm predicting the latter type of change, whereas you
> are predicting the former.

I am indeed familiar with punctuated equilibria! I am especially
interested in the explosive change that occurred at the advent of
language for our species. That was a punctuated equilibrium rather than a
gradual change. In fact, that was the topic of the third of three talks
I just gave at Indiana University. (The first was on OA Self-Archiving
Mandates and the second was on OA Scientometrics.) I actually think the
reciprocity among researchers in sharing and building upon one another's
research findings replicates many of the adaptive conditions that led to
the evolution of language in the first place, in the form of a powerful
new way to acquire and share categories.)

    Category Acquisition and the Origin of Language

    About 100,000 years ago there occurred an explosive evolutionary
    change in our genomes, brains and behavior: the advent of
    language. This change had to be driven by something that conferred
    an enormous adaptive advantage on our species, the only species
    with language. I will argue that this revolutionary advantage
    was a unique and powerful new way of acquiring categories: via
    explicit boolean descriptions of categories instead of just via
    implicit, time-consuming, risky, trial and error learning from direct
    experience, like all other species. Categories are very general: To
    categorize is to do the right kind of thing with the right kind of
    thing. In other words, it is just about all of adaptive behavior,
    learned and inborn. I will discuss some computer simulations of
    language origins, some experiments on the implicit and explicit
    learning of perceptual categories and grammatical rules, and some
    properties of lexical representation and symbol grounding revealed
    by the analysis of the definitional structure of digital dictionaries.

    Cangelosi, A., Greco, A. & Harnad, S. (2002) Symbol Grounding
    and the Symbolic Theft Hypothesis. In: Cangelosi, A. & Parisi,
    D. (Eds.) Simulating the Evolution of Language. London, Springer.

    Harnad, S. (2003) Back to the Oral Tradition Through Skywriting at
    the Speed of Thought. Interdisciplines.

> But I really draw my model from what I referred to before as the
> "tipping phenomenon." Probably you know that this originated in
> economic and sociological theory as a way of understanding the
> mass exodus of white urban dwellers ("white flight") once an
> urban neighborhood had reached the "tipping point" in numbers of
> blacks entering that area (between 10 and 20%, the research
> showed). That is a nonlinear effect, which cannot readily be
> predicted by looking for "evidence" of the kind you are seeking
> regarding the cancellation of subscriptions as OA alternatives
> proliferate. And it is not necessarily based on any rational
> assessment of potential harm. Was the white urban dwellers'
> belief in the harm that would come from the encroaching black
> population really "rational," or in fact did this not turn out to
> be a self-fulfilling prophecy-the harm ultimately coming from the
> effects of "white flight" rather than from any direct impact of
> black behavior?

Although there is no way to know in advance that it is true, if it is
true, the sudden-change hypothesis (H3) could turn out to be the true
hypothesis (whether for empirical reasons, or as a self-fulfilling
prophecy, as you describe).

(Of course, we cannot assume, willy-nilly, that sudden-changes will
happen simply because we cannot have advance information that they
will happen! No change (H1) and gradualism (H2) remain possibilities too. At
a spontaneous self-archiving baseline of about 15%, it is still early
days. And it is not only whether there will be cancellations, and if so,
whether they will grow gradually or suddenly that is not known: It is
not even known how fast self-archiving mandates will grow, nor how fast
self-archiving will grow once it is mandated!)

> So we get back to the point that Joe Esposito raised about
> beliefs being what is really important here, not any "hard"
> evidence of actual cancellations.

Oh, I quite agree that beliefs are more decisive than empirical
evidence! If that had not been the case, researchers would all have been
self-archiving well over a decade ago, at least!

> My suggestion is that a
> mandated 6-month embargo through FRPAA-type legislation might
> turn out to be a real "tipping point," which would lead some
> major publishers to abandon the field of STM journal publishing
> in the belief (however erroneous) that they could not sustain
> their expected profit margins under the new regime thus
> legislated. Yes, there might well remain some smaller publishers
> willing to step in and pick up the pieces, at least for a while,
> but what I'm suggesting is that, with the degree of
> conglomerization that now exists in this field (even more so in
> the wake of the Wiley takeover of Blackwell), it now would take
> the exit of only a few major players to bring about massive
> change in the marketplace. Smaller publishers, especially
> university presses, simply do not have the capital to launch the
> kinds of sophisticated systems that these major players can
> provide, so even if there was some uptake among other publishers,
> I can't imagine that 10,000+ journals would somehow be able to
> find satisfactory homes elsewhere anytime very quickly.

But Sandy, in the OA world, 10,000 journals are just virtual entities:
Each journal is an autonomous entity, with a a title, a track-record,
an editorial board, a stable of referees, an established authorship
and an established readership. Hosting them is not such a big deal at
all, in the online age. And the challenge is not finding a "marketplace"
(established titles have their titles, track-records, editorial boards and
authorships already). I think you will find that there are many takers
for this scaled down new niche, in the distributed online world. It is
not at all part of the "sudden-change" hypothesis that these autonomous,
distributed migrants would have no place to go if their publishers did
not want to retain their titles.

(But we are certainly piling speculation upon speculation here! Whereas
the only tried, tested certainty is that OA self-archiving itself is
highly beneficial for research and researchers.)

