Re: [BOAI] Wrong Advice On Open Access: History Repeating Itself

From: Noel, Robert E. <rnoel_at_INDIANA.EDU>
Date: Fri, 30 Oct 2009 09:45:49 -0400

Does it make that much difference how universities, scholars, and readers arrive at Open Access? I'm a little puzzled by the lengths to which Steven Harnad goes to advance a specific path, while very deliberately excluding other cogent, seemingly sensible ideas. I have not talked to Jackson about "Getting Yourself out of the Business"; perhaps he read the "Wrong Advice" message below and now agrees with Mr. Harnad, I don't know.

It seems the efforts of Berkeley's mathematician Rob Kirby (launched SPARC endorsed "Algebraic and Geometric Topology", and "Geometry and Topology") were largely seeded by the spirit of Jackson's strategy as opposed to any other strategy. Kirby has been concerned about commercial publishers' journal prices and took action that seems to me to have been constructive action (see Notices of the AMS, 2004, "Fleeced"). The message of that opinion piece again seems to me to be related to Jackson's points, and not so much to the Harnad solution. In what ways are the actions of Prof. Bruynooghe and JLP's editorial board roughly a decade ago a failure? The resignation of that Board was motivated by "Getting yourself out of the Business". Similarly, the price of "Nuclear Physics B" (Elsevier) has been going down in recent years and many users of that literature regard that as a positive thing. Many variables have driven that drop in price, and it's presumptuous to think that none of them have to do with Jackson's

Anyway, others have devoted much more time and energy to this topic than I have, but I'm skeptical of recommendations that bluntly reject other strategies from the outset. It makes me think that open access is not the primary goal, but that a specific path to open access is the primary goal, and that access itself is a convenient result, but still an afterthought. It's tantamount to engineers and scientists recommending to policy makers that solar and wind energy are viable alternatives that will reduce a country's dependence on oil, but research into biofuels, maglev trains, and clean coal is utter nonsense, and reducing individual energy consumption by changing lifestyles is a sham, and in fact counterproductive.

Does anyone on the planet have this much foresight as to how civilization should communicate and share information?

Bob Noel
Swain Hall Library
Indiana University
Bloomington, IN 47405

-----Original Message-----
From: [] On Behalf Of Stevan Harnad
Sent: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 8:35 AM
To: American Scientist Open Access Forum
Cc: SPARC Open Access Forum
Subject: [BOAI] Wrong Advice On Open Access: History Repeating Itself

    [Apologies for Cross-Posting: Hyperlinked version is at: ]

With every good intention, Jason Baird Jackson -- in "Getting Yourself
Out of the Business in Five Easy Steps"
is giving the wrong advice on Open Access, recommending a strategy
that has not only been tried and has failed and been superseded
already, but a strategy that, with some reflection, could have been
seen to be wrong-headed without even having to be tried:

* Choose not to submit scholarly journal articles or other works to
publications owned by for-profit firms.
* Say no, when asked to undertake peer-review work on a book or
article manuscript that has been submitted for publication by a
for-profit publisher or a journal under the control of a commercial
* Do not seek or accept the editorship of a journal owned or under the
control of a commercial publisher.
* Do not take on the role of series editor for a book series being
published by a for-profit publisher.
* Turn down invitations to join the editorial boards of commercially
published journals or book series.

In the year 2000, 34,000 biological researchers worldwide signed a
boycott threat to stop publishing in and refereeing for their journals
if those journals did not provide (what we would now call) Open Access
(OA) to their articles.

Their boycott threat was ignored by the publishers of the journals, of
course, because it was obvious to them if not to the researchers that
the researchers had no viable alternative. And of course the
researchers did not make good on their boycott threat when their
journals failed to comply.

The (likewise well-intentioned) activists who had launched the boycott
threat then turned to another strategy: They launched the excellent
PLoS journals (now celebrating their 5th anniversary) to prove that
there could be viable OA journals of the highest quality. The
experiment was a great success, and many more OA journals have since
spawned, some of them (such as the BMC -- now Springer -- journals) of
a quality comparable to conventional journals, some not.

But what also became apparent from the (now 9-year) exercise was that
providing OA by creating new journals, persuading authors to publish
in them instead of in their established journals, with their
track-records for quality, and finding the funds to pay for the author
publication fees that many of the OA journals had to charge (since
they could no longer make ends meet with subscriptions) was a very
slow and uncertain process.

There are at least 25,000 peer-reviewed journals published annually
today, including a core of perhaps 5000 journals that constitute the
top 20% of the journals in each field, the ones that most authors want
to publish in, and most users want to access and use (and cite).

There are now about 5000 OA journals too, likewise about 20%, but most
-- unlike the PLoS journals (and perhaps the BMC/Springer and Hindawi
journals) -- are far from being among the top 20% of journals. Hence
most researchers in 2009 face much the same problem that the
signatories of the 2000 PLoS boycott threat faced in 2000: For most
researchers, it would mean a considerable sacrifice to renounce their
preferred journals and publish instead in an OA journal: either (more
often) OA journals with comparable quality standards do not exist, or
their publication charges are a deterrent.

Yet ever since 2000 (and earlier) there has been no need for either
threats or sacrifice by researchers in order to have OA to all of the
planet's peer-reviewed research output. For those same researchers who
were signing boycott threats that they could not carry out could
instead have used those keystrokes to make their own peer-reviewed
research OA, by depositing their final, peer-reviewed drafts in OA
repositories as soon as they were accepted for publication, to make
them freely accessible online to all would-be users webwide, rather
than just to those whose institutions could afford to subscribe to the
journals in which they were published.

Researchers could have made all their research OA spontaneously since
at least 1994. They could have done it OAI-compliantly (interoperably)
since at least 2000.

But most researchers did not make their own research OA in 1994, nor
in 2000, and even now in 2009, they seem to prefer petitioning
publishers for it, rather than providing it for themselves.

There is a solution (and researchers themselves have already revealed
exactly what it was when they were surveyed). That solution is not
more petitions and more waiting for publishers or journals to change
their policies or their economics. It is for researchers' institutions
and funders to mandate that their researchers provide OA to their own
refereed research by depositing their final, peer-reviewed drafts in
OA repositories as soon as they are accepted for publication, to make
them freely accessible online to all would-be users webwide, rather
than just to those whose institutions can afford to subscribe to the
journals in which they were published.

I would like to suggest that Jason Jackson (and other well-meaning OA
advocates) could do incomparably more for global OA by lobbying their
own institutions (and funders) to adopt OA mandates than by launching
more proposals to boycott publishers who decline to do what
researchers can already do for themselves. (And meanwhile, they should
deposit their articles spontaneously, even without a mandate.)

OA Week 2009 would be a good time for the worldwide research community
to come to this realization at long last, and reach for the solution
that has been within its grasp all along.

Stevan Harnad

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Received on Fri Oct 30 2009 - 17:34:29 GMT

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