Hidden Cost of Failing to Access Information

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Tue, 10 Jun 2008 19:11:06 -0400

Linked version:
      "Disseminating research via the web is appealing, but it
      lacks journals' peer-review quality filter," says Philip
      Altbach in: Hidden cost of open access Times Higher
      Education Supplement 5 June 2008

Professor Altbach's essay in the Times Higher Education Supplement is
based on a breath-takingly fundamental misunderstanding of both Open
Access (OA) and OA mandates like Harvard's: The content that is the
target of the OA movement is peer-reviewed journal articles, not
unrefereed manuscripts. 

It is the author's peer-reviewed final drafts of their journal
articles that Harvard and 43 other institutions and research
funders worldwide have required to be deposited in their
institutional repositories. This is a natural online-era extension of
institutions' publish or perish policy, adopted in order to maximise
the usage and impact of their peer-reviewed research output. 

The journal's (and author's) name and track record continue to be the
indicators of quality, as they always were. The peers (researchers
themselves) continue to review journal submissions (for free) as they
always did. 

The only thing that changes with OA is that all would-be users
webwide -- rather than only those whose institutions can afford to
subscribe to the journal in which it was published -- can access,
use, apply, build upon and cite each published, peer-reviewed
research finding, thereby maximising its "impact factor." (This also
makes usage and citation metrics OA, putting impact analysis into the
hands of the research community itself rather than just for-profit

And if and when mandated OA should ever make subscriptions
unsustainable as the means of covering the costs of peer review,
journals will simply charge institutions directly for the
peer-reviewing of their research output, by the articles, instead of
charging them indirectly for access to the research output of other
institutions, by the journal, as most do now. The institutional
windfall subscription savings will be more than enough to pay the
peer review costs several times over.

What is needed is more careful thought and understanding of what OA
actually is, what it is for, and how it works, rather than uninformed
non sequiturs such as those in the essay in question.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum

On 08-06-10, at 13:32, Hubbard Bill wrote:

> Dear Colleagues,
> There is an article on Open Access in the Times Higher of June 5th
> Philip Altbach ("Hidden cost of open access") which might well form
> opinion amongst its UK academic readership within our institutions.
> =402257&c=1
> Unfortunately, this article is is entirely based on the false idea
> there is no peer-review for open access material: and also by
> implication seems to be saying that there can never be any quality
> control of web-based material.
> ". . . [Open Access]. . . But there are several problems with it.
> among
> them is that peer review is eliminated - all knowledge becomes
> There is no quality control on the internet, and a Wikipedia
article has
> the same value as an essay by a distinguished researcher."
> There seems to be conflation between open access
> as part of scholarly communication and simply mounting a webpage.
> confuse these two things is very misleading because, as as we know,
> idea that open access material is not peer-reviewed is plain wrong.
> access academic literature in journals or repositories can be
> peer-reviewed as normal.  The quality of material made available on
> internet has just the same problems and solutions as quality
control in
> other media: what provenance has the material got? What quality
> processes has it undergone?
> This lack of awareness unfortunately undermines the whole article,
> Altbach does make one other independent error when he says that
> the internet for dissemination means that less-well known
> would likely gain less attention than Harvard. In fact, as
evidenced by
> the commercial world, the internet offers opportunities for smaller
> institutions to play on a more level playing field. For researchers
> any institution, the internet offers a dissemination medium where
> quality of the research is what can gain attention rather than the
> reputation of the institution.
> Altbach is right in emphasising the importance of peer-review, but
> I am not aware of anyone who seriously as says otherwise.
> material from a smaller institution needs close peer-review for
> acceptance of its quality, but the same is true of material from
> or Oxford or anywhere else.
> It is a pity that such an article has appeared in the Times Higher,
> the circulation that it will receive probably means that we will
have to
> once more reassure academics within our own institutions that open
> access does not mean the death of peer-review.
> Regards,
> Bill
> --
> Bill Hubbard
> SHERPA Manager
> SHERPA - www.sherpa.ac.uk
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> RoMEO - www.sherpa.ac.uk/romeo
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> OpenDOAR - www.opendoar.org
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Received on Wed Jun 11 2008 - 00:31:41 BST

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