> So, in my nightmarish scenario, this "tipping" would occur within a
> relatively short space of time and leave a huge vacuum in the
> system, which no amount of self-archiving or IRs could begin to
> fill adequately in the short term.

It is not self-archiving that fills the vacuum: It is the migration of
titles released by the big established publishers to new OA publishers.
On your preferred hypothesis (H3), the release and migration would happen
quickly if self-archiving were mandated, but it is not part of that
hypothesis, I think, that the titles would have no place to go.

The causal role of self-archiving in this, of course, is that a journal
that has down-sized to peer-review service-provision-only (c) can abandon
the paper as well as the online editions (a) and (b), offloading all
text-generation, distribution, access-provision and storage onto the
worldwide network of IRs instead of the present paper and online
mechanisms (and their costs).

> So, who is to say whether your "evolutionary" model of gradual
> change or mine of "punctuated equilibrium" is the better theory
> to apply here? You adduce the lack of "evidence" of cancellations
> to support your theory; but that lack does not count against my
> theory.

(It's always useful to have a theory against which evidence does not
count! But seriously, your hypothesis (H3) is a possibility, just as
gradualism (H2) or no change at all (H1) are possibilities. And actually
gradualism (H2) is a whole spectrum of possibilities, corresponding to
the spectrum of possible linear or even curvilinear time-functions.)

> On my side, I can adduce plenty of evidence that
> businesses in general, and publishers in particular, have acted
> in just this way in the past, abandoning entire areas of their
> business in one fell swoop. It is not as though Elsevier and
> others wouldn't have plenty of other opportunities they could
> exploit, even within publishing; they could, for example, decide
> to put all their investment into professional publishing (law,
> business, etc.) where their main markets are other corporations,
> not universities) or into STM book publishing or into high-end
> newsletters.

That's fine. I am confident that there is a motivated new generation of
lean and motivated OA publishers ready to take on the migrant titles!

> Unlike university presses, such publishers have no
> inherent reason to dedicate themselves to publishing for the
> world of higher education. The same, by the way, could happen in
> college textbook publishing: if you read "Books in the Digital
> Age" by the astute publisher (Polity Press) and Cambridge
> sociologist John Thompson, you'll see that that industry is ripe
> for some major shakeup, too.

Quite. Though I think the situation is very different there, because the
text of a journal article has always been an author give-away, written
solely for research usage and impact, never for fees or royalty
revenues, whereas books and textbooks are often written at least with
the *hope* of royalty revenue... Moreover, article citations are
counted and rewarded in academia, whereas textbook and book citations
are not (so far -- although there is no reason why they could not be, and
I think they eventually will be).

> As I said earlier, I have no major stake in the outcome here,
> whichever model happens to be true of this sector-except to the
> extent that, if my model turns out to be true, I'm sure I'll have
> plenty of professors, administrators, and librarians appealing to
> us to expand our journals program, which I will politely but
> firmly decline (at least without some guarantee of vastly
> expanded capital resources!). But I suggest that it is prudent
> for university administrators not to bet everything on the
> accuracy of your model as opposed to mine, and to take
> precautions just in case my model might be the one that fits the
> world of publishing better.

But I have no model. Just a rather serene confidence that there are plenty
of available OA hosts, big and small, ready to take on the implementation
of peer review for migrating established-journal titles and ed-boards,
scaled down to OA publishing.

> P.S. It is revealing, I think, that in the newly released study
> by the MLA of tenure and promotion practices in the field of
> modern languages, credit for editing journals is way, way down on
> the list of what academics can use to position themselves better
> for tenure and promotion in the humanities.

I am not sure how that relates to the question of migrating titles:
If anything, it should mean trouble for existing non-OA publishers too,
if academics are indeed less willing to serve as editors. (But I suspect
the online medium just might breathe some new life into that thankless
task -- which I myself performed for a quarter century -- after all;
and into refereeing too.)

> This also casts doubt
> on any scenario that would see a major rise in support for
> journal publishing on campuses were the prediction I am making
> come true. Over the last decade, what we have witnessed is a real
> decline in administrative support for editorial offices on
> campus.

No one is talking about more support: If journals scale down to become
peer-review service providers only, their costs will go way down, and
they will need *less* support, not more. We're not talking about HighWire
Press here but about OA journals that no longer provide a product, only a
service: peer review. Their institutional hosts' online infrastructure,
together with whatever scaled-down publication fees they turn out to
charge (c), should cover all of that quite nicely, with access-provision
offloaded onto the worldwide network of OA IRs. (And let us not forget
that -- on your own sudden-change (i.e., sudden, widespread cancellation)
hypothesis (H3) -- institutions will all have some hefty annual windfall
saving on their serials budgets out of which to pay their own authors'
OA publication charges: A punctuated equilibrium indeed!

Best wishes,

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum

Chaire de recherche du Canada Professor of Cognitive Science
Ctr. de neuroscience de la cognition Dpt. Electronics & Computer Science
Université du Québec à Montréal University of Southampton
Montréal, Québec Highfield, Southampton
Canada H3C 3P8 SO17 1BJ United Kingdom
Received on Fri Dec 15 2006 - 14:33:48 GMT

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:48:39 GMT