Re: Wrong Advice On Open Access: History Repeating Itself

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 9 Nov 2009 18:22:17 -0500

On Sun, 8 Nov 2009, Prof. Tom Wilson wrote:

> TW: Self-archiving is one approach, free, subsidised OA journals
are another.
> My position is not against the former, it is simply that one approach
> alone is not likely to be successful and, on top of that,
subsidised OA
> journals bring the maximum social benefit.

The crux of our disagreement concerns speed, probability, and the
limited attention (and action) span of the scholarly community.

Subsidized OA journals would definitely bring "the maximum social
benefit" -- if only they were within practical reach (i.e., if the
subsidy funds were available, and the 25,000 peer reviewed journals --
i.e., the titles, editorial boards, referees and authors -- to whose
annual 2.5 million articles the OA movement is seeking OA were ready
and willing to migrate to subsidized OA).

But there are only about 4000 Gold OA journals today (and mostly not
the top journals overall.) And among the OA journals, the top ones
tend to be paid Gold OA; the rest are either subsidized or
subscription-based (or both).

It is not within the hands of the content-provider community --
authors, their institutions and their funders -- to make all, most or
many of the 25,000 peer reviewed journals either paid Gold OA
(publication fees) or free Gold OA (subsidized) today. That option is
a very slow and extremely uncertain one, because it is mostly in the
hands of publishers today. Meanwhile, research access and impact
continue to be lost, day after day, week after week, month after
month, for year upon year upon year.

In contrast, it is, today, entirely within the hands of the content-
provider community -- authors, their institutions and their funders --
to make every single one of the 2.5 million articles they publish
annually in those 25,000 journals either immediately Green OA (63%) or
Almost-OA (37% -- through the use of the Institutional Repository's
"email eprint request" button) by mandating the self-archiving of all
refereed final drafts in the author's Institutional Repository (IR)
immediately upon acceptance for publication.

Until those mandates -- which will provide at least 63% immediate OA
plus 37% Almost-OA -- are adopted, it continues to be a waste of time
and energy to focus on Gold OA (free or paid) -- or on peer review
reform or social networking -- in the interests of OA, today. (There
may be other reasons for pursuing those matters, but let us be clear
that the immediate interests of OA today definitely are not among
them, until and unless the Green OA self-archiving mandates are
adopted. Till then, all time, attention and energy diverted toward
these other pursuits *in the name of OA* is simply delaying and
diverting from the progress of OA.)

> TW: [social networking and direct unrefereed posting] is an
approach that
> may evolve within specific sub-disciplines, if the researchers
> find that it is a mode of communication that suits them.

Yes, that may (or may not) all happen. But right now, what is already
fully within reach, indeed already long overdue, yet still not yet
being grasped, is Green OA self-archiving and self-archiving mandates.
Continuing to divert attention to hypothetical options
(in the name of OA) while failing to implement the tried, tested and
proven option is simply continuing to delay OA.

Let me stress again: this exclusivism is exclusively because of the
slowness with which the scholarly community has been getting around to
doing the doable for over a decade. Continuing to split time,
attention and energy with the far less doable just slows down the
doable even longer; and it has already been slowed long enough.

>> SH: irrelevant preoccupations with peer review reform, copyright
>> reform, and publishing reform... whilst we keep fiddling, access
>> and impact keep burning...
> TW: ?

(What I meant was that whilst speculations, long-shots and
irrelevancies keep distracting and diverting us from doing and
mandating self-archiving, access and impact just keep being lost,
daily, weekly, monthly, year upon year upon year.)

> TW: What we have been waiting for is not for publishers to
> do something in our stead, but, to date, waiting for publishers to
> agree to self-archiving. Pretending that we are not dependent upon
> the agreement of publishers seems rather unrealistic.

We are not dependent on the agreement of publishers. But for those of
us who mistakenly think we are: We already have publishers' agreement
for 63% of journals (including the top ones) yet we are only self-
archiving 15% (and mandating
0.0001%). Mandates will immediately deliver at least 63% immediate OA
(and for those who wrongly think self-archiving is dependent on
publisher agreement, 37% Almost-OA, with the help of immediate deposit
and the IR's "email eprint request" button).

So what makes more sense: to mandate the moving our fingers for 100%
deposit (and *then* head off to "take control of the scholarly
communication process... by publishing, editing and refereeing for
free OA journals") or heading off to "take control of the scholarly
communication process... by publishing, editing and refereeing for
free OA journals" (and 1001 other long-shots and irrelevancies)
*without even first mandating the moving of our fingers, at long last*?

That's what I'm banging on about. I'm not criticizing the pursuit of
other options *in addition* to mandating self-archiving, I'm
criticizing pursuing them *instead*, i.e. without first doing the
doable, and already long overdue.

