Re: Nature's vs. Science's Embargo Policy

From: jan velterop <>
Date: Sun, 12 Jan 2003 14:09:03 +0000

On Saturday, Jan 11, 2003, at 23:16 Europe/London, Stevan Harnad wrote:

>JV> I agree with Mike. Nature's new 'licence' is a
>JV> 'pull-the-wool-over-your-eyes' version of what Elsevier calls the
>JV> 'give-backs' and is nothing new at all, just a new PR exercise.
>JV> Clever PR...
>sh> I'm not sure why you're saying that, Jan, but I hope you are prepared
>sh> to eat your words (as I am, if I'm wrong)!

I'm prepared to eat my words, and frankly, hope I have to, due to the
fact that that Nature demonstrates it has indeed done what I don't
think they have, and they make that unequivocally clear.

Why I said what I said is that the Nature copyright policy in question
is already in use since 21 March 2002 (I have a dated pdf from Nature
saying this, for anyone who wants a copy; I don't think I can attach it
to this message to the list). Yet only now, in January of this year,
they've chosen to draw attention to it in an editorial, as Mike pointed
out. Why not in March?

My take is that an internal battle took place between editorial, PR and
legal departments as to how to present it in such a way that it looks
like a positive step and yet is only a a confirmation of an already
widely existing practice. Even Elsevier has a similar policy for quite
a while already (I've pasted it at the end of this message).

Of course, if what the junior permissions person at Nature said about
being allowed to post one's published article on open institutional
repositories is accepted in Phil Campbell's/Nature's response to the
open letter, I'll eat my words.

>JV> BioMed Central have a copyright and licensing policy that can truly be
>JV> seen as leading: No
>JV> restrictions on self-archiving and further dissemination whatsoever.
>JV> That should be the 'gold-standard', not Nature's feeble attempt to look
>JV> good without delivering any substance worth mentioning. Congratulating
>JV> Nature for putting a new gloss on basically an old stance seems unnecessary
>JV> sycophancy to me.
>sh> This sounds a bit shrill! (I'm not sure why...?) My solely interest is
>sh> in hastening universal open access (what I have called, never often
>sh> enough, the optimal and inevitable outcome for all refereed research
>sh> and researchers). Open access can be had instantly if researchers will
>sh> simply self-archive their refereed research in their institutional
>sh> Eprint Archives. Many don't do it because they believe it is somehow
>sh> illegal. Nature now explicitly reassures them that it's ok -- yet you
>sh> are unhappy: Why?

Perhaps it is a bit shrill. I don't expect public praise from you for
BMC (I'm not sure why), but somehow I would have expected public praise
for the PLoS journal initiative, which is, like BMC, a bold step
towards trying to hasten open access, instead of extraordinary praise
for, at best, a tiny incremental shuffle from Nature if that's what it
is at all. (Maybe you have publicly praised the PLoS journal
initiative; I can't find it in the September98 archives).

>JV> Describing the new Nature licence as a 'gift horse' that shouldn't be
>JV> looked in the mouth (in one of Stevan's earlier messages on this topic) is
>JV> giving the wrong impression that the scholarly community should really sit
>JV> back, be patient, shut up, swim on, wait what's being given to them and
>JV> then be grateful for beads and mirrors.
>sh> Jan, this is beginning to border on the absurd! You know very well that
>sh> I've not been preaching patience and shutting up, but immediate open
>sh> access through self-archiving, right now! The Nature policy removes one
>sh> of the perceived obstacles to doing that. Why should that not be
>sh> welcomed?

The problem is that Nature doesn't remove any obstacle. See their FAQs
05_faq.xml&style3Dxml/05_faq.xsl 96 emphasis in bold/asterisks added by

    The licence says I may post the PDF on my "own" web site. What does
    "own" mean?

    It means a personal site, or portion of a site, either *owned by you*
    or at your institution (provided this institution is not-for-profit),
    *devoted to you and your work*. If in doubt, please contact .

