Re: A Note of Caution About "Reforming the System"

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 14 Jan 2004 18:41:10 +0000

> I am a science writer from [deleted]. I am sending you four questions
> I have for an article that I am writing about the open access debate in
> [deleted].
> 1 There are approximately 20,000 scientific journals. Currently only a
> fraction operates on an open access model. Do you expect the number of
> open journals to rise significantly in the next, say, 10 years?

The number of journals in question is peer-reviewed research journals
(not necessarily only scientific ones) and the current updated
estimate of how many of them there in all is 24,000, publishing
about 2,500,000 articles annually:

About 1000 (under 5%) of the 24,000 journals are Open Access (OA)
journals. The rest are Toll Access (TA).

I expect the number of OA journals to rise in the next 10 years, and
I hope it will rise significantly, but I do not believe it will rise
anywhere near significantly enough to bring us near 100% on its own.

But it is not necessary for all or even most of the remaining 23,000
TA journals to convert to OA for there to be 100% open access to all
2,500,000 articles published annually:

Creating, converting and publishing in OA journals is the "golden"
road to OA. The "green" road to OA is for those authors who do
not have a suitable OA journal in which to publish their article:
they can instead publish it in a suitable TA journal but also to
provide OA to it by self-archiving it in their own institution's
OA Eprint Archives:

Via this dual open-access provision strategy all peer-reviewed journal
articles can be made OA very soon.

> 2 Some open journals also employ open peer review. What do you think
> about it? Are both kinds of openness linked as some proponents argue?

They are not linked at all -- and when they are linked in some people's
minds, it serves as a deterrent to OA provision.

The goal of the OA movement is to free peer-reviewed research from
access-tolls, so as to maximise its usage and impact. The goal is not
to free peer-reviewed research from peer-review!

Peer-review reform is a completely independent issue, and reform
proposals need to be tested and shown to work before being considered
for adoption. None have been. They have simply been advocated a priori.

That is why associating open-access and "open review" proposals
has worked to the detriment of open access.

> 3 Is the open access model only a way back to the roots of science as
> public knowledge? Or an essential future direction towards a new chance
> for interdisciplinarity as cross-disciplinary access to papers is
> getting much easier?

If it had not been for the true and sizeable costs of Gutenberg-era
publication and dissemination, peer-revewed research would never have
been sold for payment, as most of the rest of the literature is. The
authors of research articles do not write for royalties or fees but for
research impact. Toll-barriers are barriers to usage and impact. In the
Gutenberg era they were unavoidable, because they were the only way to
recover the true costs of paper publication.

In the PostGutenberg, online era, this is no longer true. Hence the
advent of OA.

Yes, much research is publicly funded. So funding agencies can be a help
in hastening the OA era.

And yes, OA will promote interdiscipliarity too. But OA's primary
rationale is that researchers do and report research so that it can be
used, not so that it can be sold; and OA at last allows them to maximise
its usage by either replacing (gold) or supplementing (green) TA with OA.

> 4 One could also argue that the whole journal system as it is supports
> Paul Feyerabend's criticism of the narrowmindedness of the scientific
> community as expressed for instance in "Against Method" - that new
> methods are hampered by it rather than supported. What do you think
> about that?

I think Feyerabend's is fine armchair speculation but has very little
to do with reality.

Journals are simply peer-review service providers. Peers are simply
qualified experts in the specialty area of a submitted paper. (Peers
review for free, just as authors give aeay their papers for free.) If
peer review were abandoned or replaced by anarchic opinion polls, the
2,500,000 annual articles in the 24,000 journals whose usage and impact
we were trying to free from access-tolls would quickly devolve to the
level of the free-for-all chatter on Usenet (the global graffiti board
for trivial pursuit) -- until peer review was simply re-invented.

This is because all of us -- except when we are in armchair Feyerabendian
mode -- if we have a sick relative, would rather they were treated by
information vetted by qualified experts than by a gallup poll.

    The Invisible Hand of Peer Review.

    Peer Review Reform Hypothesis-Testing

    A Note of Caution About "Reforming the System"

    Self-Selected Vetting vs. Peer Review: Supplement or Substitute?

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2004)
is available at the American Scientist Open Access Forum:
        To join the Forum:
        Post discussion to:
        Hypermail Archive:

Unified Dual Open-Access-Provision Policy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.
Received on Wed Jan 14 2004 - 18:41:10 GMT

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