> TW: author charging is not 'free OA' - 'free OA' is free of
> author charging and free of subscription.

I stand corrected: Some people are not moving or mandating their
fingers because they prefer paid Gold OA, and others because they
prefer subsidized Gold OA journals.

Meanwhile, the fingers are not getting moved or mandated, and the
access and impact are continuing to be lost, needlessly -- and all
this in the interest of pluralism and "maximum social beneft" at the
continuing expense of immediate, obvious (and tried and tested)
practical action.

>> SH: And as for the tired, 10-year-old "Poisoned Apple" canard...
> TW: Ten years old it may be, but the problem remains - regardless
> of how much self-referencing you make.

The purpose of the referencing is to get the relevant FAQ read and

The canard is the prophecy that if researchers self-archive in
sufficient numbers, publishers will rescind their endorsement of self-

It is a canard because:

It is not true that researchers need their publishers' a-priori
agreement to self-archive their final drafts. Twenty years of
uncontested self-archiving by physicists is ample evidence of that:
Far from rescinding a-priori agreements that they never gave in the
first place, publishers in the heavily self-archiving areas of physics
have given their official agreements a-posteriori -- well after the
irreversible fact of self-archiving was unstoppably in motion.

That -- and not the endless repetition of the poisoned apple canard --
is the objective evidence on whether or not the canard (a
self-fulfilling prophecy, if ever there was one) has the slightest
truth to it: It is false, but it keeps holding us back, by dint of
unreflective, unchallenged and (as usual) attention-diverting

Recall again the more important datum: 63% of journals (including most
of the top journals) have already given their official agreement for
the OA self-archiving of the author's final draft immediately upon
acceptance for publication -- yet only 15% of authors self-archive.
Evidence (if more was needed) that the locus of the "problem" is in
authors' heads (and fingers), and not in their publishers' policies.

Moreover, there is the option of immediate "Almost OA" even for the
articles in the remaining 37% of journals that have not yet given
their official agreement (and whose authors, unlike the physicists and
the rest of the sensible 15%, elect to honor publisher OA embargoes).
So, in fact, all refereed publications can be self-archived in some
form, tiding over immediate user needs, and what on all sense and
evidence will follow is not the "poisoned apple" fantasy -- of
publishers rescinding a-priori agreements -- but the fall of the rest
of the dominoes with the natural and well-deserved death of OA
embargoes under pressure from the growing OA, OA mandates, and
researcher reliance on OA, hence the granting of official publisher
agreement a-posteriori by the remaining 37% of journals.

This is evidence and reality speaking. The reply is merely the self-
fulfilling doomsday prophecy (the "poisoned apple" canard), ritually
reiterated, despite being contradicted by both sense and evidence, as
it has been all along.

> TW: Simply because the publishers at present see it as in their own
> self-interest to go along with self-archiving does not mean that
> they will see it so indefinitely.

Ritual reiteration of the poisoned-apple canard...

> TW: Things change, and you appear to deny the possibility of change
> in the status quo. Curious. Will the world remain forever the same
as it is
> now?

On the contrary, it's change I am seeking: I am hoping that a rising
tide of self-archiving mandates by institutions and funders will soon
cure the (at least) 34 etiologies of "Zeno's Paralysis" that have been
deterring our digits (the "poisoned apple" canard being one of them),
holding back change toward the optimal and inevitable outcome.

> TW: I am invoking nothing other than the will of the scholarly
> community to take the communication process into its own hands -
> I keep repeating this, but you appear to ignore it: one way is
> through self-archiving, another way is through the creation of free
> OA journals. There is no reason why the two cannot go together -

There is in fact a very simple reason: because self-archiving is
tried, tested, demonstrated effective, free, and fully within the
reach of the research communities fingertips, through only a few
keystrokes per paper -- keystrokes that are mostly *not being
performed*, for well over a decade now -- because of self-imposed,
self-fulfilling fanstasies. One of those fantasies is that what we
need to do (for OA, now) is to scrap the subscription-based refereed-
journal publishing system right now, and instead create a "free" one,
funded by subsidy and voluntarism, and supplemented by unrefereed
posting and feedback.

In other words, it has been amply demonstrated (since at least 1994)
that insofar as OA is concerned, "the will of the scholarly community
to take the communication process into its own hands" is woefully weak
and glacially slow, even when it comes to doing just a few keystrokes
per article, let alone "taking control of the scholarly communication
process... by publishing, editing and refereeing for free OA journals."

The virtue of the few keystrokes it takes to self-archive, however, is
that where the will is weak (as it clearly is, for 85%), the
keystrokes can be mandated. Not so for "taking control of the
scholarly communication process... by publishing, editing and
refereeing for free OA journals."

