some thoughts on a brave new world (fwd)

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 22 May 2008 15:28:46 +0100

Talat Chaudhri has asked me to post the essay below, written by him.

There is much to agree with in this essay. I would add only that it is not
at all evident that the direct "take-over" of peer review by university
consortia that Talat envisions would be more practical or realistic than
the Green OA mandates by universities and funders that are now gaining
momentum worldwide.

I would add that self-archiving mandates are no more (or less) "coercive"
than the publish-or-perish mandates of which they are merely a natural
online-age extension: Indeed, two international, interdisciplinary
surveys by Alma Swan have found that over 95% of researchers themselves,
in all disciplines and all countries, report that they would comply
with self-archiving mandates by their universities and funders (81%
*willingly*, 14% "reluctantly" and only 5% not at all). And Arthur Sale's
studies of implemented mandates confirm these compliance rates.

(See the references Swan and Sale references that have been posted in
this Forum so many times now that I don't think there's any need for me
to post them yet again!)

Stevan Harnad

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 22 May 2008 12:57:10 +0100
From: "Talat Chaudhri [tac]" <tac -->
To: Stevan Harnad <harnad -->
Subject: some thoughts on a brave new world

[Stevan, please post on the list. Thanks, Talat]

I note that we *do* currently have "publish for free and read for free" as
far as the author/reader is concerned, though presently limited by authors
and publishers (in that order, I think) in its scope, i.e. Green OA.

Naturally the publishing industry doesn't want to "downsize" just to
operating peer review, since this is often partly paid for in terms of
the staff time in academic departments where the academic reviewers are
based and otherwise is only really an administrative job. Not a lot of
money to be made there, and really academics don't need publishers to do
it except for the fact that publishers are usually the inheritors of the
prestige journal name brands that everyone wants to be in (except for
instance University Presses, which are a halfway house). To "downsize"
really means to remove the profitable part of their business: turkeys
and Christmas comes to mind. I'm not convinced by the whole concept
that publishers shoulder the "costs of peer review", which is a gross
oversimplification and varies per discipline. They *do* however shoulder
the costs of copy editing, which is quite another service entirely and
should be distinguished.

However, as Stevan remarks very often, the publishing industry is a
service to academics, not vice versa. If horses are replaced by motorcars,
horse breeders need to radically downsize their industry and won't be
remotely happy about it. Unfortunately for them that is the accepted
way things change in the marketplace. Clever horse breeders may find
a new niche. It isn't much use arguing that we should stop people using
motorcars. For OA the challenge is to persuade academics that repositories
are as good compared to subscription journals as motorcars are to horses,
or else make it inevitably so (via the mandate or some other means -
but let's leave the discussion of means for the present). We have a free
service that can potentially offer, by one means or another, whatever
the traditional publishing industry can, if not more: inevitably better
by virtue of freeing up our resources for other purposes and for better
access to all.

So who bears the "costs" if everything is "free"? Answer: academic
departments, who already give their staff time for peer review. Who
funds *them*? Universities, by whatever internal means of allocating
funding they may have or develop in response to changing needs. Let's
think back to the dawn of academic publishing. Effectively, "publishers"
were only a little more than printers. They are a middle man who make
their money from organising various parties and from copy-editing. I may
note that the costs of type-setting have been effectively removed. Did
the type setters complain when their technical skills handling hot metal
were no longer required? Too right they did! Wouldn't you if it was your
livelihood? All the same, in the real world it was nonetheless inevitable
that change had to happen.

The truth is that publishers are (and have always been) an umbrella
business covering various different functions, but that is not to say
that these functions can *necessarily* only be carried out by publishers.

I would imagine that the future ought really to involve cross-university
peer review bodies rather like those that have existed throughout the
history of academic publishing: in my discipline, the Board of Celtic
Studies of the former federal University of Wales comes to mind. I see
only two minor blocks to this:

(1) Many people actually prefer print journals. One practical reason that
many people report is eye strain from reading long detailed documents
on a screen. To illustrate, why are print books *still* so much more
popular than e-books? And why do most people simple print out e-books
and e-journals in order to read them. This is not an intractable problem
(as solutions have already been found as described by individuals),
and does provide some means for publishers to retain this additional
printing and binding business, albeit "downsized" a great deal for a
more limited old-fashioned market.
(2) Currently, as mentioned, the prestige loci of publishing are the
brand name journals. This would need to change, which is unlikely to
happen overnight. As I said, the publishers, who own them, have the
above reasons not to co-operate. Authors have good reasons (like the
RAE in Britain or its equivalent elsewhere, or even just their own
career development as an academic) to continue to publish in these
journals. Herein lies the source of the whole problem that we face.

