Re: UK Select Committee Inquiry into Scientific Publication

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 19 Apr 2004 20:52:06 +0100 (BST)

Re: Richard Poynder, The Inevitable and the Optimal,
Information Today, April 1, 2004.

     Accelerating the Transition to the Optimal and Inevitable

            Stevan Harnad

In the Internet age, open access (OA) has indeed become optimal and
inevitable. It remains only to make it actual! In an article that is
largely on target, Richard Poynder notes that there are two ways to
provide OA: (1) publishing articles in OA journals and (2) publishing
them in conventional journals but self-archiving them publicly on the web
as well. The UK Select Committee has so far ignored (2), even though (2)
is providing and can provide far more immediate OA.

But then Richard adds:

    "[I]f governments truly want to help, they need to also ensure
    that scholarly communication does not break down in the process
    of transition... Self-archiving... is the fastest growing form of
    [OA]... with or without publisher approval. At the same time... the
    library community is voting with its feet by aggressively cutting
    journal subscriptions... The danger is that these growing acts of
    civil protest could, in the short term, exacerbate the crisis. For if
    research institutions and universities cancel more and more journal
    subscriptions and open access publishing cannot immediately fill
    the gap, those in need of research may find themselves having to
    sift through a hodgepodge of (frequently unrefereed) self-archived

This is unfortunately a non sequitur! There is no civil protest and no
prospect of a breakdown! Self-archiving one's own articles is perfectly
legal, has been growing since at least 1991, and already has the
official "green light" from close to 60% of publishers, all eager to
demonstrate that although they may not wish to lower their prices, nor
to take the risk of converting to OA publishing, they have no wish to be
seen as blocking what is optimal and inevitable for research and
researchers. But the optimal and inevitable is OA, not necessarily lower
journal prices or OA publishing!

Although it was the library community and its journal budget crisis that
first brought the research-access problem to the research community's
attention, the journal-pricing problem and the research-access problem
are not the same problem! Libraries cannot cancel journals unless their
users no longer need access to them. OA publishing (1) grows journal by
journal. But OA self-archiving (2) grows anarchically, article by article.
So it is not at all clear whether and when libraries can cancel any
particular journal; yet the research community's access problem keeps
shrinking as OA grows.

Nor is there a hodgepodge to worry about: OA means open access to the
article; that is what authors self-archive. They may also self-archive
the unrefereed preprint, and later revisions, and other things too,
but the measure of the amount of OA there is at any given point is the
percentage of the annual 2.5 million articles (published in the world's
24,000 peer-reviewed journals) that are openly accessible on the web:
currently 5% through (1) being published in OA journals and about 20% (2) through being self-archived, much
of it accessible through the "google" of the OA literature, OAIster:

One can speculate about hypothetical transition scenarios, and I and
others have (Harnad 1997, 2001), but there is nothing either speculative
or hypothetical about what is needed now, which is a systematic policy
on the part of universities and research institutions worldwide to provide
OA for all their journal article output. A JISC survey (Swan & Brown 2004)

    "asked authors to say how they would feel if their employer or funding
    body required them to deposit copies of their published articles in
    one or more... repositories. The vast majority... said they would do
    so willingly."

That is what the UK Select Committee should be worrying about building up
(not about a counterfactual breakdown), if we are all to reach the optimal
and inevitable while we are still compos mentis and able to benefit from

Harnad, Stevan (1997) How to Fast-Forward Serials to the Inevitable and
the Optimal for Scholars and Scientists. Serials Librarian 30: 73-81.

Harnad, Stevan (2001) The Self-Archiving Initiative. Nature 410:

Swan, A. & Brown, S.N. (2004) JISC/OSI Journal Authors Survey Report.
Received on Mon Apr 19 2004 - 20:52:06 BST

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