Re: Budapest Open Access Initiative

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 18 Feb 2002 21:16:50 +0000

On Mon, 18 Feb 2002 [identity removed] wrote:

> The real problem here is "cui bono," i.e., who benefits.

I entirely agree!

> Universities view themselves as collectors of wisdom for the purpose of
> teaching, which they charge for (i.e, that is how they earn their living).

They also pay for that wisdom (with their library acquisitions
budgets). And they are also providers of research (for which they
get research funds and other forms of economic benefit).

> They must maintain a library for that reason.

They maintain a library (mostly books) for teaching as well as
research. But they maintain their refereed journal collections almost
purely for their researchers and their research.

> They do not pay at all for the publication of work by their faculty.

That is correct, and as it should be, for books. But universities
are subsidizing their faculty's refereed research publications many,
many times over, by buying them (as well as the refereed research
output of the other universities) in through their annual refereed
serials subscription/license expenditures.

> Not a penny. Never have, never will.

You state that with great certainty! I wonder whence the certainty?

And is this a law of nature that is governing what looks on the face of
it like simply another university/library budget line-item? Are there
some higher considerations that dictate that, as an investment in
generating windfall savings of as much as 70% on the annual serials
outlay, another budget line-item could not be created, redirecting 30% to
outgoing peer-review costs? Particularly if there is a clear and direct
causal connection between the means of generating the 70% savings
conditional and the redirection of that 30% remainder?

If you are right that "never have, never will" prevails here then
for some reason university (all university?) budgets sounds rather

> So it is a pure flight of fantasy to suppose that universities will somehow
> begin to pay for the dissemination of knowledge for free. That is not the
> business they are in.

We are speaking here about research results only, the ones disseminated
(for free) to refereed journals, not about "knowledge" in general, as
it appears in books, from which authors receive royalties.

Why do researchers give away their refereed research for free? Because
they are seeking research impact: they want other researchers to read,
use, cite, and build upon their research. That is how not only
researchers' careers and their institutions' prestige are enhanced,
but it is also how research funding is accorded, how overheads are
paid, how prizes are won, and how research universities' contributions
to research are recognized and rewarded.

No, universities are not in general in the business of giving away
knowledge for fee, either through their teaching or through their
libraries. But they are certainly in the business of generating
research knowledge; and that work is funded and rewarded on the basis
of its IMPACT. It that impact that refereed journals access-blocking
tolls minimize; and it is in order to maximize that impact that the
BOAI is working for open access.

A redirection of 30% of the university's annual 100% refereed serials
expenditures would not only provide that open access, maximizing
the research impact of the university's research output, and also
making accessible to the university's researchers the refereed research
output of all other universities that do likewise, but it would also
generate 70% annual windfall savings to be used in any way the
university/library likes (e.g., to buy in more knowledge, in the form
of books).

I don't think this is a flight of fancy. (The conviction that
the university lives in "never-never" land sounds rather more
fanciful -- or at least so one would hope!)

> It is also a flight of fanatasy to suppose that
> university librarians will give up the concept of maintaining a library, and
> give up their budgets, for this purpose.

Since when does having annual windfall savings on 70% of one's former
refereed serials outlay to spend instead on books or other serials --
plus sudden open access for all one's users to the entire refereed
corpus of 20,000 journals, far more than the former 100% budget could
ever afford -- constitute giving up the concept of maintaining a
library, or giving up their budgets?

> I think you are going to find that this initiative, like your last, and like
> the PubMed Central idea, are simply not workable in the real world.

I certainly hope you are wrong! Or if it does fail, I hope it will be
for more substantive reasons than ones we have considered here!

Best wishes,

Stevan Harnad
Received on Mon Feb 18 2002 - 21:17:37 GMT

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