Re: Against Squandering Scarce Research Funds on Pre-Emptive Gold OA Without First Mandating Green OA

From: (wrong string) édon <jean.claude.guedon_at_UMONTREAL.CA>
Date: Fri, 15 May 2009 22:04:19 -0400

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This is an interesting and important summary of Stevan Harnad's main
theses. It calls for a few comments.

Jean-Claude Guédon

Le vendredi 15 mai 2009 à 18:21 -0400, Stevan Harnad a écrit :
                    *** Apologies for Cross-Posting ***

      Pre-Emptive Gold OA.

      the conflation of Gold OA with OA itself, wrongly
      supposing that OA or "full OA" means Gold OA --

Harnad is right here. OA is both green and gold.

      instead of concentrating all efforts on universalizing
      Green OA mandates.

Harnad is wrong here. If he were right, this would be conflating OA
with Green OA and the error would be symmetricla of the one he points

      Conflating the Journal Affordability Problem with the
      Research Accessibility Problem. Although the journal
      affordability problem ("serials crisis") was historically
      one of the most important factors in drawing attention to
      the need for OA, and although there is definitely a
      causal link between the journal affordability problem and
      the research accessibility problem (namely, that if all
      journals were affordable to all institutions, there would
      be no research access problem!), affordability and
      accessibility are nevertheless not the same problem, and
      the conflation of the two, and especially the tendency to
      portray affordability as the primary or ultimate problem,
      is today causing great confusion and even greater delay
      in achieving OA itself, despite the fact the universal OA
      is already fully within reach.

Distinguishing affordability from accessibility is important and it
is correct in my view.

      The reason is as simple to state as it is (paradoxically)
      hard to get people to pay attention to, take into
      account, and act accordingly:

      Just as it is true that there would be no research
      accessibility problem if the the journal affordability
      problem were solved (because all institutions, and all
      their researchers, would then have affordable access to
      all journals), it is also true that the journal
      affordability problem would cease to be a real problem if
      the research accessibility problem were solved: If all
      researchers (indeed everyone) could access all journal
      articles for free online, then it would no longer matter
      how much journals cost, and which institutions were
      willing and able to pay for which journals. After
      universal Green OA, journals may or may not eventually
      become more affordable, or convert to Gold OA: It would
      no longer matter either way, for we would already have OA
      -- full OA -- itself. And surely access is what Open
      Access is and always was about.

Formally, this is perfectly correct. There are many issue that remain
open, however. Harnad would call them speculative because they lie
beyond the corner, beyond direct empirical view and verification. No
one can predict with certainty what will happen to journals in a
world where OA materials constitute the vast majority of scientific
documentation. Scientifically speaking, this is entirely correct.
Looking at the same situation from a strategic perspective, this
clarity of vision is more apparent than real. When Harnad says that
solving accessibility would mean that affordability would cease, he
leaves in the background the issue of the survival of the journals.
Yet, in his view, they remain crucial: they form the basis for peer
review; they provide the version that can be cited, etc.

Some stake holders cannot act as if the corner and what lies beyond
does not matter and rely only on what is short range, but also
observable and verifiable. Now, the task of OA supporters is to
convince the greatest number possible of stakeholders to make OA
move. Getting mandates does not depend on researchers only in most
cases (although the recent developments at Harvard, Stanford & alii
offer some hope in this regard). Journal editors, administrators,
granting agencies all have their take on this issue, as do librarians
who are crucial partners. With some of them, Harnad's argument will
work and have worked. With others, they don't, at least not yet. With
yet others, they look scary (e.g. some journal editors who also
happen to be researchers).

Harnad might respond that only researchers interest him. Fair enough.
However, researcher are not exactly as Harnad portrays them. Most
researchers are not stellar enough to disregard other dimensions of
their environment. On the contrary, they spend a great deal of time
trying to manipulate this environment to their advantage. Their very
fragility will make them look at Open Access with great trepidation.
This, I believe, is one of the root causes behind the slow progress
of mandates. Inertia and fear. Berating such people does not do much

      It is this absolutely fundamental point that is still
      lost on most OA advocates today. And it is obvious why
      most OA advocates don't notice or take it into account:
      Because we are still so far away from universal OA of
      either hue, Green or Gold. 

      Green OA Can Be Mandated, Gold OA Cannot. But here there
      is an equally fundamental difference: Green OA
      self-archiving can be accelerated and scaled up to
      universality (and this can be done at virtually zero
      cost) by the research community alone -- i.e., research
      institutions (largely universities) and research funders
      -- by mandating Green OA.

This is formally correct. The devil is in the details. Getting
mandates is hard work. All of us who try pushing such mandates in
various environments know it. So, yes, let us push for mandates as
vigorously as we can, but let us not delude ourselves: this is going
to be a long and arduous task.

