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Feedback on the Brussels EC Meeting on Open Access

             ** Cross-Posted **

The five points I shall list below are controversial, but I am 
quite confident that the points are valid. My confidence comes 
from having been involved in this for a very, very long time, 
having heard everything already many, many times over and having 
given it all a very great amount of thought (more thought than it 
deserved, because most of the misunderstandings are so 
transparent and elementary!).


(1) I suggest that it would be a great strategic error on the 
part of the EC to allow itself to be brought back to further 
talks and studies, instead of implementing the OA self-archiving 
mandate that was proposed in January 2006, and that has since 
been implemented by the ERC and reinforced by EURAB.



The talks and studies have already taken place, for years now, 
many times over. The EC is basically stepping back to the point 
where the UK Parliamentary Select Committee was in 2003: It too 
conducted an extensive inquiry, with all interested parties, and 
made the same recommendation as EC A1: Mandate OA self-archiving.

And the response was the same: publishing industry lobbying, the 
usual ominous warnings that mandating OA self-archiving will 
destroy journals and will destroy a multi-billion dollar 
industry, the usual conflation of Green OA and Gold OA (author OA 
self-archiving, Green, and journal OA publishing, Gold) and the 
usual attempt to delay, derail, filibuster in any way possible.

And the publishing lobby was successful in the UK -- for a while. 
It successfully got the ear of Lord Sainsbury, the UK Industry 
minister (just as it did the EC Commissioner!), But in the end, 
reason prevailed, and now we have 5 out of the 8 UK Research 
Councils plus the Wellcome Trust mandating Green OA 
self-archiving after all, and more mandates planned.

The publishing lobby will *always* say we need more studies and 
consultations. They have to, because they have absolutely no 
empirical evidence to support their Doomsday Scenario: There is 
not even evidence that self-archiving -- even where it has 
reached 100% for years now -- causes cancellations at all, let 
alone destroys journals. In the complete absence of negative 
evidence, and with all actual evidence positive -- for the 
benefits of OA to research, researchers, and the R&D industry -- 
the only thing the publishing lobby can do is to raise the volume 
on its dire but evidence-free predictions: and keep asking for 
more studies, for more evidence!

But what the EC should be asking itself is: What studies? and 
evidence of what? Surely the only way to test whether there is 
any truth at all to the hypothesis that mandating OA 
self-archiving will generate cancellations is to mandate OA 
self-archiving and see whether it generates cancellations! The EC 
does not fund all, most, or much of the contents of any 
individual journal. Hence it is enormously improbable that an EC 
self-archiving mandate will have any significant effect on any 
journal's subscriptions. But the only way to see whether it does, 
is to go ahead and adopt the mandate. Its effects can be reviewed 
and reconsidered after 1, 2 3 years.

Instead doing nothing under the guise of "further studies and 
consultations" is of no use at all.


(2) The other aim of both the publishing lobby *and* the Gold OA 
publishing lobby is to focus the EC on the issue of funding 
journals, instead of on the issue of providing access.

The EC meeting was dominated, appallingly, by discussion of 
journal revenues and economics (to no effect whatsoever, as all 
that was said has already been said, countless times before, for 
nearly a decade now). There was next to no discussion of the 
daily, weekly, monthly cumulative loss of research access and 
impact that is continuing as we continue to talk about the same 
things over and over.

Recall that publishers' warnings about future loss of revenue are 
hypothetical, whereas researchers' loss of current access and 
impact is actual, and cumulative, and also means loss of revenue, 
from lost R&D industrial applications: losses on the public 
investment in research. The cure for that loss of access and 
impact, and of R&D industrial revenue, is to mandate OA 
self-archiving. It has *nothing* to do with the the economics of 
funding Gold OA journals.

The focus on funding journals is a red herring. What the EC needs 
to do is to mandate OA self-archiving. That is Green OA. It does 
not require funding anything: just mandating self-archiving.

Publishers are publishers, whether they are non-OA publishers 
lobbying against OA and self-archiving, or Gold OA publishers 
lobbying against Green OA self-archiving mandates. How and why 
did the EC manage to get diverted from the problem of research 
access (for which the solution is to mandate Green OA) to the 
problem of journal economics?

(3) The research publishing industry is not the industrial 
dimension of research: The R&D industry is. And the R&D industry 
and its revenues are orders of magnitude bigger than those of the 
publishing industry. And the R&D industry shares in the current, 
actual loss of research access and impact that OA is meant to 
cure -- and that the publishing industry lobby is (successfully) 
endeavouring to prevent.

