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Is OA (Gold) really a desirable goal for scientific journal publishing?

[There is an ongoing discussion on the American Scientist Open Access
Forum on the question of whether CERN's push for OA (Gold) publishing
in its area will divert funds from research. The initial posting

is not by me, Stevan Harnad, but by my brother, John Harnad,
a physicist. Although I followed the posting with a critique


on some points of detail, I want to stress that I am in basic 
agreement with the gist of John Harnad's point that a hasty 
CERN-led forced conversion to OA (Gold) Publishing in (part or 
all of) physics at this time is likely to cost more, is likely to 
divert funds from research, and should be deferred in favor of 
expanding the practice of OA (Green) Self-Archiving and parallel 
co-existence. -- SH ]


On Wed, 10 Jan 2007, Bruno Granier wrote:

03:38 10/01/2007 +0000, John Harnad wrote:

>JH: 4) It is highly unlikely that public (or private) funding 
>agencies will be willing to increase their budgets to cover such 
>extra [gold] publication charges for authors, even if they 
>express themselves in favour of 'Open Access' and continue to 
>allow this (as most do now) as a legitimate item within the 
>budget of a supported researcher. The implication is that the 
>extra costs for [gold] publication charges will have to be 
>subtracted from other, current research expenditures. For those, 
>e.g., in the 10-15% category, this means, effectively, a 10-15% 
>cut in their 'actual' research budgets.
>BG: I just want to highlight that if the "extra costs for 
>publication charges" might effectively affect negatively the 
>"current research expenditures," cost savings for the research 
>libraries (cut in their subscription budget) might probably 
>compensate them (that is just transferring from one box to the 
>other within the same drawer). Don't you think so?

Yes, of course subscription savings could be redirected


but not *today*, when the only journals going gold would be 
(some) physics journals (and not pre-emptively, at today's -- 
non-minimised -- asking prices).

Unlike CERN, most institutions' (i.e., universities') overloaded 
subscription budgets are not just for physics journals!

It would indeed require a very concerted redirection system to 
systematically commit institutional savings on incoming 
subscriptions to paying for outgoing institutional publications 
instead. And many sceptics doubt (quite wrongly) that such a 
redirection would be possible at all: Of course it is possible, 
indeed perfectly natural and inevitable -- if and when *all* 
subscriptions are being cancelled and *all* journals are 
downsized to peer-review service provision alone, their 
much-reduced costs being covered by charging publication fees to 
the author-institution instead of charging subscription/license 
fees to the user-institution.

But institutions certainly can't -- and won't -- do that 
concerted redirection of funds now, piecewise, journal by journal 
or subfield by subfield, institution by institution -- and at the 
current asking price, which has not yet been reduced to just the 
cost of peer review, scaled down under universal cancellation 

This is the fundamental flaw in CERN's reasoning, which is to 
imagine that most institutions are like CERN, subscribing to 
physics journals only. *CERN* can easily anticipate, isolate and 
redirect its own savings (perhaps even at the current inflated, 
non-minimised asking price). But universities, with serials 
budgets covering all disciplines, and currently stretched to the 
limit, certainly cannot and will not redirect piece-wise 
subscription savings today, journal by journal, field by field 
(and at the current asking price) on the pious hope that this 
gold-conversion will all soon propagate somehow to all other 
disciplines at a price that will not leave them worse off than 
were before.

No, instead the costs of gold OA publishing today, for (some or 
all of) physics alone, today, would have to be poached from 
research funds -- research funds that are already even more 
sorely stretched today than library serials budgets!

CERN's proposal, locally coherent (for one-field institutions 
like CERN) is globally incoherent and will not scale.

And instead of helping the progress toward universal Open Access 
in all disciplines through its splendid local example, as it has 
been doing for years, CERN will -- through the premature, 
ill-thought-through, and narrow-sighted step it is now 
contemplating: that of using its prestige and weight to 
coercively convert (some or all) journals to the gold OA 
cost-recovery model -- actually retard and impede rather than 
accelerate worldwide progress toward Open Access.

What CERN can and should do instead is to use its prestige and 
weight and splendid historic example to help propagate its own 
practice of *mandated institutional self-archiving* (OA green) to 
all the rest of the world's disciplines and institutions. Then, 
and only then, might there eventually arise the universal 
cancellation pressure toward cost-cutting, downsizing to peer 
review, conversion to gold, and redirection of windfall savings.

Or it might not. But the *fundamental* point is that the research 
*accessibility* problem will already have been completely solved 
with 100% green OA, through universally mandated self-archiving, 
CERN-style. The journal *affordability* problem is *not the same 
problem* as the research accessibility problem. conflating the 
two does not solve either problem (except myopically, locally, 
and solipsistically, for a few physics-only institutions).

More pertinent still: In a world with no accessibility problem, 
because it is 100% (green) OA, the journal affordability problem, 
although not solved, becomes a lot less pressing and portentous: 
Libraries still won't be able to afford all journals they may 
want, but it will *matter* much less, because the contents of 
those journals they cannot afford will still be safely accessible 
to all their users -- in their green OA (self-archived) versions.

So it is not too late for CERN to uncross its 
research-accessibility and library-affordability wires and focus 
on spreading its own successful OA solution -- mandated 
institutional self-archiving -- to the rest of the world, rather 
than needlessly trying to convert the access-solution into a 
solution for its library budget problems today too. That requires 
patience and foresight, for a global solution, not precipitous 
pre-emptive local action, by field or institution.

     Harnad, S. (2006) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition

Stevan Harnad