Re: Can Nothing Gold Stay?

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 15 Mar 2007 01:44:58 +0000

Hyperlinked version of this commentary:

I would dearly love to adhere by my dictum "Hypotheses non Fingo,"
but with hypotheses being finged willy-nilly by others -- at the cost
of neglecting or even discouraging tried-and-tested practical (and
a-theoretical) action (i.e., Green OA mandates) -- I am left with little
choice but to resort to counter-hypothesizing:

On Wed, 14 Mar 2007, Michael Kurtz wrote:

> (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.


And another thing has happened in the past generation or so: The
birth of the Net and Web, making it possible to supplement toll-access
with author-provided free online access (Green OA).

That development has next to nothing to do with the growth in the number
of articles, nor with the price of journals. It has to do with the
possibility of supplementing toll access with free online access.

> (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.

Correct, but irrelevant to the question of providing free online access
for would-be users who cannot afford toll access.

Yes, if the money currently being spent on user-institution access-tolls
were instead redirected to pay for author-institution publication charges,
no more or less money would be spent, and online access would be free
(Gold OA). But that is happening far too slowly, and does not depend only
on the researcher community. Supplementing toll access with free online
access (Green OA) *is* entirely in the hands of the research community.

Providing supplementary online access for free can be accelerated to
100% within a year or two through the adoption of research funder and
university Green OA self-archiving mandates. That too is in the hands
of the research community. Until it is done, research usage and impact
continues to be lost, needlessly, daily.

> 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.

(The quantitative estimates are rather speculative. Let us agree that
providing OA will indeed increase research productivity and progress.)

> (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.

If and when mandated 100% Green OA does cause subscriptions to be
cancelled to unsustainable levels, the resultant user-institution
subscription savings can be redirected to pay instead for
author-institution publication charges (Gold OA).

Green OA mandates, by research institutions and funders are possible
(indeed actual), and can grow institution by institution and funder by

If Gold OA (with its attendant redirection of subscription funds) can be
mandated at all, it certainly cannot be done institution by institution
and funder by funder (with 24,000 journals, 10,000 institutions, and
hundreds of public funders worldwide). Redirection, if it is to occur
at all, has to be driven by Green OA mandates.

Pre-emptive redirection of funds (by an institution or a funder)
toward Gold OA, without being preceded by 100% Green OA, is a waste
of money and effort. (After 100% Green OA it is fine, as long as there
is no double-paying, through redirection of research money instead of
subscription money.)

> (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
> literature.

It is completely irrelevant where the free online articles are
located. (The IRs and CRs are all OAI-interoperable.) What matters is that
100% of articles should be free online. Spontaneous central archiving
has not reached 100% in 15 years, where it is done at all. The natural
place for institutions to mandate the deposit of their article output
is in their own IRs. That covers all of research output space. Mandated
IRs fill within two years. Research funder mandates should reinforce the
institutional mandates. If CRs are desired, they can harvest from the IRs.

> (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.

Publication charges are currently being fully covered by subscriptions,
but access is not open to all would-be users, hence research usage and
impact (productivity and progress) are being needlessly lost.

There is no realistic way (nor is there a will) to redirect the
subscription money currently being spent by 10,000 user-institutions
worldwide for various subsets of 24,000 journals toward instead paying
author-institution Gold OA publication charges. Hence the only money that
can be redirected to pay for Gold OA today (by institutions or funders)
is money that is currently being spent on research or other expenses,
thereby effectively double-paying for publication (and at a time when
subscription costs are already inflated).

Hence if the goal is 100% OA, the way to reach it is through institutions
and funders mandating Green OA.

After that, redirect toward Gold OA to your heart's content. But to do
so before that, or instead of that, is pure folly.

Stevan Harnad

P.S. The journal affordability problem and the research accessibility
problem are not the same problem. Green OA mandates will solve the
research accessibility problem for sure. They may or may not cause
unsustainable cancellations, but either way they will ease, though not
solve, the journal affordability problem (by making the decision about
which journal subscriptions to purchase from a limited serials budget into
less of a life-or-death question, given that 100% Green OA is there as a
safety net for accessing whatever an institutions cannot afford). Green
OA, if it causes cancellations, will also cause cost-cutting and
downsizing (the IRs can take over the access-provision and archiving
load, leaving the journals with peer-review management as their only
service), making Gold OA more affordable than it would be now.
Received on Thu Mar 15 2007 - 02:00:04 GMT

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