    How can I show my article to my colleagues?

    By sending a link to the paper on your website. You may *not*
    distribute the PDF by email, on listservs or on *open archives*. Please
    remember that although the content of the article is your copyright,
    its presentation (i.e. its typographical layout as a printed page)
    remains our copyright.

This only confirms the perceived obstacles, in my view.

>JV> They should simply expect more from publishing, and demand the right
>JV> to self-determination of what can be done with their articles. Besides,
>JV> there would be no point in looking a dead horse in the mouth anyway,
>JV> apart from performing an autopsy.
>sh> What more self-determination should an author who is seeking open
>sh> access for his work expect than the right to provide open access to it? The
>sh> right to *pay* to have the self-archiving done for him? (And Nature,
>sh> and the other 20,000 toll-access journals don't look at all like dead
>sh> horses to me. What I would like to breathe more life into is
>sh> researchers' self-archiving efforts!)
>JV> Of course, authors could always re-format their papers and flip into
>JV> 'subversive mode' again. They could always do that anyway, and
>JV> Nature's new formulation of their restrictions doesn't make that
>JV> any different.
>sh> I have many times said that I now regret ever having called
>sh> self-archiving "subversive"!
>sh> I (like many others) was earlier under the (completely wrong) impression
>sh> that the obstacle to open access to refereed research was publishers. I
>sh> now realize that it is not, and never was. The only obstacle is
>sh> researcher unawareness and inertia.

My point is that authors can always subvert (dodge, if that sounds
better) the rules, but Nature's policy statement just simply doesn't
make it clear that they allow self-archiving in open access
repositories. Why not? Because they don't allow it. What should we
believe? What they actually say on their web site, or what you in your
magnanimity seem to infer?

Of course there still is a lot of author unawareness of what's
possible, even of what the benefits of open access are for them. But
Nature's and other toll-gate publishers' perpetuation of the perception
that open access is not allowed for the articles they publish is less
than helpful in persuading authors.

>sh> Dramatic empirical demonstrations of the causal connection between access
>sh> and impact will make researchers (and their institutions) aware, and
>sh> giving them and their institutions every means to go ahead and do this
>sh> effortlessly will combat the inertia. Removing the perceived obstacles
>sh> (like copyright worries) can only help too. Hence my gratitude (sic)
>sh> to Nature for their explicit support of self-archiving.

Quod non.

>JV> There is a lot to be cheerful and optimistic about with regard to open
>JV> access, but Nature's copyright licence ain't amongst it. The question
>JV> remains, if Nature really permits self-archiving (which is what
>JV> Stevan seems to believe), why don't they make their research papers
>JV> available in open access or at least freely available after a short time
>JV> (say a month or two)?
>sh> Supporting self-archiving does not mean *doing* it for the author! That
>sh> would be for Nature to become an open-access publisher like BMC (at a
>sh> time when it is far from clear that ends can be made to meet yet that
>sh> way): Is *that* what you wanted Nature to do?

The key is to bring about open access. That means something more and
more profound than just supporting self-archiving, although it is
clearly recognised that self-archiving can be an important way to
achieve open access. We shouldn't confuse goals with means to get there.

I do indeed argue (and have for a long time) that Nature should make
their primary research articles available in open access (I'm concerned
only with primary research 96 the stuff of 'publish-or-perish'; not the
considerable amount of synthetic 96 review 96 articles, commentary, news,
and other magazine-style content). Preferably input-paid, to help
establish that funding model of scientific communication, but if they
choose to cross-subsidise that's fine, too. Nature do not realise much
revenue from publishing primary research these days. It helps to keep
up the brand prestige, but the revenues come from advertising,
subscriptions and licences, none of which would suffer if the primary
research were open access. Individual subscriptions and advertising not
at all, and for institutional licensees the synthetic and commentary
content is of such value that there is unlikely to be a reduction in
numbers of licensees either. Nature could even increase its standing
and importance, as there would be no reason to maintain the 90%+
rejection rate. At least some articles are not rejected for reasons of
quality, but for reasons of lack of space in the pages. So they could
publish more, print less (no reason to print more than the abstracts
and perhaps one or two of the most newsworthy articles and save on
paper and postage), and have the same, or more, revenues (add article
charges to the current revenues, which otherwise won't diminish).

