Re: Institutional vs. Central Repositories

From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum_at_GMAIL.COM>
Date: Mon, 30 Nov 2009 21:30:03 -0500

On Mon, Nov 30, 2009 at 1:22 PM, [identity deleted] wrote:

> Re: PubMedCentral (PMC) being (relatively) well populated.

PMC is only better populated than any other repository to the degree
that some funders have mandated deposit. But there is a "denominator
fallacy" here:

Mandates only cover content mandated by the funders in question. As a
percentage of the world's (or, if you like, the US's) total annual
biological and medical research output, PMC still covers only a small
fraction of that total annual target.

The global baseline for spontaneous (unmandated) self-archiving is
about 15%. The degree to which PMC is doing better than that -- and it
is, but the question is by how much? -- can only be properly
determined if we divide the deposits of biomedical articles published
in each year by the total published biomedical output for that year
(worldwide, or by US authors, if you prefer).

If you do that calculation, you will almost certainly find that PMC is
doing no better nor worse for its mandated content than any mandated
institutional repository; and for its unmandated content it is
likewise doing no better nor worse than any unmandated institutional
repository (c. 15%).

We cannot go a single step further on the underlying question -- how
to populate repositories, and how well various approaches and
repositories are doing -- until the denominator fallacy is corrected.

> It's my understanding that not only is there a funder mandate, but the
> Wellcome Trust also publicly favour the author-pays model, through which
> the publisher will deposit the article to PubMedCentral on behalf of the
> author.

Yes, and that's bad news, and unfortunately that's a bad policy on the
part of the Wellcome Trust (WT), ideologically rather than
functionally driven, and ill thought-through, but one from which WT
seems to be unwilling to consider budging. So the problem is that
whereas WT are rightly to be admired for having been the first funder
to mandate OA, they have also set a very bad example for other

(1) Note that squandering research money on funding Gold OA
publication for WT-funded research does not increase by a single
article the number of articles that are made OA as a result of the WT
mandate. (They could all have been simply self-archived instead,
setting an incomparably better, and more scaleable example for other
funders, who have better things to do with their scarce research funds
than to pay for Gold OA when they can mandate Green OA without having
to redirect any money from research: Publication is already being paid
for, in full, by institutional subscriptions) The prospect of having
to pay for Gold just discourages potential emulators who could mandate
Green, but cannot afford to pay for Gold.

(2) In addition, WT mandates central deposit instead of institutional,
which is, as I've said, counterproductive for facilitating and
reinforcing the really crucial mandates, which are the ones by the
universal providers of all research: the world's universities and
research institutes. Central deposit mandates compete with
institutional deposit mandates, for no good reason whatsoever.

(3) And third, allowing a deposit mandate to be fulfilled by a
publisher instead of by the fundee (hence the mandatee) is doubly
foolish. It lets the publisher decide (and enforce) the embargo period
(as well as allowing them to drag their feet, since they are beholden
to no one in their timing or compliance); and it reinforces the paid
Gold option (self-fulfillingly) by making it the only one likely to
generate timely deposit (but at a price).

Three unnecessary, dysfunctional features, adopted completely
arbitrarily, simply because WT did not think things through carefully
(and would not -- and alas still will not -- listen to advice even

But now, because WT were the first mandators (and they still do
deserve eternal blessing for that!), their somnambulistic "view" is
taken to be oracular by others. So it does damage beyond the ambit of
WT's own funding.

> The rights negotiation over what can be done with the full text
> deposit in that situation is clear and the Wellcome trust openly prefer
> this route to OA [over] the post-print deposit, although they do support
> both models if the post-print is deposited to PubMedCentral directly.
> They also are prepared to pay for such a model of author-pays and
> publisher deposits.

As I've just said, it's bad news that WT "prefers" the funded Gold OA
route because it makes Green appear less adequate for providing OA
(though it is in fact more adequate tha  Gold), it wastes money, it
discourages mandates from those who cannot follow WT's example with
paying for Gold, and it is totally unnecessary:

There are no re-uses at all that the access-deprived potential users
(for whom OA is intended) require that they do not have with Green OA:
All that is needed is immediate, free online access to the full texts
of the articles. There are no further uses or re-uses that need
sanctioning or licensing. Researchers, students and teachers don't do
"mashups" of journal articles, as teenagers do for music, video and
text youtube. They just need to be able to access the texts online,
download them to read and data-crunch and perhaps print off for
themselves. That's it. The published text's *content* (as opposed to
its verbatim text) was always free to be used, applied, built-upon
(and cited), if only the user could manage to access the verbatim
text. And that's what Green OA provides, 24/7, webwide: access.
Teachers can put the URLs in their course-packs (no need to worry
about supplying multiple hard copies, or any associated permissions
issues: just URLs are enough if the texts themselves are OA). No need
to "re-publish" either. So what are these re-use rights that all that
extra Gold money is needed to pay for?

