Feedback on the Brussels EC Meeting on Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 26 Feb 2007 06:57:07 -0500

The five points I shall list below are controversial, but I am
quite confident that the points are valid. My confidence comes from
having been involved in this for a very, very long time, having heard
everything already many, many times over and having given it all a very
great amount of thought (more thought than it deserved, because most of
the misunderstandings are so transparent and elementary!).

(1) I suggest that it would be a great strategic error on the part of
the EC to allow itself to be brought back to further talks and studies,
instead of implementing the OA self-archiving mandate that was proposed
in January 2006, and that has since been implemented by the ERC and
reinforced by EURAB.

The talks and studies have already taken place, for years now, many
times over. The EC is basically stepping back to the point where the UK
Parliamentary Select Committee was in 2003: It too conducted an extensive
inquiry, with all interested parties, and made the same recommendation
as EC A1: Mandate OA self-archiving.

And the response was the same: publishing industry lobbying, the usual
ominous warnings that mandating OA self-archiving will destroy
journals and will destroy a multi-billion dollar industry, the usual
conflation of Green OA and Gold OA (author OA self-archiving, Green,
and journal OA publishing, Gold) and the usual attempt to delay,
derail, filibuster in any way possible.

And the publishing lobby was successful in the UK -- for a while. It
successfully got the ear of Lord Sainsbury, the UK Industry minister
(just as it did the EC Commissioner!), But in the end, reason
prevailed, and now we have 5 out of the 8 UK Research Councils plus
the Wellcome Trust mandating Green OA self-archiving after all, and
more mandates planned.

The publishing lobby will *always* say we need more studies and
consultations. They have to, because they have absolutely no empirical
evidence to support their Doomsday Scenario: There is not even evidence
that self-archiving -- even where it has reached 100% for years now --
causes cancellations at all, let alone destroys journals. In the complete
absence of negative evidence, and with all actual evidence positive --
for the benefits of OA to research, researchers, and the R&D industry --
the only thing the publishing lobby can do is to raise the volume
on its dire but evidence-free predictions: and keep asking for more
studies, for more evidence!

But what the EC should be asking itself is: What studies? and evidence
of what? Surely the only way to test whether there is any truth at all
to the hypothesis that mandating OA self-archiving will generate
cancellations is to mandate OA self-archiving and see whether it
generates cancellations! The EC does not fund all, most, or much of
the contents of any individual journal. Hence it is enormously
improbable that an EC self-archiving mandate will have any significant
effect on any journal's subscriptions. But the only way to see whether
it does, is to go ahead and adopt the mandate. Its effects can be
reviewed and reconsidered after 1, 2 3 years.

Instead doing nothing under the guise of "further studies and
consultations" is of no use at all.

(2) The other aim of both the publishing lobby *and* the Gold OA
publishing lobby is to focus the EC on the issue of funding journals,
instead of on the issue of providing access.

The EC meeting was dominated, appallingly, by discussion of journal
revenues and economics (to no effect whatsoever, as all that was said
has already been said, countless times before, for nearly a decade
now). There was next to no discussion of the daily, weekly, monthly
cumulative loss of research access and impact that is continuing as we
continue to talk about the same things over and over.

Recall that publishers' warnings about future loss of revenue are
hypothetical, whereas researchers' loss of current access and impact
is actual, and cumulative, and also means loss of revenue, from lost
R&D industrial applications: losses on the public investment in
research. The cure for that loss of access and impact, and of R&D
industrial revenue, is to mandate OA self-archiving. It has *nothing*
to do with the the economics of funding Gold OA journals.

The focus on funding journals is a red herring. What the EC needs to
do is to mandate OA self-archiving. That is Green OA. It does not
require funding anything: just mandating self-archiving.

Publishers are publishers, whether they are non-OA publishers lobbying
against OA and self-archiving, or Gold OA publishers lobbying against
Green OA self-archiving mandates. How and why did the EC manage to get
diverted from the problem of research access (for which the solution
is to mandate Green OA) to the problem of journal economics?

(3) The research publishing industry is not the industrial dimension
of research: The R&D industry is. And the R&D industry and its
revenues are orders of magnitude bigger than those of the publishing
industry. And the R&D industry shares in the current, actual loss of
research access and impact that OA is meant to cure -- and that the
publishing industry lobby is (successfully) endeavouring to prevent.

