Re: ACS Chemical & Engineering News Editorial: "The Open-Access Myth"

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sun, 28 Mar 2004 22:41:16 +0100

In his editorial "The Open-Access Myth,"
Rudy Baum, the Editor in Chief of the American
Chemical Society's Chemical & Engineering News

> Much has changed in Scientific, Technical, and Medical (STM)
> publishing in the past decade. New electronic methods of delivery
> and of searching and accessing the STM literature have combined
> with ferocious pressure on library budgets to create a whole new
> STM publishing environment. It is an environment that challenges
> everyone involved in this important activity to think hard about
> where it's going and what shape we want it to take.

The advent of the online medium and its many new possibilities certainly
offers STM publishing new ways to think of how to optimize its valuable
services. But, almost independently, it also offers the research community
new ways to think of how to optimize the usage and impact of the articles
they publish.

Professor Baum's editorial on "The Open Access Myth" is focused on the
new forms of STM publishing, and in particular the challenge to Toll
Access Publishing from Open Access Publishing (the "golden" road to
Open Access), but he overlooks the "green" road to Open Access (OA),
which is somewhat orthogonal to the points he makes, yet it delivers us to
the same destination -- and is already delivering OA for 3-5 times as
many published articles yearly as OA publishing does -- namely, OA

> One response to developments in STM primary and secondary publishing
> is the "open access" movement. Starting primarily among the West
> Coast biology and biomedical research communities in the late 1990s,

Although it did not get its name (OA) until 2001, the OA
movement started well before the late 1990's, and it started
with the green road of self-archiving, first formally proposed in 1994 -- -- but already practised
informally by researchers in many disciplines since the late 1980's
(e.g., by physicists since 1991 in Arxiv, a central discipline-based
archive [ ], by computer scientists in distributed
websites harvested into a single search engine called Citeseer since the mid 1990's).

Since 1999, thanks to the interoperability protocol for metadata
harvesting designed by the Open Archives Initiative [OAI, not the same
thing as OA], self-archiving can now be done in either interoperable the
discipline-based archives like CogPrints
or the distributed institution-based Eprint Archives in which a growing
number of Universities are now beginning to self-archive their journal
article output:

So, it's not just been happening in West Coast biomedical research
communities in the late 1990's: it's been happening in all disciplines
and all nations since the late 1980's, but gathering substantial momentum
in the past few years as the evidence of the powerful impact-enhancing
effect of OA provision (via either the gold or the green road) grows
and spreads:

> open-access advocates have pressed a variety of demands on STM
> publishers. Those demands have one common theme: that access to the
> STM literature at some point becomes free to the public. "At some
> point" variously has been defined as six months after publication,
> one year after publication, or immediately.

OA is defined (e.g., by the Budapest Open Access Initiative, BOAI)
as immediate, permanent, toll-free, full-text online access.

    "Shulenburger on open access: so NEAR and yet so far"

    "Needless Pruning of Research's Growth-Tip"

    Harnad, S. (2001) AAAS's Response: Too Little, Too Late.
    Science dEbates [online] 2 April 2001.

But the demand -- by the research community -- is for OA itself (and its
powerful benefits for research progress and productivity, as well as for
reseachers' careers and funding), rather than for publishers to convert
to OA Publishing (the golden road, BOAI-2), particularly. For there is
the green road too (BOAI-1), and it is the faster and more traveled (and,
in my view, the more promising and probable) one because it is the road
taken by the research community itself, rather than being contingent on
pressing demands on STM Publishers.

    "The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition"

> Open access is predicated on an obvious truth and a dangerous
> myth. The obvious truth is that most of the research published
> in the STM literature is supported by public funding. Therefore,
> open-access advocates claim, the research should be freely available
> to the public that funds it.

That is a truth, but it is certainly not the most important or relevant
truth insofar as OA is concerned: The most relevant truth is that all
authors of peer-reviewed journal articles (and not just in the STM
disciplines) write for (and depend upon) *research impact* and not
*royalty revenue*. And they want to maximize that research impact by
maximizing access to their articles. In the on-paper age they did this by
mailing a reprint to any would-be user whose institution could not afford
a subscription to the journal in which the article was published. In
the online age it is no longer necessary to request or send reprints:
authors can just self-archive their eprints online for all would-be
users whose institutions cannot afford toll-access to the journal in
which they were published.

> At first blush, the argument seems reasonable. The dangerous, usually
> unspoken, myth that makes the argument seem reasonable is this: STM
> publishers add little value to the research they publish and therefore
> should not charge institutions for subscriptions to the electronic
> versions of their journals, or, at the very least, they should
> provide open access to the public a short time after publication.

No, there is nothing whatsoever in OA that implies that journals add little value!
The very content to which the OA movement is committed to providing Open Access is
already enshrined in its name: "peer-reviewed journal articles." Implementing the
peer review is an essential, indispensable service that journals provide.

The golden road (OA Journal Publishing) provides OA by changing journals'
cost-recovery model from one where the user-institution pays access-tolls
(subscriptions, licenses) per *incoming* journal to one where the
author-institution pays for the added-value provided by the publisher per
outgoing article, in the form of publication charges. (There are a few
variants on this cost-recovery model, but the details are not pertinent here.)

