Re: The cost of peer review and electronic distribution of scholarly journals

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 27 May 2008 12:39:05 +0100

On Thu, 22 May 2008, Talat Chaudhri [tac] wrote:

> Gold OA [1] isn't popular and, I suspect, [2] never will be.

You are right about the first point [1], and the reason is partly
the current price of Gold OA and partly the fact that Gold OA is not
yet necessary, because Green OA (self-archiving) can provide OA.

But whether the price of Gold OA when it amounts to nothing more than
the cost of peer review will be "popular" [2] -- if and when it becomes
a necessity (i.e., if and when universal Green OA makes subscriptions
unsustainable) -- is not a matter of either popularity or suspicion: As
long as peer review is necessary, paying the true costs of implementing
it will be necessary, if one wants to publish (peer-reviewed research)
at all.

The good news is that the cost per paper of peer review alone then will
be far less than the cost per paper of (subscription) publishing now,
and the subscription cancellations will release many times the amount
of money needed to pay for peer review alone.

For the perplexed reader:

Talat and I are not disagreeing on most of these points. We both agree
that Green OA via self-archiving is feasible and desirable, and that
publication will eventually consist of peer review alone.

The only points of disagreement are about how to get there from here.

I advocate Green OA mandates, whereas Talat advocates direct transition
to peer-review-only, administered by university consortia.

What Talat does not explain is how we are to get the 25,000 journal
titles that are currently being published by their current publishers
to migrate to (or be replaced by) such consortia.

Nor does Talat explain how the consortia's true peer-review expenses
would be paid, even if the 25K journals titles did, mirabile dictu,
migrate to them of their own accord (although the answer even then
is obvious: via Gold OA author-institution fees, paid out of their
subscription cancellation savings).

But apart from not wanting to call this sort of payment "Gold OA"
(even though that's exactly what it is!) Talat also does not like Green
OA mandates.

The trouble is that Talat has no better way -- nor even an equally good
alternative way -- to get the 2.5 million articles published annually
in the 2.5K journals to "migrate" to their authors' Green OA IRs -- any
more than he has a way of getting the university peer review consortia
created, or of getting the journal titles to migrate over to (or be
replaced by) them.

So let's focus on the substantive points of agreement: (1) Universal Green
OA and (2) publishing costs reduced to just peer review alone. Talat can
leave the problem of generating that Green OA to the Green OA mandates,
and he can call the funding of the peer review something other than
"Gold OA" if he likes -- it all comes to the same thing anyway...

> On "downsizing" to Gold OA, I'm afraid that I agree with the
> original point in the article to which N. Miradon posted a link
> recently. The developing world doesn't want it.

Reply: Downsizing is for publishers (not researchers) to do, under Green
OA cancellation pressure. The only thing the developing world need do
is to provide Green OA to its own article output by self-archiving the
accepted, refereed final drafts (postprints) in their IRs (which is
exactly the same thing the developed world needs to do).

> Neither, I submit, does anybody in the developed world want to pay
> for it.

They needn't. They need only mandate and provide Green OA. The rest will
take care of itself. Institutions are already paying for publication
(via subscriptions). When they no longer have to pay for subscriptions
by the incoming journal, institutions' savings will be more than enough
to pay for peer review by the outgoing article instead.

> In terms of diverting
> currently subscription funds progressively to OA, any librarian such
> as myself will tell you that getting management agreement for what
> looks *to them* like a hypothetical new publishing model is going
> to be complex and very possibly unworkable, leaving only the few
> universities that have created funds for the purpose. None to my
> knowledge has agreed to allocate money on a yearly basis, as the
> costs are currently unknown.

But I have not said anything whatsoever about libraries needing to
progressively divert subscription funds to OA.

I said universities and funders should mandate and provide OA (as 44
universities and funders, including Southampton and Harvard, NIH and
ERC have done) and that IF and WHEN that should ever make subscriptions
unsustainable (i.e., they are all cancelled), THEN a small portion of
their windfall institutional savings can and will be redirected to pay
for peer review.

No one is asking libraries to divert anything anywhere now,
instantaneously or progressively. (If and when the time of universal,
unsustainable cancellations comes, Necessity will be the Mother of
Invention. No need to speculate or counterspeculate about it in our
imaginations now, pre-emptively; let's just concentrate on mandating
and providing universal Green OA.)

