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Open Access by Peaceful Evolution

Liblicense-l subscribers:  This message was addressed to our list but 
somehow never received.  We are forwarding it a few days late, with
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---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 19 Feb 2003 15:32:04 +0000 (GMT)
From: Stevan Harnad <harnad@ecs.soton.ac.uk>
To: september98-forum@amsci-forum.amsci.org
Cc: liblicense-l@lists.yale.edu, Lib Serials list <serialst@LIST.UVM.EDU>
Newsgroups: bionet.journals.note
Subject: Re: STM Talk: Open Access by Peaceful Evolution

On Wed, 19 Feb 2003, Jean-Claude Gu�don wrote:

>s> The [Open Access] movement's efforts and motivation were at
>s> first led by the library community and directed against the publisher
>s> community. The motivation was right, but the target was wrong, and
>s> indeed unfair, and little progress was made. (Prices would probably 
>s> have come down anyway, with global licensing developments.) 
> The target was anything but wrong given the enormous levels of benefits
> made by some publishers. Whatever else is at work, this extreme level of
> profiteering is part of the issue and must be fought along with other
> issues.  And this is where I have difficulties in understanding some of
> your public interventions recently.

I think we have to separate the very different goals of (shall we call it)
the (LTA) "Lower-Toll-Access Movement" and (OA) The Open Access Movement.

The pressing needs of the LTA were institutional library budgets and the
serials crisis. What was urgently needed was lower tolls, otherwise
institutions would be getting fewer and fewer journals for a higher and
higher price. The solution for this was consortial licensing negotiations
and the exercise of every effort and collective consumer power to get
lower tolls.

I do not for one moment question that the right target for those LTA
negotiations was publishers! (Who else could one negotiate prices with?)
Those were and are pressing day-to-day concerns for the library community.
But those are short-term solutions, and they are short-term solutions to
LTA, not to OA.

Open Access (OA) has a very different motivation. It is not to solve the
day-to-day budgetary problems of libraries, nor to lower the access-tolls
of journals (as important and necessary and welcome as that continues to
be). It is to *free* access to an anomalous form of writing, different
from all others, namely, refereed research papers -- an author give-away,
written not for royalty-tolls, like other forms of writing, but written
solely for research-impact, which is blocked by *any access-tolls at all*.

(Note that LTA negotiations would have proceeded exactly as they did even
if this were *not* an anomalous corpus: even if it had been like books or
newspapers and magazines, written for fees and royalties. There was only
the slightest hint of the fact that there was something different here
after all, in the much repeated -- but almost 100% erroneous -- library
lament that "We have to *buy back* the research we *give* them!" But that
is and never was it at all! The library does not spend its money buying
back its *own* institutional research output: It has that already! It buys
in the research output of all *other* institutions. There, with a little
reflection, one might have begun to see the real logic of the situation.
For so far exactly the same would have been true of books! So the next
token that would need to drop is that refereed research, unlike books, is
*given away* by institutional researchers royalty-free, purely for the
sake of research impact. That would have shown that it is not in the
publishers' hands -- or interest -- to remedy this, but in the
researchers', and their institutions. And the obvious next step would have
been institutional self-archiving of refereed research output -- not
lamenting about or scolding publishers!)

It is in connection with OA -- open access -- that I say (and must repeat)
that it is wrong and unfair to blame journal publishers for not giving
away their own contents for free at this time. There is indeed a way to do
that now, with the advent of the online era, and to still make ends meet
in a much downsized new form of refereed-journal publishing (namely,
open-access [OA] journals). But I think that the 20,000 existing
toll-access journals and their publishers can be understood and forgiven
for not jumping at the opportunity to downsize and convert to open-access
publication right now, of their own accord, under the urging of the
library and research community, when the research community, in whose
interests OA would be ushered in, have not yet done their own part to show
they really need and want this benefit!

Libraries have struggled for lower tolls, to be sure, but that is part of
their natural function, as the consumer-representatives of their
institutional researchers, trying to buy in the most and best journals at
the lowest price. But if researchers, who would be the real beneficiaries
of OA, really want OA, it is for *them* to do what is within their own
power to do now for immediate OA, and not merely to keep demonizing
publishers for not doing it! That futile game could go on for another
decade at least.

What researchers can and should do right now for OA is to self-archive
their own refereed research output ("Self-Archive Unto Others As Ye Would
Have Them Self-Archive Unto You") in their own institutional Eprint
Archives, rather than to keel scolding publishers for not doing it for
them -- *especially* as publishers (e.g., Elsevier) are now coming round
to recognizing their own responsible role in all this, by formally
supporting author/institution self-archiving:

Let the research (and library) community exercise the self-help that is
within their reach, and their goal of OA will be attained, virtually
overnight. Let them keep shadow-boxing irrelevantly and ineffectually with
publishers, and OA will remain far off.

