RE: Mandating OA around the corner?

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 13 Jul 2004 19:50:03 EDT

On Tue, 13 Jul 2004, David Goodman wrote:

> Stevan, I do not think it possible to "disentangle the serials budget
> problem from the access/impact problem."

It is most definitely possible -- and necessary -- to disentangle them.
What is linking them inextricably in what you write below is only your
very own speculations! You are reading out what you yourself have read in.
Let us leave speculation and theory aside, deal with the here and now, and
it will be obvious that the serials budget problem and the access/impact
problem are distinct problems, and that the latter can be solved, 100%,
through self-archiving, without addressing the former at all.

> The number of subscriptions to many ISI-level scientific serials is at a
> critically low point.

Irrelevant to the access/impact problem. All researchers should
self-archive all their articles, now, and that will provide a 100%
solution to the access/impact problem. This has nothing to do with current
subscription levels one way or the other.

> The funding at many independent scholarly societies is at a critically
> low point.

Irrelevant. All researchers should self-archive all their articles and
that will provide a 100% solution to the access/impact problem. Nothing to
do with society funding.

> Both paths to OA depend to a considerable extent on the continued
> existence of the journals.

Irrelevant. All researchers should self-archive all their articles and
that will provide a 100% solution to the access/impact problem. The
continued existence of journals is not the problem today; continued,
cumulating access/impact loss is.

> The "green" repositories path relies on them for arranging peer review,
> copy editing, and permanent archiving.

Correct: The green path to OA is the self-archiving of the author's own
peer-reviewed journal articles. And your point is...?

We are talking about self-archiving supplementary OA drafts of journal
articles, for all those would-be users webwide whose institutions cannot
afford the journal's proprietary version. No one is talking about doing
away with peer-review or with journals. And it is the journal's
proprietary version, purchased by the subscribing institutions, that has
the archiving burden today, not the author's self-archived supplements.

> The gold "OA journals" path relies on having journals there to change
> to OA. Any viable plan for OA must at the very least not undercut the
> existing journals, or must propose an alternative.

Incorrect. Any viable plan for OA must provide a way to provide 100% OA,
that's all. Talk of "undercutting" journals is pure speculation, with no
evidence in its support. (A decade and a half's evidence instead suggests
exactly the opposite: that OA self-archiving takes place alongside the
toll-access journal system.)

And as to proposing an alternative: An alternative to what? To OA?
Self-archiving is today providing OA for the c. 20% of articles that are
being self-archived annually so far. It can and will provide OA for all
100%, as soon as they are being self-archived.

So what sort of alternative needs to be proposed? We are not talking about
serials budgets; we are not talking about reforming the serials
publication system; we are not talking about OA journal publishing. We are
talking about providing OA, 100% OA.

Does every speculation (e.g., about "undercutting," for which there is
zero evidence) require an "alternative" counter-speculation? Well, if you
want one, here it is, yet again:

But it is an empty exercise. What is needed is OA, not another decade of
paralytic speculation and counter-speculation.

> There are alternatives. For OA journals, it is possible to create new
> journals to replace those that can not or will not convert. This will
> obviously be slower than converting existing titles--and neither of them
> will be very rapid.

This golden road to OA is and continues to be one of the two roads to OA,
but it is the narrower, slower, and more uncertain road. The green road is
the one that can bear 100% of the traffic, right now, providing 100% OA
immediately. Taking only the slow road is almost as bad as just just
speculating paralytically, and providing no OA at all.

> For repositories, it would be possible to convert
> them into permanent structures, capable of supporting the functions now
> done by journals. It would be possible, but again, very difficult. I
> accept that your arguments for not doing this immediately are probably
> correct.

David, you are speculating again. There is no need for institutional OA
Archives to "support the functions now done by journals"! OA Archives'
function is to provide OA! It is journals themselves that support the
functions now done by journals. And we are talking about OA provision (via
either green or gold), not only, or mainly, about OA journal publishing

> For individual archives in a supplemental role, there must be something to
> supplement. Some journals are strong enough to survive alongside the
> archives, like the APS, Many are not.

Pure speculation again, based on zero evidence.

There are about 24,000 journals today, most of them (especially the most
important ones) doing just fine. The problem today is hence not that
journals are tottering but that access and impact are being needlessly
lost daily.

> It will be a very difficult argument to continue subscribing to extremely
> expensive or little-used titles, once a large part of the contents is OA.

Can we please wait to cross that bridge when and if we come to it?

Right now, you are racing ahead with evidence-free (and
inaction-encouraging) speculations while the real, immediately remediable
problem -- which is needless daily, weekly, monthly access/impact-loss --

> How expensive or little-used a title must be, or how large a part must
> be OA, is open only to conjecture on our part and funding decisions on
> others'. As a minimum, one can safely say that just as some journals
> will easily survive, some will not, and it is disingenuous to suggest
> otherwise.

It is open to conjecture, but I suggest that we rather open access and
close conjecturing: We have already done far too much of that, far too

> There may be some scientists who care only about the exposure of their
> work the year after publication. Most citations studies show much longer
> half-lives, and most scholars hope to have a permanent influence.

One gets out of these speculations exactly what one puts into them: The
proposal is to self-archive the annual 2,500,000 articles published in the
planet's 24,000 journals, so as to maximise their usage and impact. You
conjecture that this will undercut journals, and permanence, and having
conjectured that, you read off the consequences as if you were predicting
outcomes from evidence.

The evidence is that the journal system that is currently in place, and
providing the access, impact and permanence that it already provides, can
be *supplemented* with further access and impact, through OA
self-archiving. That is all. The rest is just counterfactual conjecture.
Hypothesis non fingo.

> Fortunately, many others are interested in sustainability, will discuss
> it, and will plan for it. Librarians in particular are quite accustomed to
> being left to deal with the practical details of maintaining and
> preserving the scholarly communications system.

Let those who are concerned with (1) the sustainability of the current
journal publication system occupy themselves with that. Let those who are
concerned with (2) the preservation of proprietary digital content
(including subscribed/licensed journal content) occupy themselves with
that. And let those who are concerned with (3) the preservation of
supplementary self-archived OA versions of that same proprietary digital
content occupy themselves with that.

And let those who are concerned with (4) putting an end to needless
access/impact loss by *providing* the supplementary self-archived OA
versions (with which the supplement-preservationsts, (3), can then concern
themselves) go ahead and do what it takes to generate that 100% OA,
unencumbered by all these other irrelevant agendas, and the speculations
that drive them (or hold them back).

Stevan Harnad
Received on Wed Jul 14 2004 - 00:50:03 BST

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