Re: Just who is on the defensive?

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 30 Jan 2007 02:58:03 +0000 (GMT)

On Mon, 29 Jan 2007, Jan Velterop wrote:

> On 28 Jan 2007, at 17:40, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> > Jan, as a publisher, you are to be excused for being so
> > preoccupied with prices and your bottom line. But I hope you
> > will in turn excuse the research community for being more
> > concerned with *access* -- for which there is no need to pay a
> > penny more or less at the moment! All that's needed is
> > keystrokes. And that is what OA, today, is about.
> Isn't this a little simplistic and sound-biting, dear Stevan?

Not at all. It is exactly the case. The only thing standing between the
research community and access to its own (peer-reviewed) research output is
keystrokes. And that is why the research world is (at last) moving toward
mandating those (long overdue) keystrokes:

Far from simplistic, it is the truth, and the truth is simple. It is only
interested in seeing it otherwise that are complicating, and spinning, and
sound-biting, in an effort to say it isn't so.

> The discussion would benefit from a more substantive approach. Most
> publishers are not "preoccupied with prices and bottom line" but
> have a genuine concern for access as well as for maintaining an
> economic underpinning of a stable and reliable formal
> peer-reviewed journal publishing system.

Those are the publishers who are (1) Green on author self-archiving
(keystrokes) and (2) *not* lobbying against self-archiving mandates. I am
not speaking about them.

> Fortunately, most
> researchers are also concerned with having such a reliable system
> to provide them not only with access to other researchers'
> articles, but with a means to get their own articles
> peer-reviewed and formally published, for the scientific record,
> for their career prospects, and for communicating their findings
> and interpretations, in a validated form, to fellow-scientists.

And that is precisely the system which they have, and which is being paid
for, amply, by subscriptions. But what we are talking about here is
*supplementing* that system by self-archiving the author's final draft for
those would-be users whose institutions cannot afford the subscription.

> Were they, researchers, not concerned with having a reliable
> journal system, and only with access, they would make a bee-line
> for repositories and mandates wouldn't be on the agenda.

You are quite right that if researchers were self-archiving spontaneously in
sufficient numbers (rather than the 15% rate at which they are doing it
today) then there would be no need for self-archiving mandates.

But you are quite wrong about why not enough of them are doing it: It is
simply inertia: It's new. Some think (wrongly) that it's complicated and
time-consuming; some think (wrongly) that it's illegal. But mostly it's the
same thing as what would keep most of them from bothering to publish at all
but for the "publish or perish" mandate: Research is curiosity-driven, not
profit- or otherwise-driven. So the only way to get busy researchers to do
(or delegate) the keystrokes is to mandate it.

> I advocate open access publishing, with its immediacy and no need
> for embargoes, now that the internet enables us to do it, because
> it is a fundamentally better way to publish research results than
> the traditional subscription model.

I agree. But, as you see, publishers are not rushing to convert to OA (Gold)
publishing, and spontaneous publishing by authors in OA journals is even
lower than their spontaneous self-archiving rate. And the money to pay for
publishing is all still tied up in subscriptions, so there is not the spare
cash to pay for OA publishing charges (and researchers are not eager to have
it diverted from already scarce research funds).

And you cannot mandate conversion by publishers to OA publication; nor can
you mandate which journals researchers should publish in. Research funds can
be diverted, but it is unnecessary, not only because publishing costs are
still being paid by subscriptions, but because self-archiving *can* be
mandated, and that will provide immediate 100% OA without the need to divert
research funds.

> I make the case to the
> scientific community and to publishers. Sure, apart from support,
> I encounter apathy, frustration, and sometimes hostility. On both
> sides. Solid arguments as to why it is not a better system are,
> however, lacking.

That is because OA publishing *is* a better system. But what is needed now
is OA, not a better publishing system that so far generates apathy,
frustration and hostility. And Green OA mandate will generate the OA --
which *might* in turn eventually generate the conversion to Gold OA
publishing as well as the cancellation savings out of which to pay for it.

> Because it isn't the open access system per se
> that both publishers and researchers are worried about; it is the
> question of how to get from where we are now, with the prevailing
> subscription system, to such an open access publishing system,
> without getting from the frying pan into the fire.

Yes, it is about how to get there (100% OA) from here (15%). Researchers
will be happy with the conversion to Gold OA if/when the funds are made
available to pay for it without poaching them from their current research
pot; publishers will be happy to convert to Gold OA once they are sure
they will get paid for it. Right now, though, the potential funds to pay
for Gold OA are tied up in subscriptions. So, instead of waiting for OA to
come from a spontaneous conversion-experience on the part of all or most
publishers -- cancelling subscription tolls and switching to OA publishing
charges of their own accord thereby releasing the funds out of which
to pay those charges -- the research community can and will provide OA
for itself, by mandating the keystrokes.

> Applying the bandage and salve of self-archiving is simpler than
> carrying out the complicated operation of changing the underlying
> condition, of course, and as palliative care its attraction is
> quite understandable. But it shouldn't be mistaken for a cure.

Before we can decide whether it is a bandage or a cure, we have to
identify the disease : The disease for which *OA* is the cure, is research
access-denial and impact-loss. For that disease, self-archiving mandates
are not a bandage or salve, but a cure.

For another disease -- the journal affordability crisis -- 100% Green OA
is a salve, not a cure: Once all articles are accessible free, journal
prices will not necessarily go down, but it will certainly matter much
less if it turns out that an institution cannot afford a given journal
(since the self-archived version will be accessible free for all anyway).

But it was a mistake to imagine -- because one of the two roads to 100%
OA happens to be Gold OA publishing -- that the disease for which OA is the
cure is journal unaffordability. The disease is and always was needless
access and impact loss. And 100% OA (by either route) is the cure. Green OA
provides that cure, because it can be mandated. Gold OA cannot. (But
mandated Green OA *might* also eventually lead to Gold OA.)

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Jan 30 2007 - 03:02:05 GMT

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