The green road (author-institution self-archiving of the journal articles
they publish in non-OA journals) is not predicated on any change in
cost-recovery model at all. Although it is hypothetically possible that
it may eventually lead to a transition to the gold cost-recovery model,
the empirical fact about self-archiving is that it has not led to any
change in cost-recovery model so far. This is partly because OA via
self-archiving grows gradually and anarchically, and by the article,
not by the journal.

But even in those fields where OA via self-archiving has already reached
100% and has been there for some years now (such as High Energy Physics),
there has been no cancellation pressure or loss of the toll-revenue-base
for the journals involved. (Indeed, a prominent "born-gold" journal
in this field, JHEP, the Journal of High Energy Physics, started out
as an OA journal, could not make ends meet, and successfully made the
transition to toll-access even though all of its articles remained OA --
via the green road of author self-archiving.)

    "JHEP will convert from toll-free-access to toll-based access"

So: OA does not imply that journals do not add value, nor does it entail
that the costs of adding that value cannot continue to be recovered on the
toll-access model.

> One of the most visible manifestations of the open-access movement
> is the Public Library of Science (PLoS), which describes itself as
> "a nonprofit organization of scientists and physicians committed
> to making the world's scientific and medical literature a public
> resource." That sounds noble, but it implies that the STM literature
> isn't already a public resource, which is debatable.

The wording is a bit vague, but PLoS could just as well have said it straight:
it is dedicated to making journal articles accessible online toll-free
for all potential users, everywhere. No ambiguity there.

The only ambiguity is about the means! PLoS is so far exclusively focussed on the
golden road to OA. This may change. But until it does, PLoS should not be cited as
a representative of OA itself, but only of the OA Publishing road to OA.

> PLoS has already launched one open-access journal, PLoS Biology,
> and plans to launch another, PLoS Medicine, later this year. PLoS
> acknowledges on its website that it does, in fact, cost something
> to publish a journal, but argues that the current practice of
> charging for subscriptions and site licenses is "expensive and
> cumbersome and can involve complex negotiations ... and, of course,
> many institutions simply cannot afford these licenses. Open access
> solves all of these problems."

Again, this can be stated more straight-forwardly: OA means toll-free
access for all would-be users. OA is desirable because it maximizes research
usage and impact.

But the golden road of OA Publishing is neither the only road to OA today,
nor the fastest and surest; nor is it the road with the highest volume
of traffic, growth-rate, or growth potential. The green road of self-archiving
is. So far, PLoS speaks only for the golden road.

> PLoS's business model is to charge a fee of $1,500 per paper to
> authors to cover the costs of publishing. Whether $1,500 per paper
> is a reasonable assessment of the cost of publishing a peer-reviewed
> research paper is open to question. And it's not clear to me what
> advantage is conferred by shifting the cost of publishing from
> libraries to researchers. Most of us thought the elimination of
> page charges was a good thing. Not surprisingly, the PLoS model has
> raised other issues, such as what to do about authors, like those
> in developing countries, who can't afford the charge.

The elimination of all access-denial and its resulting impact-loss will
be an even better thing.

OA is for *all* potential users anywhere whose institutions cannot afford
the toll-access. Otherwise those would-be users' potential research
impact is lost to the article's author, institution, and funder, and to
the progress of research itself.

Authors who cannot afford gold can simply go green.

> Interestingly, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
> just released the results of a survey of 610 corresponding authors
> on open access [101, 5 (2004)]. Only half of the respondents were
> willing to pay a fee to provide open access, and of those, 80%
> said $500 was the most they would pay.

But see the JISC/OSI author survey for how many authors provide OA
already via self-archiving, at no cost, and how many more would willingly
do so if their institutions required them to (Swan & Sheridan 2004):

So let those authors who can find a suitable gold journal for their
article, and can afford its publishing charges, publish their article
there, and let all other authors publish in a suitable toll-access
journal, but also self-archive an open-access version of their article
in their own university's Eprint archives for all would-be users whose
universities cannot afford the access-tolls for the journal in which
it appears.

> STM publishing faces many challenges. Prices charged by some
> commercial publishers are way too high. However, the marketplace is
> responding to those high prices in a predictable way as libraries make
> hard choices and cancel subscriptions. The open-access movement's
> demand that an entirely new and unproven model for STM publishing
> be adopted is not in the best interests of science.

I agree that the demand that all publishers immediately take the golden road is
not reasonable or fair, but only because it is not necessary: Authors can provide
OA for their own articles without having to demand a change in cost-recovery model
on the part of their journals.

> It's human nature to want something for nothing. Unfortunately,
> excellence rarely comes without a price. Perhaps that's the most
> dangerous myth being fostered by the open-access movement: that
> access to high-quality STM literature can be had on the cheap.

OA Publishing is not demanding something for nothing: It is merely
proposing to pay publication costs out of publication fees instead
of access-tolls.

And OA self-archiving is not proposing to change the journal publication
cost-recovery model at all; it is merely proposing to supplement the
existing journal-provided toll-access for all users at institutions that
can afford it with author-provided open-access for potential users at
institutions that cannot afford the journal-provided toll-access.

But what both roads to OA insist on is that authors and their articles
(which they have always given away free to both their publishers and their
users) should no longer keep losing their potential research impact in
an online age when this is no longer necessary:

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 Sun Mar 28 2004 - 22:41:16 BST

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