> Why will Gold OA not catch on? Because it is unjust! Only those
> academics whose institutions can afford to pay will be able to
> publish, unlike the present situation where anybody can.

You are talking about Gold OA now, Talat, at current asking prices,
and I agree.

So focus instead on mandating and providing Green OA for now, and
worry about the question of converting to Gold OA if and when it
becomes an actual matter of necessity, not just a hypothetical matter
of possibility. (By that time the asking price will be so low, and the
cancellation savings so high, that the decision will become a

> As I am
> presently a librarian, not an academic, I would be very likely unable
> to publish in my field of research on the basis of these centrally
> allocated funds, like retired academics and those in the developing
> world. Nobody will want this model, quite simply. They don't want
> it now!

To repeat, you are thinking of Gold OA today, at today's asking prices,
while all the money that can potentially pay for it is still tied up in
paying the subscriptions. This is unilluminating and irrelevant: Publish
wherever you like, self-archive your postprint, and let nature take
care of the rest,

(Once Green OA is universal and only peer review needs to be paid for,
the cost will be low enough so these needless hypothetical worries will
look risible. And provisions for the minority of researchers who are
retired, institutionally affiliated or otherwise unable to pay the low
costs of peer review will be made. We don't need to retain the present
access-denial juggernaut in order to take care of that small minority
of special cases.)

> [T]here was no "plausible path" for print to electronic publishing,
> yet it happened. If people as well placed as yourself were
> advocating... [university peer-review consortia] I am sure it might
> have a strong chance of catching on.

(1) If I were anywhere near as "well placed" as you imagine I am, dear
Talat, we would have had 100% Green OA a decade and a half ago.

(2) Electronic publishing did not face the regenerating heads of the
34-headed monster responsible for the "Zeno's Paralysis" that besets
Green OA (a syndrome to which you, Talat, are alas not immune either
[see below]!) The only effective medication, apparently, is Green OA
mandates, and, luckily, relief is on the way.

    Harnad, S. (2006) Opening Access by Overcoming Zeno's Paralysis, in
    Jacobs, N., Eds. Open Access: Key Strategic, Technical and Economic
    Aspects. Chandos.

> "relieving" journals of costs also "relieves" them of profits,
> which they won't want. It's myopic, to use your word, to suggest
> that this won't cause problems fairly soon.

Fairly soon? Self-archiving at 100% levels in high energy physics has
not yet begun to be felt in cancellations in 17 years (both APS and IOP
have confirmed this publicly: see the publications of Alma Swan). I am
optimistic about mandates, but not *so* optimistic that I think that
100% Green OA will be with us "fairly soon." So how can a library cancel
a journal while only an unknown percentage of articles from an unknown
number of mandating universities are being self-archived?

I can only repeat: It would do a lot more good if we self-archived (and
supported self-archiving mandates) more and speculated about the future
of publishing (or libraries) less...

> [Publishers currently endorse OA self-archiving] *under licence*
> which they remain free to withdraw, if that should be in their
> interests. Don't fool yourself that they couldn't if need be.
> At present it doesn't serve publishers to do so, so they don't.
> This is no basis on which to plan.

I cannot fathom, Talat, why you would prefer to keep speculating
about whether and when publishers might withdraw their Green light to
self-archive instead of pressing on with self-archiving and
mandates while the going is Green. This is one of the 34 familiar
of Zeno's Paralysis, and it's been with us for years now:

         32. Poisoned Apple

        "I worry about self-archiving even if the journal gives me the
        green light to do so, because if I do, the light may change
        to red."

The answer to your question is that as Green OA grows, the risk to
publishers is less that of losing subscribers, but that of *losing
authors*. And losing authors would certainly accelerate cancellations
a lot faster than the anarchic growth of Green OA self-archiving
will. (Losing Harvard authors today would be bad enough, but it would
only get worse, if the publishers' response to OA mandates were to try
to revert to Gray instead of Green.)

The only thing you need to "plan" today is how to facilitate the
provision of Green OA.

> I happen to believe that nobody wants Gold OA in the future, as
> they don't appear to want it now.