      In contrast, Gold OA depends on publishers, costs money
      (often substantial money), and cannot be mandated by
      institutions and funders: All they can do is throw money
      at it -- already-scarce research money, and at an
      asking-price that is today vastly inflated compared to
      what the true cost would eventually be if the conversion
      to Gold OA were driven by journal cancellations,
      following as a result of universal Green OA. For if
      universal Green OA, in completely solving the research
      access problem, did eventually make subscriptions no
      longer sustainable as the means of recovering publishing
      costs, then (a small part of) the windfall institutional
      savings from the journal cancellations themselves --
      rather than scarce research funds -- could be used to pay
      for the Gold OA.

Actually, this is wrong. Gold OA does not depend on publishers
exclusively. There is an assumption that runs deep among many people
arguing both for and against OA, it is that it is some some of
business fundamentally. This is indeed true of many journals, but
this is not universally true. For one thing, in many countries,
journals are heavily subsidized, either directly or in nature. In
fact, the subsidies in nature are sometimes criticized by commercial
publishers as providing unfair competition... In some countries, OA
journals are simply and entirely bankrolled by the government because
the government that also pays for scientific research simply
calculates that publishing is an intyegral part of the researhc
process. This is the argument behind the support for SciELO in more
than a dozen countries.

What is true is that mandating publishing in gold journals is not an
obviously good thing. Researchers seek not only the greatest
accessibility to obtain the greatest visibility; they also seek the
greatest prestige possible. Now, prestige has been elaborated in
curious ways in the last four decades. Counting citations has come to
be called impact and great impact has been equated with prestige.
Those journals that could enter into the citation counting game
(i.e., for a long time, the journals selected by a private company
that tracks citations) could provide quantitative reasons behind
their prestige. However, those who could not enter in that group
could not use similar arguments to bolster their own claims. Again,
SciELO provides an interesting example in that they quickly decided
to create their own metrics because they were meeting such
difficulties in being accepted by the SCI people.

      So instead of focusing all efforts today on ensuring that
      all institutions and funders worldwide mandate Green OA,
      as soon as possible, many OA advocates continue to be
      fixated instead on trying to solve the journal
      affordability problem directly, by wasting precious
      research money on paying for Gold OA (at a time when
      publication is still being fully paid for by
      subscriptions, whereas research is sadly underfunded) and
      by encouraging researchers to publish in Gold OA
      journals. This is being done at a time when (1) Gold OA
      journals are few, especially among the top journals in
      each field, (2) the top Gold OA journals themselves are
      expensive, and, most important of all, (3) publishing in
      them is completely unnecessary -- if the objective is, as
      it ought to be, to provide immediate OA. For OA can be
      provided through immediate Green OA self-archiving. Worst
      of all, even as they talk of spending what money they
      have to spare on Gold OA, the overwhelming majority of
      institutions and funders (unlike FWF) still do not
      mandate Green OA! Only 80 out of at least 10,000 do so as

Here again, the costs presented here relate to situations where money
is offered to schemes such as Springer's (in)famous "open choice". I
agree that this is not the best way to go and I harbour a great deal
of skepticism with regard to so-called "author pays" business plans.
However, the SciELO scheme must not be forgotten. There everything is
free, for authors as well as readers. This is the right way to go for
Gold journals.

What must be seen here is that supporting OA rests on a  variety of
convergent interests. For the Brazilian government (or the State of
Sao paulo), this support is warranted because it provides
accessibility, and it gives a tool to promote local or national
research. This is another example of how research does not live in a
vacuum. Governments want also to promote the research they finance
and the labs where that research is carried out. Visibility, such as
the one provided by IR's, is not enough. Publishing in prestigious
foreign journals often proves difficult for reasons that are not
exclusively related to issues of quality. Governments want also to
have access to journals that grant prestige while accepting results
from locally funded research. To put it very succinctly (and probably
cryptically), scientific research often conflates two variables:
quality (which relies on thresholds of acceptability) and excellence
(which relies on competition). Journals are instruments largely
oriented toward competition; yet a large part of scientific research
aims at producing quality results but cannot entertain the ambition
of competing among the best. Science needs both elements, but the
rhetoric surrounding it often focuses exclusively on excellence, not

      "Gold Fever." That is why I have labelled this widespread
      (and, in my view, completely irrational and
      counterproductive) fixation on Gold OA and journal
      affordability "Gold Fever": trying to pre-emptively
      convert journals to Gold OA -- to buy OA, in effect -- at
      a time when all that is needed, and needed urgently, is
      to mandate Green OA, and then to let nature take care of
      the rest.

