Journal Affordability, Research Accessibility, and Open Access

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Sat, 14 Jun 2008 10:29:42 -0400

      Poynder, Richard (2008) Open Access: Doing the
      Numbers. Open and Shut. Wednesday, 11 June 2008

            Excerpt: "Can OA reduce the costs associated
            with scholarly communication? If so, how, and
            when? If not, what are the implications of
            this for the "scholarly communication
            crisis?" These are important questions. But
            without accurate numbers to crunch we really
            cannot answer them adequately. Wouldn't it be
            great therefore if other publishers decided
            to be as "open" as APS in discussing their
            costs? One thing is for sure: If OA ends up
            simply shifting the cost of scholarly
            communication from journal subscriptions to
            APCs without any reduction in overall
            expenditure, and inflation continues
            unabated, many OA advocates will be sorely

Richard Poynder has written another of his penetrating, timely and
incisive analyses of the causal dynamics underlying the OA movement.
His relentless probing is invaluable. Nor is it anodyne neutral
journalism that he keeps offering us: Richard is engaged and thinking
deeply, and causing more than one uncomfortable moment to both
proponents and opponents of OA if ever they lapse in their own
critical thinking or actions.

As usual, though, I cannot agree 100% with everything Richard writes
in his latest provocative and stimulating essay, this time on the
true costs of journal article publishing. My demurral is on two
points: (1) whether the question of the true costs of the various
components of journal publication (which I too have cited, as an
important unknown, many times in the past) needs to be answered right
now (i.e., whether any practical action today is in any way
contingent on knowing those costs in advance -- I think not) and (2)
whether reducing the costs of journal publication is or ought to be
one of the explicit objectives of the OA movement. (I think journal
unaffordability is merely one of the two principal factors that drew
the research community's attention to the need for OA. Journal cost
reduction is not itself the explicit objective of OA.)

The need for Open Access (OA) movement is driven by two problems: (i)
journal affordability and (ii) research accessibility -- in other
words, spending less money and accessing more research. Richard
Poynder points out in his essay that it is not known whether or not
universal Gold OA publishing would save money. 

But OA is not the same thing as Gold OA publishing. (Richard is of
course fully aware of this.) Once universally adopted, Green OA
self-archiving and Green OA self-archiving mandates can and will (and
do) provide 100% OA, solving the research accessibility problem,
completely . This is not a matter of speculation: it is a simple,
practical, inductive fact, already demonstrated by the existing Green
OA self-archiving (15%) and the existing Green OA self-archiving
mandates (45). 

The rest, in contrast, is all a matter of pre-emptive (and paralytic)
speculation and counter-speculation: Can-we, could-we should-we reach
100% OA directly via Gold OA alone? Would it save money? Would it
make publishing unaffordable to some in place of making research
inaccessible to others? Would Green OA give rise to Gold OA (and the
above hypothetical problems)? Or would it lower the costs of

No one knows the answer to these (and many other) questions
about hypothetical contingencies regarding universal Gold OA and its
hypothetical costs. The only thing we do know is that Green OA, if
all universities mandate it and all researchers do it, will provide
OA itself, solving the research accessibility problem completely. And
that is all we need to know. The rest is about what we need to do.

Publishers are fond of pronouncing embargoes. If I could pronounce an
embargo, it would be on all irrelevant, ineffectual and irresolvable
conjecturing and counter-conjecturing about the "true costs" of this
and that, in place of doing the obviously doable, obviously
beneficial (and so far orthogonal) thing, which is to self-archive
and mandate self-archiving so as to provide open access to all our
(peer-reviewed) research output at long last. 

Because of its long period of co-habitation with the exigencies and
eccentricities of print-era journal publication, the research
community has forgotten that it itself provides (for free) both the
research and the peer review, and that the research community
(researchers, their institutions and their funders) is now, in the
online era, also in the position to provide access to that
peer-reviewed research output (for free). But instead of going ahead
and doing that, we are instead taken up by the hypothetical economics
of the journal publishing industry, as if that, and not the research
itself, were the real issue.

Providing and mandating Green OA is a no-brainer, like providing and
mandating seat-belts, or smoke-free zones. It is obvious in the
latter two cases that speculating instead about hypothetical economic
effects on the tobacco or car-manufacturing industry instead of doing
the obvious would be absurd. 

Richard Poynder's essay is hence for the most part correct, yet
nevertheless inadvertently fanning the flames -- or perhaps I should
say firming the wax -- of inaction in one sector (research
accessibility) in favor of pre-emptive, ineffectual and, at bottom,
unnecessary speculation and counterspeculation in another (journal

Still, Richard exposes the underlying dynamics so much more clearly
and coherently than others that even if this latest essay feeds the
filibuster, it sharpens the focus too...

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum
Received on Sat Jun 14 2008 - 15:31:02 BST

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