Re: Is OA (Gold) really a desirable goal for scientific journal publishing?

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 10 Jan 2007 17:21:47 +0000

On Wed, 10 Jan 2007, Bruno Granier wrote:

> A 03:38 10/01/2007 +0000, John Harnad wrote:

> >JH:
> >4) It is highly unlikely that public (or private) funding agencies will be
> >willing to increase their budgets to cover such extra [gold] publication charges
> >for authors, even if they express themselves in favour of 'Open Access'
> >and continue to allow this (as most do now) as a legitimate item within
> >the budget of a supported researcher. The implication is that the extra
> >costs for [gold] publication charges will have to be subtracted from other,
> >current research expenditures. For those, e.g., in the 10-15% category,
> >this means, effectively, a 10-15% cut in their 'actual' research budgets.
> BG:
> I just want to highlight that if the "extra costs for publication charges"
> might effectively affect negatively the "current research expenditures,"
> cost savings for the research libraries (cut in their subscription budget)
> might probably compensate them (that is just transferring from one box to
> the other within the same drawer). Don't you think so?

Yes, of course subscription savings could be redirected
but not *today*, when the only journals going gold would be (some)
physics journals (and not pre-emptively, at today's -- non-minimised --
asking prices).

Unlike CERN, most institutions' (i.e., universities') overloaded
subscription budgets are not just for physics journals!

It would indeed require a very concerted redirection system to
systematically commit institutional savings on incoming subscriptions to
paying for outgoing institutional publications instead. And many sceptics
doubt (quite wrongly) that such a redirection would be possible at all:
Of course it is possible, indeed perfectly natural and inevitable --
if and when *all* subscriptions are being cancelled and *all* journals
are downsized to peer-review service provision alone, their much-reduced
costs being covered by charging publication fees to the author-institution
instead of charging subscription/license fees to the user-institution.

But institutions certainly can't -- and won't -- do that concerted
redirection of funds now, piecewise, journal by journal or subfield by
subfield, institution by institution -- and at the current asking price,
which has not yet been reduced to just the cost of peer review, scaled
down under universal cancellation pressure.

This is the fundamental flaw in CERN's reasoning, which is to imagine
that most institutions are like CERN, subscribing to physics journals
only. *CERN* can easily anticipate, isolate and redirect its own savings
(perhaps even at the current inflated, non-minimised asking price). But
universities, with serials budgets covering all disciplines, and currently
stretched to the limit, certainly cannot and will not redirect piece-wise
subscription savings today, journal by journal, field by field (and at
the current asking price) on the pious hope that this gold-conversion
will all soon propagate somehow to all other disciplines at a price that
will not leave them worse off than were before.

No, instead the costs of gold OA publishing today, for (some or all of)
physics alone, today, would have to be poached from research funds --
research funds that are already even more sorely stretched today than library
serials budgets!

CERN's proposal, locally coherent (for one-field institutions like CERN)
is globally incoherent and will not scale.

And instead of helping the progress toward universal Open Access in all
disciplines through its splendid local example, as it has been doing
for years, CERN will -- through the premature, ill-thought-through, and
narrow-sighted step it is now contemplating: that of using its prestige
and weight to coercively convert (some or all) journals to the gold OA
cost-recovery model -- actually retard and impede rather than accelerate
worldwide progress toward Open Access.

What CERN can and should do instead is to use its prestige and weight
and splendid historic example to help propagate its own practice of
*mandated institutional self-archiving* (OA green) to all the rest of the
world's disciplines and institutions. Then, and only then, might there
eventually arise the universal cancellation pressure toward cost-cutting,
downsizing to peer review, conversion to gold, and redirection of windfall

Or it might not. But the *fundamental* point is that the research
*accessibility* problem will already have been completely solved with 100%
green OA, through universally mandated self-archiving, CERN-style. The
journal *affordability* problem is *not the same problem* as the research
accessibility problem. conflating the two does not solve either problem
(except myopically, locally, and solipsistically, for a few physics-only

More pertinent still: In a world with no accessibility problem, because
it is 100% (green) OA, the journal affordability problem, although not
solved, becomes a lot less pressing and portentous: Libraries still
won't be able to afford all journals they may want, but it will *matter*
much less, because the contents of those journals they cannot afford
will still be safely accessible to all their users -- in their green
OA (self-archived) versions.

So it is not too late for CERN to uncross its research-accessibility and
library-affordability wires and focus on spreading its own successful
OA solution -- mandated institutional self-archiving -- to the rest of
the world, rather than needlessly trying to convert the access-solution
into a solution for its library budget problems today too. That requires
patience and foresight, for a global solution, not precipitous pre-emptive
local action, by field or institution.

    Harnad, S. (2006) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition

Stevan Harnad
Received on Wed Jan 10 2007 - 17:50:04 GMT

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