Most researchers don't want Gold OA now because the money to pay for it
is tied up in subscriptions and the asking price is way too high. What
they want now is OA, and Green OA mandates will see to it that they get
(and give) it.

If and when the subscription funds are released, the price drops, and
there is no other way to publish, researchers will want Gold OA.

But why keep speculating about if and when? Green OA is within reach,
and all it needs is more and more Green OA mandates.

> Arts departments have not
> co-operated with the Green OA revolution, as has recently been
> brought home to me here by our English Department.

No? It seems to me that the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Science voted
unanimously for Harvard's Green OA mandate. All the other universities
that have mandates have English Departments too.

> This is because
> we haven't understood their needs and continue to talk only about
> the most recent cutting edge science departments. Arts subjects are
> much more concerned with what you dismiss as "legacy" literature,
> preservation, book publishing, without which OA means little to
> them. We have sought no answers for any of these areas and so have
> no solutions for these academics.

OA's primary targets are journal articles; Green OA mandates only
mandate the self-archiving of journal articles. The Arts and Humanities
disciplines are more book-intensive than journal-intensive compared
to the Physical, Biological and Social Sciences. But inasmuch as they
publish in journals at all, no discipline is indifferent to the usage
and impact of its journal articles.


    (1) Preservation is important (but no more relevant to OA than

    (2) Book-publishing, inasmuch as it is not an author give-away
    literature, the way refereed journal articles are, is (so far)

     And (3) the legacy literature will have its turn once the current
     and forward-going literature is OA. (World hunger, the cure of all
     diseases and the righting of all wrongs and injustice will have to
     wait too, I am afraid: We're just talking about righting one wrong
     here: needless and obsolete access-denial for refereed research
     journal articles in the online age.)

> ...repository managers, their libraries and therefore
> their institutions... may not be so eager to follow your predictions
> as you hope, given that you have such a poor view of their "legacy"
> holdings and given the comments I have made on the failure to address
> the needs of all disciplines. I'm not sure we even have a solution
> for sciences and social sciences.

OA IRs are not preservation archives, they are access-provision
archives. And the access is to *their own institutional research
output,* not to the licensed subscription content their libraries have
bought in from other institutions. (There is some fundamental underlying
confusion here, or a conflation of two agendas, only one of which is
OA. And none of this has anything to do with discipline differences.To
my knowledge, no significant discipline differences have been reported
across all the disciplines tested, either for the size of the OA impact
advantage, or for the willingness to comply with OA mandates.)

> as I have agreed, we are stuck with the necessity for mandates
> asap. [But] publishers and universities alike need to find
> different funding models now, ahead of time, before conflict arises
> with the publishers, as it must inevitably do if we simply eyeball
> them from the trenches waving our mandates.

I'm glad we agree on the necessity of mandates, Talat (although only one
of us regrets that we are "stuck" with them).

But we will have to agree to disagree on the advance need to find
different funding models. Or rather, I would say we have found already a
different funding model (Gold: author-institutions pays for publication
output instead of user-institution paying for publication input), but
its time has not yet come: Universally mandated OA is needed first,
to pave the way.

> The relationship between library (i.e. those who acquire both
> resource and locus of deposit) and researcher is key to the solution,
> as any good subject librarian will tell you. I fear that you don't
> understand how libraries form a key part of the way in which the
> institutions who they serve, and who you mention as players in this,
> actually change policy in the interests of the researchers. This is
> the main point of contact in the institution.

Talat, is the role of libraries and librarians in the transition to free
online access to research journal articles really that apparent? Did
good subject librarians know where we're all heading a-priori, even
before the online era?

OA is largely a matter for the research community: They are the
providers as well as the users. But unlike with books, which need to be
bought in and collected by their libraries, it is not at all obvious
that OA requires library mediation.

It is fine if the library is made the manager of the IR, but then let
the task be taken on as the radically new task it really is, rather than
forced into the Procrustean Bed of what the library's traditional
expertise and functions have been. OA is new territory, requiring new,
Open mind-sets, not "what any good subject librarian already knows"...

> I would instead hope to hear direct answers to the points
> raised, as well as a reasoned argument against "consortia"
> journals rather than merely waving them aside as a foolish
> repository manager's fancy.

