Re: The House of Cards

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Wed, 20 Aug 2008 09:18:34 -0400

On Tue, Aug 19, 2008 at 6:06 PM, Sandy Thatcher wrote:

      Green OA is certainly proliferating, I agree, and there
      are more
      Gold OA journals joining the pack every day. No question
      that OA
      is a success, if you mean by success an increase in the
      number of
      publishing outlets and in the accessibility of journal
      But does anyone really know if this means that the
      quality of
      knowledge has increased? What this world doesn't need is
      stuff to wade through to find the good stuff worth
      spending one's
      time reading.

No. Making the 2.5 million articles published annually in the
planet's 25,000 peer-reviewed journals accessible to all would-be
users (rather than just those whose institutions can afford
subscriber access) does not increase the quality of knowledge, just
its accessibility.

And that was all OA was intended to do. Of course, increased usage,
access and impact will probably also increase the quality of
knowledge, but that will be an eventual side-effect. For now we don't
have OA yet, just 15% OA, so let's focus on that.

      Harnad, S (1997) The Paper House of Cards (And Why It is
      Taking So Long to Collapse). Ariadne 8:

I do agree that adding a lot of extra journals at this point (when
there are already plenty, with all papers, of all quality ranges,
eventually being published, somewhere) is not urgent. Journals vary
in quality; their quality is known from their track-records. And
users are quite capable of selecting on the basis of journal
track-record what they do and don't wish to spend their limited time

What is certain is that the constraints of their institutional
subscription budget was not a rational basis for that
selection! Powerful search tools, plus user judgment, on a
complete OA corpus, will be infinitely preferable. 

But I am an advocatet of Green OA: making the existing peer-reviewed
corpus 100% OA in OA institutional repositories (IR) through Green OA
self-archiving by authors and Green OA self-archiving mandates by
institutions and funders.

So those who (like Joe Esposito, when, in more unguarded moments, he
likens OA to "research spam") are concerned that OA means adding
low-quality junk to the research corpus are (yet again) conflating OA
with (certain lower forms of) Gold OA. 

It alas seems to be true -- as the ever-vigilant Richard Poynder is
now investigating for us all -- that "gold fever" has been generating
some fleets of start-up junk-OA journals simply because the risks and
access-barriers for Gold OA journal start-ups are so low: All you
have to do is (1) spam prestige-hungry academics for "peer
reviewers," (2) spam publication-hungry authors for papers, (3)
offload "peer-review" onto automatic software, email form-letters
plus 1, charge 2 whatever fee the market will accept, and suddenly
you are the publisher of a fleet of Gold OA journals.

In sum: OA is not the same thing as Gold OA publishing. Gold OA
publishing is just one of the roads to OA, and not the fastest or
surest one. OA itself is just about making the existing peer-reviewed
corpus freely accessible online, such as it is. Improving the quality
of science and scholarship is another, bigger agenda. OA will help in
that too, but that is certainly not its primary purpose: Maximizing
research access and usage online is.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum

On 18-Aug-08, at 5:47 PM, Joseph J. Esposito wrote:
      Sigh.  Stevan Harnad wrote:

            SH: I kept resisting the posting of a message
            that amounts to 

            "nyah, nyah" but this is too rich: 25 Green
            OA self-archiving 

            mandates by funders worldwide, including NIH,
            6/7 of RCUK and 

            ERC, and 25 institutional mandates, including
            Harvard, Stanford 

            and CERN, and Joe and Jan think the future of
            green is bleak?"

      JE:  I have never said the future of OA is bleak.  I have
      precisely the opposite, that OA is inevitable.  And
      Harnad knows 
      this, but insists on misrepresenting my position.  I say
      he knows 
      this because he wrote a long and vitriolic response to an
      of mine several years ago; that article has been cited on
      list before ("The Devil You Don't Know," 
      In that piece I asserted that "Open Access is the
      Consider how bizarre this is:  Harnad writes a long
      attack on an 
      article that mostly agrees with him.

      What I have said is that OA in itself is unimportant and
      that it 
      inevitably will drive up costs.  The Harvard faculty can
      OA for itself (and, as far as I know, it is within the
      right to do so), but it won't make people read more
      The NIH can mandate OA for materials based on research
      underwites (and why not?  They paid for it), but it won't
      the quality of the material.  I think it is highly
      doubtful (but 
      neither proven nor provable) that the OA articles
      mandated by the 
      Wellcome Trust (for research it has funded, etc., etc.)
      yield more citations or higher impacts than had the
      material been 
      toll access.  OA doesn't make us smarter, it does not
      improve the 
      economy of the United Kingdom (one of Harnad's claims of
      a couple 
      years ago, if I understood the argument correctly), and
      it does 
      not "democratize" knowledge or research, except in Lake 
      Woebegone, where all the children are above average.

      Thus, even as OA is becoming increasingly widespread,
      rationale for supporting it becomes weaker and weaker.
       This is 
      the house of cards:  not OA itself, but the reasons to

      What is really needed in the research community is not
      access but "open access follow-through."  But this
      applies whether documents are OA or toll access.  And
      that is why 
      OA is not that important.  Harnad is solving the wrong

      Joe Esposito
Received on Wed Aug 20 2008 - 14:29:11 BST

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