Can Nothing Gold Stay?

From: Michael Kurtz <kurtz_at_CFA.HARVARD.EDU>
Date: Wed, 14 Mar 2007 13:55:00 -0400

Recently this list has taken on an air of ideological purity; this is
unfortunate. There is not (as yet) only one true religion.
Initiatives such as by HHMI, CERN, and Wellcome should be greeted, not
scorned. Let 1000 flowers bloom!

Below, in an attempt to decrease the heat, and increase the light, I
list six statements, which I claim are true, and which obviously bear
on the questions this list discusses.

(A) THE CURRENT SITUATION. The quantity of scientific research has been
     increasing exponentially for several generations. This increase,
     roughly an order of magnitude during my lifetime (~4% per year,
     essentially the same as the growth in the global economy), has
     been mediated and enabled by the existing system for scientific
     communication, namely toll access journals and libraries.

(B) THE CURRENT COSTS. Direct costs for journals are remarkably
     small, about 1% of the total research and development budget (1).
     This compares with other costs involved such as (2) unpaid
     refereeing and editing 1% and the non-acquisition costs of a
     library, 2%. Possible changes to the direct cost of journals, up
     or down, are likely to be smaller than the error in estimating
     the yearly inflation adjustments.

     increase the amount and quality of research. The growth rate of
     research is currently ~4%; if OA is a massive success, it could
     perhaps increase this growth rate by 10%, which would be a yearly
     increment of 0.4% of total research. It may be expected that the
     greatest effect of OA would be in cross-disciplinary research,
     such as Nanotechnology.

(D) THE RISK OF OPEN ACCESS. By substantially changing the economics
     of journal publishing OA risks the catastrophic financial
     collapse of some publishers. This is especially true for the
     mandated 100% green OA path.

(E) CURRENT GREEN MODELS. There are basically two types of Green
     repository: centralized, such as arXiv, and distributed, as the
     institutional repositories. Only arXiv has much of a track
     record. After more than 15 years arXiv only has more than half
     the refereed articles in the two subfields of High Energy Physics
     and Astrophysics; only HEP has more than 90%. It does not appear
     that there is any subfield of science where the existing
     institutional repositories contain more than half of the refereed

(F) CURRENT GOLD MODELS. Page charges have existed for decades as a
     method of financing journals; while their use has been in decline
     for some time several venerable titles use them, in whole or in
     part, and there are several new, page charge funded, OA
     journals. Direct subsidies, by scholarly organizations and
     funding agencies, have long been used to support scientific
     publishing. Nearly all technical reports series are funded in
     this manner.

(1) Odlyzko (2006)
(2) Odlyzko (1997)

Dr. Michael J. Kurtz
Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics
60 Garden Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
VOICE: +1-617-495-7434
FAX: +1-617-495-7467
Received on Thu Mar 15 2007 - 00:23:34 GMT

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