Why is the EC inviting and listening so intently to the views of the
publishing industry regarding access to research, instead of listening
to the views of the R&D industry (along with the views of the research
community itself)? As I have said many times before, this is worse
than the tail wagging the dog: It is the flea on the tail of the dog,
wagging the dog.

(4) The substance of the recommendation of the EC petition and its
22,000+ signatories (so far), including 1000+ official organisation
signatories -- universities, research institutes, scientific
academies, R&D industries, etc. -- is that OA self-archiving (Green
OA) should be mandated. The voices raised for OA were not about
funding Gold OA, and certainly not about diverting scarce research
funds from research to paying publishers for Gold OA.

Gold OA cannot be mandated. There seems to be some profound confusion
about that, even among the proponents of the EC Recommendation: The
only ones who can be mandated to do anything by a funder are the
fundees: the researchers funded to do the research.

There seems to be an incoherent idea afoot that, somehow, it is
*publishers* who are to be mandated to do something. Publishers know
very well that they cannot be mandated to do anything, but they are
quite happy to draw out the consultations and "studies" on topics like
embargoes and PDFs in order to give the impression that that is what
this is all about.

What this is about is mandating OA by mandating that *authors*
self-archive their own final drafts of journal articles immediately
upon acceptance for publication. The embargo question is only about
the date at which those deposits should be made Open Access. (Till then,
the deposits can be made Closed Access, but their metadata are still
visible webwide, and individual eprints can be requested by users via

But the all-important thing now is not the allowable length of this
embargo, but about mandating the deposit. The EC has allowed itself to
be distracted from what this is all about, in order to focus instead
on embargoes and on funding Gold OA! That can go on forever; meanwhile,
daily, weekly cumulative loss of EU research access and impact
continues, and with it loss in EU research productivity, progress, R&D
applications, and R&D revenue.

Mandate Green OA self-archiving and *then* return to the endless
consultations on embargo lengths and Gold OA funding! But don't allow
Green mandates and OA to be filibustered still longer with these
studies and consultation that lead nowhere but to more studies and
consultations, as EU research access and impact keep hemorrhaging

Last point:

(5) One genuine (and valid) point of resistance on the part of the
research community (rather than the publishing community) against OA
Mandates concerns their being coupled in any way with the redirection of
scarce research funds, away from research and toward the payment of Gold
OA publishing fees. There is no need at all to couple the EC OA mandate
with the diversion of any funds from research to pay Gold OA fees. There
is no reason for the mandate to make any reference to Gold OA fees at
all. The mandate should be a Green OA self-archiving mandate. That is all.

(In this respect, the Wellcome Trust mandate is a bad model to follow.
The Wellcome Trust is a private charity and can do whatever it chooses
with its funds. But diverting public research funds to pay needlessly
for Gold OA publishing charges when it is not at all necessary --
because subscriptions are still paying for publication and Green
self-archiving can be mandated to provide OA -- is an arbitrary and
ill-thought-out step that can only generate research community

The need for and benefits of OA are a certainty, as is the ability of
Green OA self-archiving mandates to make all funded research OA. In
contrast, all hypotheses about the way this will or should affect the
future of research publication are mere speculation.

The publishing industry has been freely speculating -- with zero
evidence -- that mandating Green OA will destroy journals and peer
review. The way to counter such speculations is not to be frightened by
them into inaction, simply because they are fierce speculations. The
way to counter them is with plausible counterspeculations. So here is
one: If and when mandated Green OA makes subscriptions unsustainable
-- because all articles are OA and subscriptions are cancelled -- all
the subscribing institutions will have vast windfall savings from
their cancelled subscriptions: Those same institutional windfall
savings will then be available for redirection to pay for
institutional Gold OA fees for publishing their outgoing articles,
without diverting a penny from research..

That will be the time to make the transition to Gold OA publishing,
not now, when most journals are not OA, when subscriptions are paying
for all publishing costs, when scarce research funds would need to be
diverted to pay for any Gold OA publishing costs, and when what is
urgently needed is not funds to pay for Gold OA: what is urgently needed
is OA. And it is already attainable, via Green. All that needs to be done
is to mandate it.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum
Received on Mon Feb 26 2007 - 15:47:45 GMT

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