Should Institutional Repositories Allow Opt-Out From (1) Mandates?(2) Metrics?

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 6 Nov 2007 14:31:14 +0000

This is a response to a query from a Southampton colleague who received
an unsolicited invitation from an unknown individual to contribute a
chapter to an "Open Access" book (author pays) on the basis of a paper
he had deposited in the the ECS Southampton Institutional Repository
(IR) -- and possibly on the basis of its download statistics.
Hyperlinked version:

The colleague asked:

    (1) Is the book chapter that [identity deleted] is soliciting an
example of Open Access?

    (2) Are download counts legitimate metrics for (2a) CVs, (2b)
website statistics, (2c) departmental/institutional repository (IR)

    (3) Can download statistics be abused?

    (4) Should institutional authors be able to "opt out" of (4a)
depositing their paper in their IR and/or (4b) having their download
statistics displayed?

(1) Yes, Open Access (OA) books are instances of OA just as OA articles
are. The big difference is that all peer-reviewed journal/conference
articles, without exception, are written exclusively for research usage
and impact, not for royalty income, whereas this is not true of all or
even most books. Articles are all author give-aways, but most books are
not. So articles are OA's primary target; books are optional and will no
doubt follow suit after systematic OA-provision for research articles
has take firm root globally. (Also important: article deposit in the IR
can be mandated by researchers' employers and funders, as Southampton
ECS and RCUK have done, but book deposit certainly cannot -- and should
not -- be mandated.)

(2) Yes, download metrics, alongside citation metrics and other new
metric performance indicators can and should be listed in CVs, website
stats and IR stats. In and of themselves they do not mean much, as
absolute numbers, but in an increasingly OA world, where they can be
ranked and compared in a global context, they are potentially useful
aids to navigation, evaluation, prediction and other forms of analysis.
(We have published a study that shows there is a good-sized positive
correlation between earlier download counts and later citation counts:
Brody, T., Harnad, S. and Carr, L. (2006) Earlier Web Usage Statistics
as Predictors of Later Citation Impact. Journal of the American
Association for Information Science and Technology (JASIST) 57(8) pp.
1060-1072 )

(3) Yes, download statistics can be -- and will be -- abused, as many
other online innovations (like email, discussion lists, blogs, search
engines, etc.) can be abused by spammers and other motivated
mischief-makes or self-promoters. But it is also true that those abuses
can and will breed counter-abuse mechanisms. And in the case of academic
download metrics inflation, there will be obvious, powerful ways to
counteract and deter it if/when it begins to emerge: Anomalous download
patterns (e.g., self-hits, co-author IP hits, robotic hits, lack of
correlation with citations, etc.) can be detected, named and shamed. (It
is easier for a commercial spammer to abuse metrics and get away with it
than for an academic with a career that stands at risk once discovered!)

(4) No, researchers should definitely not be able to "opt out" of a
deposit mandate: That would go against both the letter and spirit of a
growing worldwide movement among researchers, their institutions and
their funders to mandate OA self-archiving for the sake of its
substantial benefits to research usage and impact. There is always the
option of depositing a paper as Closed Access rather than Open Access,
but I think a researcher would be shooting himself in the foot if he
chose to do that on account of worries about the abuse of download
statistics: It would indeed reduce the download counts, usage and
citations of that researcher's work, but it would not accomplish much
else. (On the question of opting out of the display of download -- and
other metrics -- I have nothing objective to add: It is technically
possible, and if there is enough of a demand for it, it should be made a
feature of IRs, but it seems to me that it will only bring disadvantages
and handicaps to those who choose to opt out, not only depriving them of
metrics to guide potential users and evaluators of their work, but
giving the impression that they have something to hide.)

I would also add that the invitation to contribute a book chapter by
[identity deleted] might possibly be a scam along the lines of the bogus
conference scams we have heard much about. The public availability of
metadata, papers and metrics will of course breed such "invitations"
too, but one must use one's judgment about which of them are eminently
worth ignoring.
Received on Tue Nov 06 2007 - 14:44:14 GMT

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