Re: Publishing Management Consultant: "Open Access Is Research Spam"

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Fri, 16 Nov 2007 04:31:35 +0000

On Thu, 15 Nov 2007, Joseph Esposito wrote:

> Hey, Stevan, come off it. Read the article. Once again you pick a
> fight when I mostly agree with you.

I was commenting on your interview rather than your article, but if you
insist, here goes. The comments are much the same. I think we are
galaxies apart, because you keep on imagining that OA is about
unrefereed peer-to-peer content, whereas it is about making all
peer-reviewed journal articles freely accessible online:

Comments on: Esposito, J. (2007) Open Access 2.0: The nautilus: where -
and how - OA will actually work. The Scientist 21(11) 52.

> open access does not appear to increase dissemination significantly...
> [because] Most researchers are affiliated with institutions, whether
> academic, governmental, or corporate, that have access to most of
> the distinguished literature in the field.

Strongly disagree. You think there is little or no access problem; user
surveys and library budget statistics suggest otherwise.

> Thus, though there may be some exceptional situations, especially
> in the short term, the increased dissemination brought about by open
> access takes place largely at the margins of the research community.

Strongly disagree. On the contrary, it is the top 10-20% of articles --
the ones most users use and cite -- that benefit most from being made
OA. (They receive 80-90% of the citations.)

> Another important reason open access does not significantly increase
> dissemination is that attention, not scholarly content, is the scarce
> commodity. You can build it, but they may not come.

Strongly disagree. To repeat, OA is about published journal articles;
so making them free online merely *adds* to whatever access they
enjoy already.

> It is one thing to write an article and upload it to a Web server
> somewhere, where it will be indexed by Google and its ilk.
> It is fully another thing for someone to find that article out of
> the growing millions on the Internet by happening upon just the right
> combination of keywords to type into a search bar.

Strongly disagree, and this is the heart of the equivocation. You are
speaking here about self-publishing of unrefereed, unpublished papers,
whereas OA is about making published, peer-reviewed articles OA --
whether by publishing them in an OA journal or by self-archiving them
in an OA Institutional Repository (IR).

The very same indices and search engines that find the published
articles will find the OA ones too, because making them OA is just an
add-on to publishing them in the first place. It is only because you
keep seeing the OA papers as not being peer-reviewed and published,
Joe, that you give yourself and others the impression that there is an
either/or here -- when in reality OA is about both/and.

> Would you rather double the amount of published information available
> to you, or increase the amount of time you have to review information
> you can already access by one hour a day? We are awash in information,
> but short on time to evaluate it. Open access only worsens this by
> opening the floodgates to more and more unfiltered information.

This is a false opposition: OA is about accessing all journal articles,
not just the minority that your institution can afford. If there are too
many articles and too little time, affordability is surely not the way
to cope with it! Let it all be OA and then decide how much of it you can
afford the time to read. The candidates are all available via exactly the
same indexes and search engines. The only difference is that without OA,
many are inaccessible, whereas with OA they all are.

> open access is most meaningful within a small community whose
> members know each other and formally and informally exchange the
> terms of discourse.

You are again thinking of direct, peer-to-peer exchange of unrefereed
content, whereas OA is about peer-reviewed, published journal articles,
irrespective of community size. (The usership of most published
research journal articles is very small.)

> Many of the trappings of formal publishing are of little interest to
> many tight-knit communities of researchers. Who needs peer review,
> copy editing, or sales and marketing?

I agree about not needing the sales and marketing, and perhaps the
copy editing too; but since OA is about peer-reviewed journal articles,
the answer to that is: all users need it.

> what of the work for which there is little or no audience? What if
> there is simply no market? This is the ideal province of open access
> publishing: providing services to authors whose work is so highly
> specialized as to make it impossible to command the attention of a
> wide readership.

Most journal articles have little or no audience. This is a spurious
opposition. And we are talking about OA, not necessarily OA publishing.

> the innermost spiral of the shell of a nautilus, where a particular
> researcher wishes to communicate with a handful of intimates and
> researchers working in precisely the same area. Many of the trappings
> of formal publishing are of little interest to this group. Peer
> review? But these are the peers; they can make their own judgments.

The peers are quite capable of making the distinction between one
another's unrefereed preprints and their peer-reviewed journal articles;
and the difference is essential, regardless of the size of the field.
OA is not about dispensing with peer review. It is about maximizing
access to its outcome.

> the next spiral is for people in the field but not working exactly
> on the topic of interest to the author; one more spiral and we
> have the broader discipline (e.g., biochemistry); beyond that are
> adjacent disciplines (e.g., organic chemistry); until we move to
> scientists in general, other highly educated individuals, university
> administrators, government policy-makers, investors, and ultimately
> to the outer spirals, where we have consumer media, whose task is
> to inform the general public.

