Revised Critique of "Compact for Open-Access Equity"

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Thu, 17 Sep 2009 08:34:07 -0400

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What follows is a (revised and expanded) critique of the "Compact for
Open-Access Equity." (Hyperlinked version of critique: ).

The Compact states:

"We the undersigned universities recognize the crucial value of the
services provided by scholarly publishers, the desirability of open
access to the scholarly literature, and the need for a stable source
of funding for publishers who choose to provide open access to their
journals˙˙ contents. Those universities and funding agencies receiving
the bene˙˙ts of publisher services should recognize their collective
and individual responsibility for that funding, and this recognition
should be ongoing and public so that publishers can rely on it as a
condition for their continuing operation.

"Therefore, each of the undersigned universities commits to the timely
establishment of durable mechanisms for underwriting reasonable
publication charges for articles written by its faculty and published
in fee-based open-access journals and for which other institutions
would not be expected to provide funds. We encourage other
universities and research funding agencies to join us in this
commitment, to provide a suf˙˙cient and sustainable funding basis for
open-access publication of the scholarly literature." /signed/

My critique is based on points that I have already made many times
before, unheeded. All I can do is echo them yet again (and hope!):

Regardless of the size of the current asking price ("reasonable" or
unreasonable), it is an enormous strategic mistake for a university or
research funder to commit to pre-emptive payment of Open Access (OA)
journal ("Gold OA") publishing fees today -- until and unless the
university or funder has first mandated OA self-archiving ("Green OA")
for all of its own published journal article output (irrespective of
whether the article happens to be published in an OA or a non-OA

There are so far five signatories to the "Compact for Open-Access
Equity." Two of them have mandated Green OA (Harvard and MIT) and
three have not (Cornell, Dartmouth, Berkeley). Many non-mandating
universities have also been committing to the the pre-emptive SCOAP3

If Harvard's and MIT's example of first mandating Green OA is
followed, and hence Green OA mandates grow globally ahead of Gold OA
commitments, then there's no harm done.

But if it is instead pre-emptive commitments to fund Gold OA that
grow, at the expense of mandates to provide Green OA, then the
worldwide research community will yet again have shot itself in the
foot insofar as universal OA -- so long within its reach, so urgent,
and yet still not grasped -- is concerned.

The fundamental problem is not that of needlessly overpaying for Gold
OA by paying prematurely and pre-emptively and at an arbitrarily
inflated asking price (although that is indeed a problem too).

The fundamental problem is that focussing on a commitment to pay
pre-emptively for Gold OA today gives institutions the false sense
that they are thereby doing what needs to be done in order to provide
OA for their own research output, whereas this is very far from the

No institution can or will pay for Gold OA publication of all (or even
most) its research output because
(1) not all (or even most) journals offer Gold OA today,

(2) not all (or even most) Gold OA journals' asking price is
reasonable or affordable today, and

(3) most of the money to pay for Gold OA is still tied up in
institutional journal subscriptions today.
But most important of all is the fact that
(4) OA can be provided for all of an institution's research output
today by mandating Green OA self-archiving, which moots (1) - (3).
(1) - (4) jointly comprise the reason pre-emptive Gold OA payment is
not at all what is needed today. What is needed is OA itself, and that
is what Green OA provides, regardless of journal funding model
(subscription or Gold OA).

Once Green OA has been mandated universally and is being universally
provided by institutions, journals will eventually adapt, under
subscription cancellation pressure, downsizing to provide peer review
alone and converting to Gold OA to cover costs. Meanwhile,
institutions' own windfall subscription cancellation savings will be
more than enough to pay journals for Gold OA publication at this
much-reduced price.

But none of that can happen today, through pre-emptive payment for
Gold OA. And meanwhile research progress and impact keep being lost,
needlessly, because institutions are focusing on funding Gold OA when
what they urgently need to do is mandate Green OA.

Once an institution has mandated Green OA, it no longer matters (for
OA) what it elects to do with its spare cash. It is only if an
institution elects to focus on spending its cash to pay for Gold OA
instead of mandating Green OA that an institution does both its
research and its pocketbook a double disservice, needlessly.

The creation of high-quality, self-sustaining Gold OA journals such as
the PLoS and BMC journals was historically important and timely as a
proof-of-principle that peer-reviewed journal publication is viable
even if universal Green OA eventually makes subscriptions
unsustainable. But what is urgently needed now is not more money to
pay for Gold OA but more mandates to provide Green OA, hence OA

Finding money to pay pre-emptively for Gold OA while subscriptions
still prevail and OA itself does not is an extremely counterproductive
strategy, if access to refereed research -- rather than publishing
reform -- is the real raison d'ętre of the Open Access movement (as it
certainly is and always has been for me).

Gold OA is not the end, but merely one of the means (and by far not
the fastest or surest means) of providing universal OA. Full speed
ahead with (mandating) Green OA; publishing will adapt naturally as
the time comes.

Harnad, S. (1991) Post-Gutenberg Galaxy: The Fourth Revolution in the
Means of Production of Knowledge. Public-Access Computer Systems
Review 2 (1): 39 - 53

Harnad, S. (1995) Universal FTP Archives for Esoteric Science and
Scholarship: A Subversive Proposal. In: Ann Okerson & James O'Donnell
(Eds.) Scholarly Journals at the Crossroads; A Subversive Proposal for
Electronic Publishing. Washington, DC., Association of Research
Libraries, June 1995.

Harnad, S. (1999) Free at Last: The Future of Peer-Reviewed Journals.
D-Lib Magazine 5(12) December 1999

Harnad, S., Carr, L., Brody, T. & Oppenheim, C. (2003) Mandated online
RAE CVs Linked to University Eprint Archives. Ariadne 35.

Harnad, S., Brody, T., Vallieres, F., Carr, L., Hitchcock, S.,
Gingras, Y, Oppenheim, C., Stamerjohanns, H., & Hilf, E. (2004) The
Access/Impact Problem and the Green and Gold Roads to Open Access.
Serials Review 30. Shorter version: The green and the gold roads to
Open Access. Nature Web Focus.

Harnad, S. (2006) Opening Access by Overcoming Zeno's Paralysis, in
Jacobs, N., Eds. Open Access: Key Strategic, Technical and Economic
Aspects. Chandos.

Harnad, S. (2007) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged
Transition. In: Anna Gacs. The Culture of Periodicals from the
Perspective of the Electronic Age. L'Harmattan. 99-106.

Harnad, S. (2009) The PostGutenberg Open Access Journal. In: Cope, B.
& Phillips, A (Eds.) The Future of the Academic Journal. Chandos.
Received on Thu Sep 17 2009 - 13:34:56 BST

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