And as to timing: WT allows a one-year embargo. If they mandated
institutional deposit, the institutional repositories' "email eprint
request" Button could do a good deal better than that. 63% of journals
endorse immediate OA (no embargo) already. For the remaining 37% the
IRs can provide "Almost OA" -- for just a few extra user and author
keystrokes and slight delay (but not remotely comparable to a year's
delay!) for the semi-automatic eprint request fulfillment.

Instead, WT "prefers" to pay for immediate OA at a high price. The
price is higher than they think, because of the emulation (and
non-emulation) that their bad example inspires, in place of good,
sensible practice that would generate far more (Green) OA and Green OA
mandates, far faster, with no loss, only gain, over the dysfunctional
WT policy.

> Apparently the route to post-print deposit in PubMedCentral is not
> particularly easy, although I can't speak from personal experience.

My guess is that it's no harder or easier to deposit in PMC than in
any other repository, central or institutional (and the fact is that
it's easy and fast to deposit: you just have to be mandated to try it
and then you find out). But with WT "preferring" to offer what looks
to the author like the even easier option of proxy deposit (some day)
by the publisher (if embargoed) and immediate proxy deposit if
paid-Gold, the author never even gets to learn from personal
experience how easy and fast it really is.

Another bad example to set.

> Such complexities at the deposit stage will also force authors into paying
> for publication, just to give themselves an easier life!

I doubt that profoundly. If the choice really were to do a few minutes
worth of keystrokes or pay out of their pockets, authors would quickly
discover how easy it really was to deposit, and would save their
money. But with WT offering to pay for Gold OA in their stead, I don't
doubt that a number of years more will be wasted going down that
dysfunctional route before it is discovered that it is both
unnecessary and wasteful.

> Personally, I'd much rather see the author depositing in central
> institutional repositories, and PubMedCentral harvesting from us.

I think (I hope) what you meant here was *institutional* repositories.
And yes, that is indeed the optimal way, not just for PMC and WT but
for the institution, which, if all funders mandated institutional
deposit, would soon realize that it made sense for the institution
itself to go on to mandate (institutional) deposit for *all* of its
research output, whether funded or not.

> There have been a couple of lonely requests on discussion lists from
> repository managers asking whether others have deposited works to
> PubMedCentral on behalf of authors but no replies so far.

Why on earth should proxy deposit be offered to authors to spare them
a few minutes' worth of keystrokes? If it comes to that, that's what
secretaries are paid for, or student assistants. Let authors decide
for themselves whether it's worth paying money to spare themselves
those few extra keystrokes per paper. (I suppose some authors still
pay secretaries to do the keystrokes to type their drafts in the first
place, so this would just be a few more keystrokes...)

> Why might we
> do this on authors' behalf? Because authors recognise the importance of
> subject repositories far more than they do that of institutional
> repositories and if we can do this for them then we gain their support
> and understanding. Because, whether there is an institutional mandate or
> not, it's not right that authors should have to deposit the same article
> twice.

Unfortunately the above passage has conflated so many unfounded
assumptions, I hardly know where to begin!

(i) The reason it's better not to do deposits on authors' behalf is
that in reality deposits are fast and easy and it is absurd to fear or
avoid them.

(ii) In addition, if everything continues to be done to insulate
authors' groundless phobias about a few keystrokes from the simple
reality of deposit, that simply makes the path to universal OA longer
and more arduous (real arduousness being substituted for the notional
arduousness that keeps authors at arms' length).

(iii) The only repositories that authors "recognise the importance of"
are *mandated* repositories, regardless of whether the mandate is from
their funder or their institutions (but preferably both!), and
regardless of whether the repository is central or institutional --
but it had *#&% well better be just *one-time*, *one-place* deposit,
otherwise the authors can and will and *should* revolt: and that's
really what this is all about: A few minimal keystrokes, yes, but no
unnecessary, redundant or profligate ones. WT did not think this
through, otherwise it would have been realized at once that
convergent institutional locus of deposit should be specified by both
institutional and funder mandates, with automated central harvesting
to whatever further loci hearts desire thereafter; the authors'
fingers are not involved in that.

(iv) Doing proxy deposit on behalf of authors in order to "gain their support

and understanding"? Their support and understanding for what? So that
the next time they want to deposit, they can again appeal to your free
keystroke services? Where's the support and understanding in that?
What's needed is mandates; that moots the need for "support and

(v) It's certainly true that "it's not right that authors should have
to deposit the same article twice." That's the whole point here. We
have WT and NIH to thank for the fact that we need to face this
prospect at all. And it discourages the adoption of institutional
mandates (and of course diminishes the probability of spontaneous
institutional deposit to even below the 15% baseline).

(vi) But an institutional mandate would still remedy this, for then
the author could deposit once, institutionally, and the proxy
redeposit phase would be much lightened: Instead of having to do each
deposit for the author, software (like SWORD) could be used to port
the deposits' metadata from their IR to their secondary (central)
loci. And then maybe the central deposit stipulation of WT, NIH and
other such funders -- not all funders have been silly enough to
emulate this dysfunctional stricture -- would die a natural death of
its own accord, eventually short-circuited by increasingly efficient

Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Dec 01 2009 - 02:32:06 GMT

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