>JV> There's nothing to be lost for them that cannot be compensated by the gains
>JV> they could make from such a policy, in my view. Open access advocates
>JV> should keep up the pressure instead of relenting when offered a cigar from
>JV> their own box.
>sh> Pressure for on whom to do what, how? It is not journals that need to
>sh> be pressured but researchers. Unlike journals, they can provide open
>sh> access without any risk of revenue loss, only the prospect of
>sh> lost-impact gained!

Sure, but journals ought to be pressured into removing the (perceptual
and real) barriers.

>JV> We publish and believe in open access to research articles, but not
>JV> in a free lunch. The $500 article processing fee has to be seen in the
>JV> context of an amount as much as ten times that, which is currently
>JV> being forked out per article by the scientific community.
>sh> True. But at BMC this is not yet merely a peer-review service charge,
>sh> with archiving offloaded onto the authors' institutions. When that is
>sh> the case, the cost may prove to be lower... (But as long as a product
>sh> is provided, instead of just the peer-review service, costs will not
>sh> be minimized to the essentials.)

Correct, but the organisation of peer-review is the most work and the
major portion of the cost. The cost is actually more than $500 per
article now, as we haven't quite reached the requisite scale yet. But
between peer-review and archiving (which, incidentally is 'off-loaded'
in that BMC material is deposited in permanent open archives such as
PubMed Central, INIST France, and soon to be announced some others, and
any institution anywhere in the world, or anyone else for that matter,
is free to store, and even sell, BMC material), there is a phase to do
with making the material suitable for proper web dissemination and
permanent archiving in a variety of formats. It is often amazing what
the state of manuscripts is. Especially non-textual bits like formulae,
tables and photo or line illustrations. What we do for the $500 charge
is get that in perfect order as well, in XML as basis, XML-derived
HTML, and PDF, with all the live links to other literature incorporated
and all that as well. By the time all that can be done effortlessly,
faultlessly and automatically by the authors we'll no-doubt see a
reduction in costs. Thus far, these matters are included by many in the

>JV> The actual price per article is very much dependent on the scale and
>JV> efficiency of the operation, given that so much of the cost is fixed
>JV> (the system) or quasi-fixed (staff). The $500 per article of BMC is
>JV> based on assumptions of scale which we believe are achievable within
>JV> a reasonable amount of time. These assumptions are ambitious, but not
>JV> overly so. There is a lower limit to those economies of scale, though,
>JV> because of basic technical and production costs and the like, and that
>JV> lower limit now seems to be under $500, but only just. This may change
>JV> over time (in either direction, I might add), but is unlikely to
>JV> result in costs that are massively lower or higher.
>sh> Basically, this is still based on reckoning the costs for a product
>sh> rather than for just the peer-review/certification service, with the
>sh> rest offloaded onto the author's institution. As such, it is still
>sh> needlessly high.

See my comments above.

Elsevier's Copyright Policy:
(From What rights do I retain as author?

    As an author, you retain rights for large number of author uses,
    including use by your employing institute or company. These rights are
    retained and permitted without the need to obtain specific permission
    from Elsevier Science.

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    described in the article.

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    for their own personal use, including for their own classroom use, or
    for the personal use of colleagues, provided those copies are not
    offered for sale and are not distributed in a systematic way outside
    of the employing institution.

    The right to post the article on a secure network (not accessible to
    the public) within the employer's institution.

    The right to retain a preprint version of the article on a public
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    Posting of the article as published on a public server can only be done
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Received on Sun Jan 12 2003 - 14:09:03 GMT

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