Let nature take care of the rest is, of course, what lies beyond the

      (Universal Green OA will eventually make subscriptions
      unsustainable and induce publishers to cut costs,
      jettison the print edition, jettison the online PDF
      edition, offload all archiving and access-provision onto
      the distributed network of Institutional and Central
      Repositories, downsize to just providing the service of
      peer-review alone, and convert to the Gold OA model for
      cost recovery -- but at the far lower price of peer
      review alone, rather than at the inflated pre-emptive
      asking prices that are being needlessly paid today,
      without the prerequisite downsizing to peer review

One might ask why the research communities need "journals" to
organize peer review. Before Robert Maxwell's reforms of peer review,
learned societies and their idiosyncratic hierarchies organized peer
review. The journals reflected the society, not the reverse.

      In other words, to see or describe Green OA as only a
      partial or short-term solution for OA is not only (in my
      view) inaccurate, but it is also counterproductive for OA
      -- retarding instead of facilitating the requisite
      universal adoption of Green OA self-archiving mandates:

Green OA is a partial (and crucial) part of OA. Gold journals provide
other supporting elements to the whole OA movement.

      If universal Green OA were just a partial or short-term
      solution, for precisely what problem would it be just a
      partial or short-term solution? For universal Green OA is
      a full, permanent solution for the research accessibility
      problem; that in turn removes all of the urgency and
      importance of the journal affordability problem -- which
      can then eventually, at its own natural pace, be solved
      by institutions cancelling subscriptions once universal
      Green OA has been reached (since all research is
      thereafter freely accessible to all users universally),
      thereby inducing journals to downsize and convert to

      Instead trying to promote the Gold OA publication-charge
      model now, pre-emptively, is not only unnecessary and
      wasteful (spending more money, at an arbitrarily high
      asking price, instead of saving it), but it distracts
      from and blurs what is the real, urgent need, and the
      real solution, which is to mandate Green OA, now,
      universally. That -- and not pre-emptively paying Gold
      OA's arbitrary current asking price -- is what needs to
      be done today!

I agree that promoting the publication-charge model is limited and
probably wrong. Again, I bring up the SciELO model to this
publication-charge approach.
                  See:  "Gold Fever" and "Trojan

      OA Books? The third most important distraction and
      deterrent to universal Green OA is to conflate OA's
      primary target -- journal articles, which are all,
      without exception, in all disciplines, author give-aways,
      written solely for the sake of research uptake and
      impact, not for royalty income -- with books, which are
      not OA's primary target, are not written solely for
      research uptake and impact, have immediate cost-recovery
      implications for the publisher, book by book, are not
      nearly as urgent a matter as journal-article access for
      research, and will, like Gold OA, evolve naturally of
      their own accord once universal Green OA has prevailed.

When one speaks of books, one ought to be precise. We are speaking
about monographs that are the dominant research currency in all the
humanities and many social sciences. We are talking about books that
are often subsidized in many countries. We are talking about books
that sell only a few hundred copies at best nowadays, and they are
sold relatively slowly in many cases. We are talking about books
where royalties appear to be little more than a throw back to a
"commercial" situation that no longer dominates. Soon, most of these
books will be produced exclusively on demand, or sold in electronic
formats for new kinds of e-book readers. In short, we are talking
about the most prestigious form of research results for very large
segments of the academic community (some put it at over 50%).

Scholars do not write monographs for royalties. If faced with the
issue of being published, but without royalties, these authors will
all accept because they need this monograph for promotion, grants,
and prestige. In short, despite the thin royalty/commercial layer
surrounding them, these publications enjoy a "social life" (Duguid)
similar to articles in scientific journals. This is the reasoning
behind the development of OA monographs such as OHP and OAPEN (for
the sake of openness, I must state that I am associated with both

Pushing for OA monographs is not a retardant for OA in general. it is
yet another way to make OA issues relevant to different categories of
researcher that, otherwise, might not see the virtue of Open Access.
As for the relative urgency of OA articles compared to monographs, it
is all well and good to assert it when one sits pretty in a
discipline totally converted to articles, but this does not respond
to the needs of historians, philosophers and literature researchers.

      But for now, conflating OA with book access is simply
      another retardant on the urgent immediate priority, which
      is Green OA mandates (of which -- as we should keep
      reminding ourselves -- we still have only 80 out of
      10,000, while we keep fussing instead, needlessly, about
      Gold OA, journal affordability, and book OA).

      (Having said that, however, it must be added that of
      course the funder has a say in attaching conditions to
      the publication of a book whose publication costs the
      funder subsidizes! But then the greatest care should be
      taken to separate those special cases completely from OA
      -- whose primary target is journal articles -- and Green
      OA mandates, whose sole target is journal articles.)

I will leave the issue of data dormant here, although I believe it is
another front that must be manned . The issue is very important.
However, it is sufficiently different to warrant a distinct
      Data-Archiving. Like book OA -- and in contrast to OA's
      urgent, primary target: refereed-journal-article OA --
      data OA is not yet a clearcut and exception-free domain.
      Please see these postings on data-archiving.


      Stevan Harnad
      American Scientist Open Access Forum

Jean-Claude Guédon
Université de Montréal
Received on Sat May 16 2009 - 16:14:04 BST

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