Pre-Emptive Gold Fever Strikes Again

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Thu, 23 Apr 2009 22:08:34 -0400

     [apologies for cross-posting] 

Comments on:
Open Access to Research Outputs: Final Report to Research Councils

Once they have mandated Green OA self-archiving (as all 7 of the RCUK
funding councils have now done), what funders do with their spare
cash is entirely their own business.

But it does seem as profligate as it is unnecessary to propose
squandering scarce research money today on paying Gold OA publishing
fees pre-emptively while Green OA mandates are still so few and
subscription fees are still paying for publication.

This RCUK report shows signs of having been drafted under two
palpable influences: (1) the publishers' lobby, striving to ensure
that, whatever the outcome, revenues for publishers are maximized and
immunized against risk -- and (2) the publishing reform movement,
striving to ensure that publishers convert to Gold OA at all costs.

If good sense were to prevail, funders and universities would just
mandate Green OA for now, and then let supply and demand decide,
given universal Green OA, whether and when to convert from
subscriptions to Gold OA, and for what product, and at what price.

      With non-OA journals, subscriptions pay the costs of

      With fee-based OA journals, author publication fees pay
      the costs of publication.

      Green OA mandates require authors to deposit their
      published articles on the web, free for all.

      Gold OA means the journal makes the articles free for all
      on the web.

The goal of the open access movement is open access to research, in
order to maximize research uptake, impact and progress. Universal
Green OA mandates from funders (like RCUK) and universities are all
that is needed to ensure universal OA.

Universal Green OA may or may not eventually lead to subscription
cancellations and a transition to the Gold OA cost-recovery model. If
and when it does, the windfall subscription cancellation savings
themselves will be more than enough to pay for the much-reduced costs
of providing peer-review alone (which will be the only product that
peer-reviewed journals will still need to provide), with never the
need to redirect a single penny from the dwindling pot that funds
research itself. 

(That publication costs would only amount to 2% of research costs is
a specious calculation, when one fails to take into account
that publication costs are still being fully covered by subscription
payments today, while many research proposals recommended for funding
by reviewers are going unfunded because there is not enough money in
the research pot to cover them. Nor is there any need whatsoever for
researchers to publish in fee-based Gold OA journals if their
objective is to provide OA for their work: Green OA self-archiving
already provides that.)

The effects of pre-emptive Gold fever today are (i) to distract from
the urgent need for universal Green OA mandates, (ii) to encourage a
needless waste of scarce research funds, and (iii) to facilitate the
locking-in of today's asking-prices for goods and services (print
edition, publisher's PDF, storage, dissemination) that will almost
certainly be obsolete by the time Gold OA's day really comes, once
universal Green OA has become the access-provider (and archiver).

The publishers are just doing what any business will do to try to
sustain and maximize its habitual revenues; it is the pre-emptive
publishing reformers who are being foolish and short-sighted,
needlessly conflating the urgent and important research accessibility
problem with the journal affordability problem, not realizing that if
they solve the former, the latter loses all its apparent urgency and

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum
Received on Fri Apr 24 2009 - 03:09:03 BST

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