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Re: Just who is on the defensive?

On Mon, 29 Jan 2007, Jan Velterop wrote:

> On 28 Jan 2007, at 17:40, Stevan Harnad wrote:
>> Jan, as a publisher, you are to be excused for being so 
>> preoccupied with prices and your bottom line.  But I hope you 
>> will in turn excuse the research community for being more 
>> concerned with *access* -- for which there is no need to pay a 
>> penny more or less at the moment! All that's needed is 
>> keystrokes. And that is what OA, today, is about.
> Isn't this a little simplistic and sound-biting, dear Stevan?

Not at all. It is exactly the case. The only thing standing 
between the research community and access to its own 
(peer-reviewed) research output is keystrokes. And that is why 
the research world is (at last) moving toward mandating those 
(long overdue) keystrokes:


Far from simplistic, it is the truth, and the truth is simple. It 
is only interested in seeing it otherwise that are complicating, 
and spinning, and sound-biting, in an effort to say it isn't so.

> The discussion would benefit from a more substantive approach. 
> Most publishers are not "preoccupied with prices and bottom 
> line" but have a genuine concern for access as well as for 
> maintaining an economic underpinning of a stable and reliable 
> formal peer-reviewed journal publishing system.

Those are the publishers who are (1) Green on author 
self-archiving (keystrokes) and (2) *not* lobbying against 
self-archiving mandates. I am not speaking about them.

> Fortunately, most researchers are also concerned with having 
> such a reliable system to provide them not only with access to 
> other researchers' articles, but with a means to get their own 
> articles peer-reviewed and formally published, for the 
> scientific record, for their career prospects, and for 
> communicating their findings and interpretations, in a 
> validated form, to fellow-scientists.

And that is precisely the system which they have, and which is 
being paid for, amply, by subscriptions. But what we are talking 
about here is *supplementing* that system by self-archiving the 
author's final draft for those would-be users whose institutions 
cannot afford the subscription.

> Were they, researchers, not concerned with having a reliable 
> journal system, and only with access, they would make a 
> bee-line for repositories and mandates wouldn't be on the 
> agenda.

You are quite right that if researchers were self-archiving 
spontaneously in sufficient numbers (rather than the 15% rate at 
which they are doing it today) then there would be no need for 
self-archiving mandates.

But you are quite wrong about why not enough of them are doing 
it: It is simply inertia: It's new. Some think (wrongly) that 
it's complicated and time-consuming; some think (wrongly) that 
it's illegal. But mostly it's the same thing as what would keep 
most of them from bothering to publish at all but for the 
"publish or perish" mandate: Research is curiosity-driven, not 
profit- or otherwise-driven. So the only way to get busy 
researchers to do (or delegate) the keystrokes is to mandate it.

> I advocate open access publishing, with its immediacy and no 
> need for embargoes, now that the internet enables us to do it, 
> because it is a fundamentally better way to publish research 
> results than the traditional subscription model.

I agree. But, as you see, publishers are not rushing to convert 
to OA (Gold) publishing, and spontaneous publishing by authors in 
OA journals is even lower than their spontaneous self-archiving 
rate. And the money to pay for publishing is all still tied up in 
subscriptions, so there is not the spare cash to pay for OA 
publishing charges (and researchers are not eager to have it 
diverted from already scarce research funds).

And you cannot mandate conversion by publishers to OA 
publication; nor can you mandate which journals researchers 
should publish in. Research funds can be diverted, but it is 
unnecessary, not only because publishing costs are still being 
paid by subscriptions, but because self-archiving *can* be 
mandated, and that will provide immediate 100% OA without the 
need to divert research funds.

> I make the case to the scientific community and to publishers. 
> Sure, apart from support, I encounter apathy, frustration, and 
> sometimes hostility. On both sides. Solid arguments as to why 
> it is not a better system are, however, lacking.

That is because OA publishing *is* a better system. But what is 
needed now is OA, not a better publishing system that so far 
generates apathy, frustration and hostility. And Green OA mandate 
will generate the OA -- which *might* in turn eventually generate 
the conversion to Gold OA publishing as well as the cancellation 
savings out of which to pay for it.

> Because it isn't the open access system per se that both 
> publishers and researchers are worried about; it is the 
> question of how to get from where we are now, with the 
> prevailing subscription system, to such an open access 
> publishing system, without getting from the frying pan into the 
> fire.

Yes, it is about how to get there (100% OA) from here (15%). 
Researchers will be happy with the conversion to Gold OA if/when 
the funds are made available to pay for it without poaching them 
from their current research pot; publishers will be happy to 
convert to Gold OA once they are sure they will get paid for it. 
Right now, though, the potential funds to pay for Gold OA are 
tied up in subscriptions. So, instead of waiting for OA to come 
from a spontaneous conversion-experience on the part of all or 
most publishers -- cancelling subscription tolls and switching to 
OA publishing charges of their own accord thereby releasing the 
funds out of which to pay those charges -- the research community 
can and will provide OA for itself, by mandating the keystrokes.

> Applying the bandage and salve of self-archiving is simpler 
> than carrying out the complicated operation of changing the 
> underlying condition, of course, and as palliative care its 
> attraction is quite understandable. But it shouldn't be 
> mistaken for a cure.

Before we can decide whether it is a bandage or a cure, we have 
to identify the disease : The disease for which *OA* is the cure, 
is research access-denial and impact-loss. For that disease, 
self-archiving mandates are not a bandage or salve, but a cure.

For another disease -- the journal affordability crisis -- 100% 
Green OA is a salve, not a cure: Once all articles are accessible 
free, journal prices will not necessarily go down, but it will 
certainly matter much less if it turns out that an institution 
cannot afford a given journal (since the self-archived version 
will be accessible free for all anyway).

But it was a mistake to imagine -- because one of the two roads 
to 100% OA happens to be Gold OA publishing -- that the disease 
for which OA is the cure is journal unaffordability. The disease 
is and always was needless access and impact loss. And 100% OA 
(by either route) is the cure. Green OA provides that cure, 
because it can be mandated. Gold OA cannot. (But mandated Green 
OA *might* also eventually lead to Gold OA.)


Stevan Harnad