You've had direct answers, Talat: Self-archiving mandates have
already been tested and demonstrated to generate Green OA,
they are feasible, they are growing, and they scale (to all
universities and all funders).

What has been tested and demonstrated with (1) generating peer-review
consortia and (2) getting journal titles and authors to migrate to them?

It does not help to repeat an N of 1 (the Celtic Board). There are over
3000 Gold OA journals, and you yourself doubt they will scale...

> Sadly it appears this point has been side-stepped deliberately,
> as I confess that I anticipated. Core Green OA forecasts, however
> speculative, are to be supported. Others are to be rejected as mere
> speculations, a double standard.

No double standard. I have left no substantive point unanswered.

> from the academics' expressed point of view... [self-archiving]
> is a new obligation that impinges on, as they see it, what they do
> with their copyright. Hence it looks like coercion. Taking heed of
> this reaction is the only way to get true co-operation.

Arthur's Sale's studies (and the continuing evidence since) keep
confirming that authors willingly comply with self-archiving mandates.
The latest two mandates (from Harvard) have been unanimously voted
in by the academics themselves.

> I'm not in a position to [university peer-review consortia].
> But I suggest that someone whose advocacy on the subject will be
> heard, such as yourself, might be in a position to popularise the
> idea speedily, if you wished to put your efforts into it.

I did put my efforts behind alternative publishing models, a decade and
a half ago, when I thought the problem was in the publishing model.
Crashing failure made me realize that the problem was not in the
publishing model but in academics' heads (Zeno's Paralysis). And the
tried and tested cure is Green OA mandates, and they are happening. So
why should we go back to old, far-fetched, and discarded hypotheses?

> Simply, what we don't have is an answer to how peer review, copy
> editing and so forth will actually be provided after the Green
> OA revolution.

What we need now is not an answer to that question! What we need
now is universal Green OA!

> If there is no way forward, the revolution cannot happen.

There *is* a way forward: Green OA self-archiving mandates, by
universities and funders, and they are happening.

> I support Green OA but I do not believe at all that it will,
> or should, lead to Gold OA.

Fine. Let it just lead to Green OA!

> There is no natural progression in this whatsoever, as nobody
> wants Gold OA anyway.

Fine. It is OA that research needs, not necessarily Gold OA.

> If you destroy the publishers, as you suggest, who will then do
> the peer review?

Where did I ever suggest "destroying the publishers"? (The talk
of impending destruction, catastrophe and doom has come
from speculators (and mostly by those with vested interests in
the status quo, such as publishers, but sometimes also, for
different reasons, librarians).

And peer review will continue to be done (for free) by the peers who
review, regardless of who is paying to implement the process, or how.

> All this talk about costs is a whitewash: they are relatively
> insignificant
> anyway compared to the research process. Universities could easily
> shoulder them, especially given savings from subscriptions, which
> are exorbitant.

You sound like you are saying the same thing I am now. So why are we
talking about costs, and who will pay them, and when, when the urgent
issue is Green OA, and getting it mandated so that we have it, at long
last, now?

> Find a solution to the future source of peer review (that isn't merely
> Gold OA) and you solve the whole thing. This peer review problem is
> all that is holding back Green OA. Forget Gold OA, it simply isn't
> part of the solution.

No, it is Zeno's Paralysis that is holding back Green OA, and one of the
symptoms of Zeno's Paralysis is fretting needlessly about who is going
to pay for peer review if and when it is no longer being paid by

But the OA problem is not "who is going to pay for peer review if and
when it is no longer being paid by subscriptions." It is the research
access and impact that continues to be lost daily, as we sit
counterfactually speculating, day in and day out, about the future
of publishing instead of the present of research.

And the solution is at researcher' fingertips: They just need to do the
keystrokes that will get their articles into their Green OA IRs.

And the cure for what is holding back researchers' fingers is
Green OA mandates.

You have created an IR, Talat, but we know that's not enough. You now
have to help fill it, and your scepticism about university mandates and
preference for conjectures about university peer-review consortia
certainly is not helping to fill it.

Best wishes,


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 Tue May 27 2008 - 12:43:11 BST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:49:20 GMT