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No, Mandating Self-Archiving Is Not Like Invading Iraq! Part II

On Sun, 24 Dec 2006, Sandy Thatcher wrote:

> Stevan, you seem averse to speculation, but I'd like to propose 
> that speculation - at least, informed speculation - has an 
> important role to play in planning. "Worst case scenario" 
> planning is frequently used in business, in the military, etc., 
> and for good reason, especially for those who are risk-averse.

Sandy, I was not averse to speculation for the first 5 years, 
1994-1999, but the next 5 years (see again the links at the end 
of this message) seemed rather over the top, especially since the 
handwriting has been quite prominently on the wall all along.


So by all means plan for the worst-case scenario (H3), but 
meanwhile, self-archiving and self-archiving mandates, already 
long overdue, need to proceed apace.

> It appears that the Bush administration didn't do enough of 
> this kind of speculating when it ordered the invasion of Iraq, 
> confident that its assumption of controlled change to an 
> orderly democratic society was correct. We all know what 
> happened as a result!

The analogy's a bit shrill! Nor is it clear what the counterpart 
of invading Iraq is meant to be: If it's mandating 
self-archiving, I'm afraid I would have to reject the analogy as 
pure alarmism. If the only point is that publishers need to plan 
ahead for a worst-case scenario (H3), by all means, they should 
do that (and in my prior replies in this thread I gave some 
rather obvious suggestions on how to go about doing that).

> What I am hypothesizing for the transition to OA is more the 
> kind of short-term chaos that has transpired in Iraq than the 
> smooth transition to a functioning new system that you are 
> counting on.

I continue to see gradual change (H2) as far more probable than 
sudden change, for many, many reasons I have listed before, but 
we are repeating ourselves: If publishers think sudden change 
(H3) more likely, then by all means let them plan for sudden 
change! The steps to be taken for that have also been listed 
before in this exchange (modularizing, hybridising, etc.).

What I am afraid I would have to reject completely, however, is 
any attempt to frighten research institutions or funders out of 
mandating self-archiving on the grounds of H3. It is for 
publishers to plan to adapt to H3, not for the research community 
to refrain from mandating self-archiving, and its sure benefits 
to research, in order to forestall the hypothetical possibility 
of H3. H3 is merely sudden change, not ruination. It is planning 
and adaptation on the part of the publishing community that needs 
to be done to forestall ruination (on H3); it is not for the 
research community to forswear its own reachable access and 
impact potential instead. Research publishing is done in the 
service of research, not vice versa.

> I'm urging university administrators not to make the same 
> mistake that the Bush administration did!

Sandy, it is pure alarmism to liken mandating self-archiving to 
the invasion of Iraq! I strongly urge you to take a more rational 
and practical tack.

> As for the conflation of costs for supporting OA journals and 
> costs for supporting editorial offices on university campuses, 
> I admit that I wasn't thinking so much of BMC, PLoS, etc., as 
> being the model for the future as you evidently are.

I wonder why not? H3 is the hypothesis that mandated 
self-archiving will cause sudden change in the form of the 
collapse of subscriptions. If OA publishing is not to be the way 
to cover costs, then you should state your alternative way. 
Renouncing self-archiving and its benefits is not an alternative.

> Given the steep increases in fees that those two OA publishers 
> have recently instituted, it isn't clear to me that they are 
> viable models for the long run, or will be around for many more 
> years. (Foundation funding is usually short term, and PLoS has 
> survived largely on that kind of funding so far.)

The reason OA publishing is having trouble making ends meet today 
is very simple: it is the fact that conditions today all still 
support Hypothesis H1 (no change). While subscriptions are still 
covering costs for most journals, and while the available funds 
being spent by institutions on journals are still concentrated 
almost 100% on subscriptions, OA journals will have trouble 
making ends meet (by charging publication fees), and are 
essentially treading water.

But on your own hypothesis of sudden collapse of subscriptions 
(H3), the situation changes radically for OA journals, and their 
chances of making ends meet from publication fees (plus the funds 
available to pay those fees) suddenly skyrocket hand in hand with 
the sudden collapse of subscriptions, again on your own 

> I also suspect-though I do not know- that the vast majority of 
> 2,500 OA journals listed in the directory are "mom and pop" 
> operations run out of editorial offices based on campuses, 
> rather than parts of larger BMC-type operations.

You are quite right that most of the OA journals are not of the 
calibre of PLoS and BMC. (Nor, for that matter, are most non-OA 
journals.) There are many low-budget, cottage-industry journals, 
and a number of them come and go every year.

> It was these journals I was thinking about, and supposing that 
> the migration would mainly be handled by individual editors of 
> journals abandoned by commercial publishers, who most likely 
> would turn to their own universities first for support before 
> seeking out a BMC (if any still exists at that point in time).

Migrating journals might go to commercial OA publishers (like BMC 
and Hindawi), learned society OA publishers, university OA 
publishers, independent non-profit OA publishers (like PLoS); or 
some may try to do it mom-and-pop style. This is all speculation 
too, but nothing much hangs on it. The relevant question is: How 
much will journals still have to do, once the print edition is 
gone, the online edition is gone, access-provision, storage and 
preservation are all off-loaded onto the network of institutional 
IRs, subscriptions are gone (H3), and only peer review (including 
editing) remains to be done, and paid for? How much will that 
cost, and how will it be paid for? (One thing is for sure: It can 
only cost less -- and substantially less -- then what it costs to 
do it all today.)

> Many of the large commercial publishers now provide substantial 
> funding for the operation of editorial offices on campus. This 
> is the funding that will disappear and need to be replaced. It 
> is not just for administrative support. Editors are also paid 
> for their work. Will all of them be willing to continue 
> dedicating their time when they are not being paid?

We are speculating now about what the residual cost will be after 
downsizing to OA publishing alone: It will be whatever it will 
be, but it will be a good deal less than what it is now, because 
so many products and services will have been phased out or 
offloaded onto the IR network. And whatever the residual cost of 
the essentials turns out to be, that is the cost that will have 
to be recovered out of OA publishing costs. And the funds out of 
which it will be covered are the institutional subscription 
savings (H3), which are currently already covering all those 
costs several times over.

End Part I. Parts II and III follow.

Stevan Harnad