The current tool of choice to break the impasse is the mandate. It isn't
necessarily popular with academics because it comes across, as they
commonly report to repository managers, as university interference in
the copyright that they have traditional enjoyed the right to keep and
exploit themselves (even if they in fact squander it by signing it away
for no commercial gain to publishers, as they in fact usually do). They
like the control, even if it actually delivers no benefits to them in
practice and, on the contrary, adds to the publishers' monopolistic
exploitation of library budgets that could be better spent on other
resources for their departments' research and teaching activities. As
Stevan and others have demonstrated, though, nobody has demonstrated a
better tested solution than the mandate thus far.

I suggest that a return to the old federated peer review boards drawn
from across universities may be a useful step. I wonder if we really
need a new era of new journals to overthrow the old order. Prestige is
not a fixed commodity and must follow the ebbs and flows of academic
history. Those prestige names that adapt will survive. In this we need
the co-operation of academics to regain control of the levers of scholarly
dissemination for themselves.

I do not mean to suggest this instead of the mandate, which I agree is a
necessary evil in present circumstances (I say "evil" because I'd prefer
not to use coercive methods if there were an option - but there currently
isn't any). I suggest that it might very well speed up what the mandate is
trying to achieve by breaking down the practical barriers that frustrate
the proven concept of repositories in open access. Cross-university boards
have university interests in mind, as well as access to the necessary
expertise for proper and reliable peer review. (As far as copy-editing
expertise is concerned, presumably those who have previously been employed
by the former publishers will be in the jobs market.)

To repeat: for "publish for free and read for free" it is obvious
that ultimately the public pocket must fund universities to provide
the very cheap peer-review and repository services that are a necessary
replacement for the old and expensive (thus superseded) traditional print
and electronic subscription publishing model. In the case of private
universities, their teaching income will have to provide, or else the
public grant model will do so generally for all types of institution
based on the merit of their applications for whatever purposes.

I will defer to those who have studied scholarly communication in greater
depth than myself, so I merely put forward here what I deem to be useful
thoughts and one possible method to speed up the transition to OA and
break the impasse. It does have the merit of some historical precedent
as a publishing method with real academic prestige. I also suspect that
present publishers would, under changed market conditions, find ways to
emulate this model and compete with it, which is essentially the same as
saying that they would make new contractual arrangements with federated
groups of universities (rather like a farmers' co-op!). I accept that
Gold OA is a problem because academics in the developing world cannot
afford the page costs. However, public educational institutions, even
in those countries, stand a better chance, especially where the current
monopoly were broken and the exorbitant subscription prices are made a
thing of the past.

Simply put, I am arguing that Green OA, not Gold OA, is the future,
but we need to find as many tools to get to it as we can, whether old
or new, and use them all. We can supplement the mandate and the IR and
speed up their work.


Dr Talat Chaudhri, Ymgynghorydd Cadwrfa / Repository Advisor
Tm Cynorthwywyr Pwnc ac E-Lyfrgell / Subject Support and E-Library Team
Gwasanaethau Gwybodaeth / Information Services
Prifysgol Aberystwyth / Aberystwyth University
Llyfrgell Hugh Owen Library, Penglais, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion. SY23 3DZ
E-bost / E-mail: tac --
Ffn / Tel (Hugh Owen): (62)2396
Ffn / Tel (Llandinam): (62)8724
Ffacs / Fax: (01970) (62)2404

Cadwrfa ymchwil ar-lein Prifysgol Aberystwyth
Aberystwyth University's online research repository
Ymholiadau / Enquiries: cadair --

-----Original Message-----
From: American Scientist Open Access Forum
Behalf Of N. Miradon
Sent: 22 May 2008 06:35
Subject: Open-access does more harm than good in developing world

The current issue of Nature has correspondence from Dr Raghavendra Gadagkar.
The abstract of his letter (available at [1]) compares and contrasts
'publish for free and pay to read' with 'pay to publish and read for free'.
To read the letter in full will cost you USD 18.

N Miradon

Nature 453, 450 (22 May 2008) | doi:10.1038/453450c; Published online 21 May
Received on Thu May 22 2008 - 15:31:24 BST

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