Re: Maximising the Return on UK's Public Investment in Research

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Sun, 25 Sep 2005 02:57:15 +0100

Letter to Times Higher Education Supplement for publication concerning:

    Laura Barnett and Hanna Hindstrom, "All research to go online,"
    Times Higher Education Supplement, September 23, 2004
    http://www.thes.co.uk/search/story.aspx?story_id=2024710

The Research Councils UK have proposed to mandate that all RCUK fundees
make their articles openly accessible online by self-archiving them on
the web. In a disappointingly inaccurate THES article ('All research to
go online' Sep 23), the authors get most of the important details wrong.
They write:

    THES: '[A] benefit of online *open access publishing* [italics mine]
    would be that academics and researchers would no longer have to
    rely on their institutions to provide access to articles published
    in subscription-only journals.'

Not only is it not open access *publishing* but open access self-archiving
(of their articles published in subscription-only journals) that the
RCUK is mandating for its researchers, but this does not mean that
RCUK researchers will no longer rely on their institutions to provide
access to the journals they subscribe to: How could my giving away my
*own* published articles online provide me with access to the articles
in the journals my institution subscribes to? I give my articles away
so that *other* researchers worldwide whose institutions cannot afford
to subscribe to the journals my articles happened to be published in
can nevertheless access and use them. That is how self-archiving (1)
maximises my own research impact, and, far more important, how it also
(2) maximizes the return on the British public's yearly 3.5 billion
investment in research.

But the THES article also misquotes me on (1):

    THES ("quoting" SH): 'if citations rose by 50 to 250 per cent
    because of online *open-access publishing* [sic: italics mine, but
    not the words] researchers could gain more than 2.5 million a year
    in potential salary increases, grants and funding renewals'

This simply leaves out altogether (2) the far more important 1.5 billion loss
in potential returns on the British public's yearly 3.5 billion pound
investment in research (in the form of at least 50% more citations). Nor
is this an if/then pipe-dream: The projections are based on objective,
published measurements of the degree to which self-archiving increases
research impact.

But by far the worst inaccuracy in the THES article -- and it really does
a disservice to those who pin their hopes on the RCUK policy for
maximising British research impact -- is the gratuitous exaggeration of
what is a real but remediable flaw in the current wording of the RCUK
proposal. The current draft says

    RCUK: 'Deposit should take place at the earliest opportunity,
    wherever possible at or around the time of publication.'

But the THES article instead says:

    THES: 'Under the proposals from Research Councils UK, published work
    would not necessarily go online immediately. Academics and publishers
    would be allowed a grace period, which could last anywhere from a
    few months up to several years. The publisher would determine the
    exclusion period...'

This is utter nonsense, and it would make a nonsense of the RCUK policy,
if this were indeed the form it took. The RCUK's current language simply
needs to be made more precise:

    SH: 'Deposit must take place immediately upon acceptance for
    publication, and access should be made open at the earliest
    opportunity, wherever possible at or around the time of publication.'

(In the meanwhile, the article has already been made visible webwide,
so the authors can already email eprints of it to all those email
eprint-requesters whose institutions cannot afford to access it,
thereby still maximising its impact -- but with more author keystrokes
per article than altogether necessary.)

The 8 co-signatories of the open letter in support of the RCUK policy,
including the inventor of the web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, are quoted
correctly on this, but the THES authors don't seem to notice that
what they themselves have written in THES is contradicted by the
co-signatories' quote:

    TB-L et al: 'We believe the RCUK should go ahead and implement its
    *immediate* [italics mine] self-archiving mandate, without delay.'
    http://openaccess.eprints.org/index.php?/archives/18-guid.html

(More trivially, the THES authors name 4 universities, corresponding
to one each of 4 of the 8 co-signatories, but omit Southampton, the
university of all 4 of the remaining co-signatories, including Sir Tim!)

The last piece of nonsense is this:

    THES: 'Universities are not obliged to implement a repository system,
    which costs about 80,000 to set up and about 40,000 a year in
    maintenance.'

This too is based on a flaw in the current wording of the policy, which
actually says:

    RCUK: '[the articles] should be deposited in an appropriate e-print
    repository (either institutional or subject-based) wherever such a
    repository is available to the award-holder.'

But the cost of creating and maintaining an institutional repository is in
reality less than 10% of the arbitrary and inflated figures cited by THES.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Sun Sep 25 2005 - 06:25:59 BST

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