So the (OA) problem is no more nor less than to set those fingers into
motion. And the way to do that is through institutional and funder
keystroke mandates. But the keystrokes and mandates, long overdue
already, are simply being further delayed by diversions and
distractions from continuing to foster fantasies about creating free
journals -- free not only of subscriptions, but even free of Gold OA
fees, because they are funded by (unspecified) subsidies and
(unspecified) subsidizers. Compare the sole hurdle to Green OA --
namely, a few author keystrokes per paper -- to the hurdle for "free
journals" (namely, creating and funding those journals, and weaning
authors from their established journals).

It's rather like suggesting (to people who are only recycling waste at
15%) that there is an alternative: Make everything bio-degradable: A
welcome long-term challenge to take on once recycling is safely
mandated and in motion, but hardly one to tout while recycling
mandates are still few on the ground, nor one to raise before a
committee that is trying to decide whether and why recycling needs to
be mandated immediately.

> TW: I agree that self-archiving is desirable, it is one way of
> OA - I am simply saying that it is not the only way. And more than
> approach can be pursued at the same time.

I will immediately stop criticizing other approaches, no matter how
far-fetched, once the obvious, immediate one -- mandated self-
archiving -- already tried, tested and proved effective, is safely and
irreversibly in motion worldwide. But with only 15% self-archiving,
and only 100 out of 10,000 institutions as yet mandating it after over
a decade of contemplating all kinds of fanciful and untested options
-- even though self-archiving is simple, cheap, tested, works and
scales -- I will continue to try (so far unsuccessfully) to convey the
pragmatic fact that it is a waste of time (and access and impact) to
keep diverting our attention and energy to contemplating untested and
unlikely speculations (today) instead of first applying simple,
practical methods that have already been tested and shown to work
(like recycling), and that are already fully within reach, but we are
still failing to grasp them.

> TW: Impossible to achieve because it is a Utopian ideal - and I
have never
> yet met a Utopian ideal that was capable of being realised.

What is Utopian about self-archiving your final drafts, or
institutions/funders mandating it? And isn't the ideal of getting the
scholarly community to "take control of the scholarly communication
process... by publishing, editing and refereeing for free OA journals"
-- when we can't even get them to do a few keystrokes -- rather more
Utopian? Especially since there exists a simple, practical way to get
them to do the one, but not the other?

> TW: if researchers find that posting to a social network is an
appropriate way to communicate
> with their colleagues they will do so.

Indeed they can and will and do. There is nothing to stop them,

But that has nothing to do with OA. OA is about the barriers, today,
that stop researchers from accessing the articles published in peer-
reviewed journals, today, that their institutions can't afford to
subscribe to.

The hypothetical future of the (unopposed) practice of publicly
posting unrefereed content today does not provide us with actual
access to actual refereed content, today.

>TW: In fact they already do it - within certain
> sub-fields of science researchers already communicate with their
colleagues in
> this way - making working papers available, receiving comments,
even taking the
> commentators into the authorship of a paper. E-science almost
depends upon this
> happening. I do not argue that this is a desirable change - I
simply say that
> to ignore the way science is changing and the way scientific
communication is
> changing is not sensible.

I hope you don't think that I have been ignoring the developments in
-- and the potential of -- the self-archiving of pre-refereeing
preprints! That's what got me into this OA time-warp when I was still
but a naive and trusting lad:

The relevant point here is that the self-archiving of pre-refereeing
preprints (in some fields) is not the same as the self-archiving of
refereed postprints (in all fields). Few fields (so far) wish to make
their unrefereed drafts public. But all fields want to make their
refereed postprints public: that's why they publish them. The token
that has not dropped for them, however, is that (in the online era)
publishing them is no longer enough: They need to self-archive their
postprints too. And apparently that needs to be mandated, because over
a decade has now gone idly by to show that we wait in vain if we await
the exercise of "the will of the scholarly community to take [self-
archiving] into its own hands."

> TW: This debate seems to boil down to two opposite propositions:
> Yours: self-archiving is the only way to achieve OA
> Mine: self-archiving is one way of achieving OA, but given the
changes taking
> place in the scientific communication world, not the only way and
not the final
> way.

I'll tell you what: once the momentum in exercising "the will of the
scholarly community to take the communication process into its own
hands" actually overtakes the momentum to do (and mandate) the few
keystrokes that it takes to provide OA, I will happily switch to your
fast track. Until then, singing the praises of making waste
biodegradable to a community that is not yet even recycling, nor
mandating it, is simply slowing progress toward immediate OA. All it
does is draw their eyes off the ball that is within reach, yet again...

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Nov 10 2009 - 00:18:51 GMT

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