Re: Plan B for NIH Public Access Mandate: A Deposit Mandate

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Sat, 20 Sep 2008 04:27:09 -0400

On Fri, Sep 19, 2008 at 10:17 PM, Joseph J. Esposito
<> wrote:

> I feel obliged to state the obvious:  Stevan Harnad's comment in
> this thread about "that rare, lucky author" is an admission that
> OA has little impact. That author is rare and lucky because he or
> she has so many requests for copies of articles that are
> otherwise not available to other researchers. Most authors, of
> course, will not be troubled much with requests because the
> articles are indeed available to most researchers through
> institutional subscriptions.

I'm afraid that is not the explanation at all! The reason the author
with 1000 eprint requests is rare and lucky is because most authors
get far fewer eprint (or reprint) requests than that, whether or not
their articles are OA.  
Not only does the Seglen 80%/20% rule (the "skewness of science")
apply to citations (the top 20% of articles get 80% of the citations)
but it applies to downloads and eprint-request effects as well. 

(There is one interesting yet-to-be-answered empirical question
there, however, which concerns the degree to which the 80/20 filter
is based on the metadata -- author/title/abstract -- alone, versus
the extent to which it is -- or will be -- based on a browsing of the
full-text. Probably there is an 80/20 effect at each level --
citations, downloads, eprint requests -- but with different scales,
and possibly browsing will have a somewhat flatter ratio (say, 70/30,
who knows?) than citing, because it is ergonomically "cheaper" to
browse a paper whose title looks promising than it is to read it
through to make sure it is NOT promising after all.)

      Seglen, EO (1999) The Skeweness of Science. JASIST 43:

There is also a positive correlation between earlier downloads and
later citations, and I don't doubt that a similar correlation will
turn out to be operating with eprint requests. 

(As you know, even Phil Davis's premature APS journal study with
randomized OA detected a significant download advantage in the first
year, when it was still too early to detect any citation advantage.
There is your evidence, if you still needed it, that access is NOT
"available to most researchers through institutional
subscriptions..." The OA citation advantage is the further evidence.)

      Brody, T., Harnad, S. and Carr, L. (2006) Earlier Web
      Usage Statistics as Predictors of Later Citation Impact.
      Journal of the American Association for Information
      Science and Technology (JASIST) 57(8) pp. 1060-1072.

Last point: The absolute scale of the citation 80/20 differential is
of course quite a bit lower than the download or eprint-request 80/20
differential, so whereas the author who gets 1000 eprint requests is
rare and lucky, the author who gets 1000 citations is even rarer and
luckier! OA will raise that absolute number, but probably not the
ratio. And what that means is that OA benefits the better articles
more. (The "Quality Advantage.")

> Whatever one feels about the legality of the NIH policy, the
> conclusion is inescapable (citing Harnad as above) that OA is a
> small idea.  How it has come to dominate discourse concerning
> scholarly communications is a marvel, comparable in its way to
> the sudden interest of the popular media in hunting moose.

(As a vegetarian, I can say that I certainly hope there is no
affinity between the two!) But, to repeat the same point as above,
the reason OA benefits a small portion of research more is not that
OA is a small idea -- doubled downloads is a big idea! -- but that
scholarly and scientific quality (and hence usage and citation) is

Stevan Harnad
> Joe Esposito
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "atanu garai" <>
> To: <>
> Sent: Thursday, September 18, 2008 1:54 PM
> Subject: Re: Plan B for NIH Public Access Mandate: A Deposit
> > Dear Stevan:
> >
> > 2008/9/17 Stevan Harnad <>
> >
> >> Don't worry! That rare, lucky author will manage (and with a
> >> smile on his face)...
> >>
> >> And once Deposit Mandates are universal, this is the sort of
> >> thing that will help ensure the natural transition to universal
> >> OA.
> >
> > It is indeed difficult to design and recommend systems that
> > depend on individual decisions (such as actions and reactions by
> > authors and users) such as this. This needs to be corroborated by
> > empirical studies that authors are willing and give the users
> > content as per their demand. As a matter of general practice this
> > should be avoided because this kind of service provision can not
> > be guaranteed by institutions managing large scale content,
> > authors and users. It appears that the request button is designed
> > to bypass the existing copyright laws but it does not take into
> > account service delivery for the authors and users.
> >
> > Atanu Garai
Received on Sat Sep 20 2008 - 09:33:54 BST

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.3.0 : Fri Dec 10 2010 - 19:49:28 GMT