I can't follow all of this: It seems to me all these "spirals" need
peer-reviewed content. There is definitely a continuum from unrefereed
preprints to peer-reviewed postprints -- I've called that the "Scholarly
Skywriting" continuum -- but peer-review continues to be an essential
function in ensuring the quality of the outcome, and certifying it as
worth the time to read and the effort of trying to build upon or apply.

    Harnad, S. (1990) Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication
    Continuum of Scientific Inquiry Psychological Science 1: 342
    - 343 (reprinted in Current Contents 45: 9-13, November 11

> not all brands are created equal.

That's what journal names, peer-review standards and track records are

> Whatever the virtues of traditional publishing, authors may choose to
> work in an open-access environment for any number of reasons. For one,
> they simply may want to share information with fellow researchers, and
> posting an article on the Internet is a relatively easy way to do that

Again the false opposition: It is not "traditional publishing" vs. an
unrefereed free-for-all. OA is about making traditionally peer-reviewed
and published articles free for all online.

> (I think some of the funding agencies have been misinformed about
> the benefits of open access, and they certainly have been misinformed
> about the costs, especially over the long term, but it certainly is
> within the prerogatives of a funding agency to stipulate open-access
> publishing.)

The funding agencies are mandating OA, not OA publishing. They have been
correctly informed about the benefits of OA (it maximizes research
access, usage and impact); the costs of IRs and Green OA self-archiving are
negligible and the costs of Gold OA publishing are irrelevant (since OA
publishing is not what is being mandated).

Whether in the long term mandated Green OA will lead to a transition to
Gold OA is a matter of speculation: No one knows whether or when. But if
and when it does, the institutional money currently paying for non-OA
subscriptions will be more than enough to pay for Gold OA publishing
(which will amount to peer review alone) several times over.

> open access would be useful for: an article that may have been
> rejected by one or more publishers, but the author still wants to
> get the material "out there";

No, OA is not for "research spam" (as you called it, more candidly, in
your Interview): OA is for all peer-reviewed research; all 2.5 million
articles published in all 25,000 peer-reviewed research journals, in
all disciplines, countries and languages, at all levels of the journal
quality hierarchy.

> an author who may be frustrated by the process and scheduling of
> traditional publishers;

Authors can certainly self-archive their preprints early if they wish,
but OA begins with the refereed postprint (and that can be self-archived
on the day the final draft is accepted).

> an author
> who may have philosophical reservations about working with large
> organizations, especially those in the for-profit sector, not to
> mention deep and growing suspicions about the whole concept of
> intellectual property.

I am not sure what all that means, but it's certainly not researchers'
primary motivation for providing OA, nor its primary benefit.

> A reason to publish in an open-access format need not be very strong,
> as the barriers to such publication are indeed low. It takes little:
> an Internet connection, a Web server somewhere, and an address for
> others to find the material.

Again, the equivocation: There is no "OA format." The target content is
published, peer-reviewed journal articles, and OA means making them
accessible free for all online. Peer-to-peer exchange of unrefereed
papers is useful, but that is not what OA is about, or for.

> Over time the list of invited readers may grow, and some names
> may be dropped from the list. The author, in other words, controls
> access to the document. This access can be extended to an academic
> department or to the members of a professional society; access can
> be granted to any authenticated directory of users.

This is all just about the exchange of unrefereed content. It is not
about OA.

> At some point
> the author may remove all access restrictions, making the document
> fully open access.

Making unrefereed content freely accessible online is useful, but it is
not what OA is about.

> It is a matter of debate as to whether any of
> these steps, including the final one, constitutes "publication,"
> but it is indisputable that access can be augmented and that the
> marginal cost of doing so approaches zero.

Providing free online access to unrefereed, unpublished content is not
what OA is about, or for.

> The fundamental tension in scholarly communications today is between
> the innermost spiral of the nautilus, where peers, narrowly defined,
> communicate directly with peers, and the outer spirals, which have
> been historically well-served by traditional means. Open-access
> advocates sit at the center and attempt to take their model beyond
> the peers.

There is no tension at all. Unrefereed preprints, circulated for peer
feedback, are and have always been an earlier embryological stage of the
publication continuum, with peer-review and publication the later stage.
OA does not sit at the center. It is very explicitly focused on the
published postprint, though self-archiving the preprint is always
welcome too.

Now, Joe, can we agree that we do indeed disagree?

Stevan Harnad

If you have adopted or plan to adopt a policy of providing Open Access
to your own research article output, please describe your policy at:

    BOAI-1 ("Green"): Publish your article in a suitable toll-access journal
    BOAI-2 ("Gold"): Publish your article in an open-access journal if/when
    a suitable one exists.
    in BOTH cases self-archive a supplementary version of your article
    in your own institutional repository.
Received on Fri Nov 16 2007 - 05:25:37 GMT

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