Why is the EC inviting and listening so intently to the views of 
the publishing industry regarding access to research, instead of 
listening to the views of the R&D industry (along with the views 
of the research community itself)? As I have said many times 
before, this is worse than the tail wagging the dog: It is the 
flea on the tail of the dog, wagging the dog.

(4) The substance of the recommendation of the EC petition and 
its 22,000+ signatories (so far), including 1000+ official 
organisation signatories -- universities, research institutes, 
scientific academies, R&D industries, etc. -- is that OA 
self-archiving (Green OA) should be mandated. The voices raised 
for OA were not about funding Gold OA, and certainly not about 
diverting scarce research funds from research to paying 
publishers for Gold OA.

Gold OA cannot be mandated. There seems to be some profound 
confusion about that, even among the proponents of the EC 
Recommendation: The only ones who can be mandated to do anything 
by a funder are the fundees: the researchers funded to do the 

There seems to be an incoherent idea afoot that, somehow, it is 
*publishers* who are to be mandated to do something. Publishers 
know very well that they cannot be mandated to do anything, but 
they are quite happy to draw out the consultations and "studies" 
on topics like embargoes and PDFs in order to give the impression 
that that is what this is all about.

What this is about is mandating OA by mandating that *authors* 
self-archive their own final drafts of journal articles 
immediately upon acceptance for publication. The embargo question 
is only about the date at which those deposits should be made 
Open Access. (Till then, the deposits can be made Closed Access, 
but their metadata are still visible webwide, and individual 
eprints can be requested by users via email.)

But the all-important thing now is not the allowable length of 
this embargo, but about mandating the deposit. The EC has allowed 
itself to be distracted from what this is all about, in order to 
focus instead on embargoes and on funding Gold OA! That can go on 
forever; meanwhile, daily, weekly cumulative loss of EU research 
access and impact continues, and with it loss in EU research 
productivity, progress, R&D applications, and R&D revenue.

Mandate Green OA self-archiving and *then* return to the endless 
consultations on embargo lengths and Gold OA funding! But don't 
allow Green mandates and OA to be filibustered still longer with 
these studies and consultation that lead nowhere but to more 
studies and consultations, as EU research access and impact keep 
hemorrhaging needlessly.

Last point:

(5) One genuine (and valid) point of resistance on the part of 
the research community (rather than the publishing community) 
against OA Mandates concerns their being coupled in any way with 
the redirection of scarce research funds, away from research and 
toward the payment of Gold OA publishing fees. There is no need 
at all to couple the EC OA mandate with the diversion of any 
funds from research to pay Gold OA fees. There is no reason for 
the mandate to make any reference to Gold OA fees at all. The 
mandate should be a Green OA self-archiving mandate. That is all.

(In this respect, the Wellcome Trust mandate is a bad model to 
follow. The Wellcome Trust is a private charity and can do 
whatever it chooses with its funds. But diverting public research 
funds to pay needlessly for Gold OA publishing charges when it is 
not at all necessary -- because subscriptions are still paying 
for publication and Green self-archiving can be mandated to 
provide OA -- is an arbitrary and ill-thought-out step that can 
only generate research community resistance.)

The need for and benefits of OA are a certainty, as is the 
ability of Green OA self-archiving mandates to make all funded 
research OA. In contrast, all hypotheses about the way this will 
or should affect the future of research publication are mere 

The publishing industry has been freely speculating -- with zero 
evidence -- that mandating Green OA will destroy journals and 
peer review. The way to counter such speculations is not to be 
frightened by them into inaction, simply because they are fierce 
speculations. The way to counter them is with plausible 
counterspeculations. So here is one: If and when mandated Green 
OA makes subscriptions unsustainable -- because all articles are 
OA and subscriptions are cancelled -- all the subscribing 
institutions will have vast windfall savings from their cancelled 
subscriptions: Those same institutional windfall savings will 
then be available for redirection to pay for institutional Gold 
OA fees for publishing their outgoing articles, without diverting 
a penny from research..

That will be the time to make the transition to Gold OA 
publishing, not now, when most journals are not OA, when 
subscriptions are paying for all publishing costs, when scarce 
research funds would need to be diverted to pay for any Gold OA 
publishing costs, and when what is urgently needed is not funds 
to pay for Gold OA: what is urgently needed is OA. And it is 
already attainable, via Green. All that needs to be done is to 
mandate it.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum