On OA, Self-Interest and Coercion

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 27 Jan 2008 14:40:58 +0000

On Thu, 24 Jan 2008, James J. O'Donnell wrote:

> ...Whether to include [books] in OA "mandates" is Stevan Harnad's
> question,
> and since I regard such mandates with skepticism, that question doesn't
> concern me.

But the question of mandates does concern a bigger and bigger
constituency, now that 6 of 7 UK Research Councils, the European
Research Council, the US National Institutes of Health, and a growing
number of universities worldwide have already mandated OA self-archiving,
and the vast sleeping giant of universities worldwide is about to awaken
and follow suit:

22 funder mandates,
   12 institutional mandates,
   3 departmental mandates,


   5 proposed funder mandates,
   3 proposed multi-institutional mandates,
   1 proposed institutional mandate

That's a total of

   37 mandates already adopted and
   9 more proposed so far
   = 46

So this might be an opportune time to re-examine the basis of one's
skepticism about OA mandates...

> I am struck by the assertion that "all authors would
> want OA for their articles" if certain conditions are met. That's an
> interesting hypothesis, but I would simply underscore that the number
> of authors who currently *do* want OA for their articles is low enough
> that Harnad and others recommend they be coerced to achieve the goal.
> That fundamental disjuncture is important to understand and is advanced
> by empirical work, not by thought experiments.

(1) "Coerced" is a rather shrill term! (Is every rule that is in
the public interest -- smoking bans? seatbelt laws? breathalyzer
tests? taxes? -- coercion? Is academia's "publish or perish" mandate

(2) It is empirically incorrect to assume that the number of authors that
do want OA for their articles is the same as the number who spontaneously
self-archive or publish in an OA journal today:

(3) Considerable empirical work has been done on these questions:
The surveys by Alma Swan and others have repeatedly shown that (a)
many authors still don't know about OA, and (b) many of those who know
about it agree that they would want it for their articles, but they fear
(wrongly) that it might be illegal, prejudicial to their publishing in
their journal of choice, or just plain too complicated and
time-consuming to do it.

(4) As a matter of empirical fact, (a) - (c) are all wrong.

(5) More important, the surveys have found that although most authors
still do not self-archive, 95% report that they would self-archive if
their institutions and/or funders mandated it -- and 81% of them report
they would do so *willingly*.

(6) In other words, most authors regard Green OA self-archiving mandates
not as coercion, but as facilitation, for doing what they would want to
do, but otherwise daren't (or otherwise could not assign it the proper
priority in their academic publish-or-perish obligations).

(7) By way of still further empirical confirmation, Arthur Sale's many
studies have shown that institutional self-archiving policies are
successful -- and institutional OA repositories successfully approach
capture of 100% of institutional research output -- if and only if they
are mandates.

(8) All of that is empirical; there is one thought-experiment, however,
and that is the various speculations and counter-speculations about
whether or not Green OA self-archiving mandates will destroy
peer-reviewed journal publication (see APPENDIX below).

(9) I fully agree that the only way to settle that question too, is
empirically -- and the mandates will do just that.

(10) All indications are that if and when mandated Green OA should ever
make the journal subscription model unsustainable, the only thing that
will happen is a natural transition to Gold OA publishing, with (a portion
of) the institutional subscription savings simply redirected to paying
the (reduced but nonzero) costs of Gold OA: implementing peer review.


Would all peer-reviewed journal article authors indeed want OA for their
published articles if they knew copyright was no obstacle and knew that
self-archiving time/effort was trivial?

As noted above, I think we already know the answer to that question,
indirectly, from the multidisciplinary surveys that have already been
conducted and published. But suppose we wanted a still more direct

Suppose we were to ask authors -- only about peer-reviewed journal articles
(not books, irrespective of whether books are peer-reviewed) -- the
following question (which needs to be as detailed as it is, in order to
short-circuit irrelevancies, enthymemes, and incorrect assumptions):

    "IF there existed no legal or practical copyright obstacles to doing
    it, and IF doing it involved negligibly little time and effort on
    your part (< 5 minutes of keystrokes per paper over and above all
    the time it took to write it), THEN would you be FOR or AGAINST
    making your own published journal articles Open Access so that all
    their potential users could access them, rather than just those
    whose institutions that could afford paid access to the journal in
    which your article happened to be published?"

I am willing to wager that the vast majority of authors in all
disciplines would reply FOR (and that if we added a box "if AGAINST,
please state WHY," the reasons given by the minority who were
AGAINST would all, without exception, be either factually incorrect,
logically incoherent, or simply irrelevant).

That, I think, is the only real issue (especially given that a huge wave
of institutional and funder self-archiving mandates is now growing
worldwide: See Peter Suber's forthcoming SPARC Newsletter for January

Some critics of OA mandates still seem to be seeing the self-archiving
and the self-archiving mandate question as somehow imperiling the
publication of articles in the author's peer-reviewed journal of choice:
But articles published in the author's chosen peer-reviewed journal were
part of the conditional (IF/THEN) in the above conditional question.

Hence any remaining reluctance about self-archiving can only be based
on speculations ("thought experiments") about the future of journal
publishing; those speculations would go into the "WHY" box, and then
each one (they are all well-known by now!) could easily be shown to
be groundless, empirically and logically:

       (1) Self-archiving would bypass peer review. (Incorrect: The
       premise of the question had been that you deposit your published,
       peer-reviewed journal articles.)

       (2) Self-archiving would jeopardize my chances of publishing
       in some journals, because they don't allow it. (Incorrect:
       (i) The premise of the question had been that there were no
       copyright obstacles. (ii) 91% of journals already endorse
       immediate self-archiving (for either unrefereed preprint,
       refereed postprint [62%], or both); for the 38% of postprints,
       the access can be embargoed and the IR's semi-automatic "email
       eprint request" button will provide almost-immediate OA to all
       eprint requesters during the embargo.)

       (3) Self-archiving would jeopardize the survival of peer-reviewed
       journal publishing. (Un-empirical speculation: (i) There is no
       evidence to date that self-archiving reduces journal revenue,
       even in the fields where it has reached 100% years ago. (ii)
       Counterspeculation: If/when self-archiving made the
       subscription-based cost-recovery model unsustainable,
       peer-reviewed journal publishing would simply switch to the Gold
       OA journal publishing model, with institutions paying for their
       authors' publication costs out of (part of) exactly the same
       money they are currently using to pay journal subscription costs.

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.

> On Jan 24, 2008 6:02 PM, Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk> wrote:
> >
> > I think it is incontestably a fact (rather than an opinion) that
> > in research assessment, peer-reviewed publications are treated as
> > a separate category in most if not all disciplines.
> >
> > This does not mean that they are "better" than books; it is not a
> > slur on books, or on more book-based disciplines.
Received on Sun Jan 27 2008 - 15:04:33 GMT

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