(But of course let their libraries keep trying to strike the best
day-to-day LTA deal with publishers in the meanwhile.)

> Again, your analysis is sketched with too broad a brush. The scientific 
> community is no more homogeneous than is the publishers'. Gatekeepers 
> themselves play various roles. But some of these gatekeepers become 
> "objective" allies (as Marxists would have said in the past) of big 
> publishers with huge profit margins.

Peer-reviewed journal editors are us, the researchers, wearing other hats.
But they are almost as irrelevant as publishers to what the research
community needs to do for OA, namely, to self-archive their own refereed
research output in their own institutional Eprint Archives.

> Second problem, scientists and scholars object, as you rightly point
> out, to the restrictions placed on access to their work through
> tollgating. However, what they want to achieve is free access for
> researchers, not self-archiving.

Dear Jean-Claude. I have a little difficulty following your logic:
Self-archiving is the means, not the end. OA is the end. Of course it is
the end (OA) that researchers want, and not merely the means
(self-archiving). But what is your point? That there is another means? And
what is that? To persuade the publishers of 20,000 toll-access journals to
become OA? And what is the *means* for persuading them to do that? Why is
it in *their* interest to do so now, especially when OA is not only in our
own interests, but we have the means to achieve it (self-archiving), while
rather than using the means, we choose instead to hector journals to do it
for us?

Founding new OA journals and converting toll-access journals to OA is
indeed an additional, complementary means of achieving OA (indeed it is
BOAI Strategy 2, self-archiving being BOAI Strategy 1). But whereas we
know how to create new OA journals, and we know how toll-access journals
could convert to OA if they choose to, we have no idea how to persuade
toll-access journals to convert to OA, for the simple reason that it is
not in *their* best interests to do so, but in *ours*.

Here is the arithmetic, mapped out quite graphically: There are 20,000
toll-access journals, publishing 2,000,000 toll-access articles annually.
Open access to *those* is the target. The path toward the target by means
of BOAI-2 is to create new OA journals that will attract the authors and
contents of the toll-access journals, and to convert those of the
toll-access journals that are willing to convert. That is fine, and it is
taking place, but it is slow, and it involves persuading a lot of journals
to do something that will not make them financially better off, no matter
how much better off it would make us researchers.

And then there is BOAI-1, which is entirely within our own hands, and
could bring everyone OA virtually overnight (and requires only that we
persuade *ourselves* to do what is fully within our power to do!).

Are you suggesting that our time is better spent trying to persuade
toll-access publishers to convert to OA than to persuade ourselves to do
what is already within our own direct reach and power?

> Self-archiving is one method, among several, to achieve this end.
> Actually, libraries by paying for the journals and placing them at the
> free disposal of their research constituency is offering free access and
> publishers argue that libraries should have bigger budgets to extend the
> freedom of access to other, presumably less known and less prestigious,
> journals.

Jean-Claude, have you converted into an advocate of LTA licensing now,
instead of OA?

>s> The Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) is promoting both
>s> self-archiving (BOAI-1) and open-access journal publishing (BOAI-2), and
>s> SPARC is promoting business models for both. The only thing publishers
>s> must avoid at all costs is to appear to be trying to deliberately
>s> block the evolution of self-archiving through restrictive copyright
>s> policies! That would would be very bad public relations with the research
>s> community, creating and highlighting a dramatic conflict between what
>s> is obviously in the best interests of research and researchers, their
>s> institutions and funders, and the society benefitting from the research,
>s> on the one hand, versus what is in the best interests of journal
>s> publishers' current revenue streams and business models on the other
>s> -- a conflict of interest that could indeed precipitate a revolution,
>s> now that necessity is so obviously no longer a justification, as it was
>s> in paper days! Far better to allow evolution to take its natural course
>s> peacefully, and adapt to it accordingly.
>s> http://www.lboro.ac.uk/departments/ls/disresearch/romeo/Romeo%20Publisher%2
> That part makes much sense. The question is: do you need to reassure
> publishers about your feelings to get where you get? I think your
> argument is clever; but, at the same time, it is not mutually exclusive
> with other, different, and sometimes more frontal, attacks on
> publishers.

I think I am saying everything openly: OA is optimal for research and
researchers, feasible but not optimal for publishers. If it is to come to
pass, it will be at the behest of the research community, for whom it is
optimal. The way for them to make its optimality for them felt is by
*doing* it, through self-archiving, right now. That will be a certain
message that OA is what they need, want, and insist on having. But not
bothering to do that, and instead continuing to nag publishers to do it
for them is merely prolonging lost time, lost access and lost impact.

> Best of luck at STM... :-) The composition of their governing board is
> quite instructive, as is the focus of their committees... :-)

The STM is irrelevant. OA does not depend on STM but on us.

Stevan Harnad