Re: Not a Proud Day in the Annals of the Royal Society

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 24 Nov 2005 16:07:52 +0000

On Thu, 24 Nov 2005, Iain Stevenson wrote

> On the contrary, is not what the Royal Society saying in its statement is that
> we need more research about what researchers actually want before OA and
> repositories become standard policy for research communication? In so doing,
> it is upholding its proud history of seeking evidence and drawing conclusions
> from research rather than jumping on bandwagons.

(1) Self-archiving has been practised now by researchers for over 15 years.

(2) A sizeable and growing body of research has been confirming,
repeatedly, that self-archiving enhances research impact substantially,
in all disciplines tested (12 to date, in physical sciences, biological
sciences, social sciences and humanities).

(3) The publishers in the discipline where self-archiving has been
practised the longest (physics), and that has in some subfields reached
100% years ago, have reported that it has had no detectable negative
effect on subscriptions.

So is the Royal Society really proudly holding out for more evidence or is it
trying to hold onto Ptolemaic Epicycles in order to filibuster an already
demonstrated and long overdue benefit to research and researchers?

> There has not been enough
> research to show what researchers actually want and that which has been done,
> notably the work of Rowlands et al at CIBER, seems to show that researchers are
> hazy and confused about OA and the benefits of self-archiving and institutional
> repositories over conventional publishing.

Iain Stevenson, ex officio, as a publisher apologist, seems to be focusing
on market research for publishers and their products when he speaks of
"research." Researchers will perhaps be forgiven if they mistake what
the Royal Society means by "research" here for research on the actual
effects of self-archiving on research and researchers, not research on
its hypothetical effects on publishers' revenue streams, or their opinions

But in any case, both lines of research have been underway for some time, and
the outcome is quite clear: Strong, consistent, repeated evidence of positive
benefits to research and researchers; no evidence, in 15 years, of negative
effects on subscriptions. (The CIBER study is a publishers' opinion survey;
interesting, but hardly objective evidence of anything but opinions.)

> I for one am profoundly depressed
> that a body that represents UK research funders like RCUK can take the
> Stalinist view embodied in its statements which seems to be based much more in
> dirigiste managerialism than good research about demand and benefits. Or is it
> too much to expect research councils to commission some research?

Stalinist to extend the existing "publish or perish" condition on
receiving tax-payer money to conduct research in the first place to:
"publish and also self-archive" in order to maximise the usage and impact
of your research? (Would Iosip Vissarionovich ("Soso") have favoured
disbursing state funds with no strings attached?)

Dirigiste managerialism to apply 15 years of empirical evidence on the
benefits of self-archiving to policy, and put it into practise?

And let the research councils by all means commission further studies on Open
Access (JISC has already commissioned several excellent ones), as it is indeed
a research matter, to analyse the rich new scientometric effects and powers
that an Open Access research database offers for measuring, evaluating,
predicting, navigating, and maximising research progress and impact.

> Earlier this week I attended an invitation only conference sponsored by the
> British Department of Trade and Industry about Research Communication that had
> the laudable aim of bringing together stakeholders in the research
> communication process--funders, information managers, publishers and
> researchers to discuss what was needed. However, I was deeply disturbed to
> hear a succession of funders and information managers affirm their faith in OA
> and repositories as the way forward without--when pressed--having any evidence
> that this is what the research community (and let us not forget that funders
> and information managers exist to support the research enterprise not the other
> way about) actually want.

If you want to see the evidence of what researchers actually
want, why not consult the published research evidence from the two
international JISC-commissioned author surveys, rather than just the
publisher-commissioned studies self-servingly surveying themselves?

    Swan, A. (2005) Open access self-archiving: An Introduction. Technical
    Report, JISC, HEFCE

    Swan, A. and Brown, S. (2005) Open access self-archiving: An author
    study. Technical Report, External Collaborators, Key Perspectives

    Swan, A. and Brown, S. (2004) Authors and open access
    publishing. Learned Publishing 17(3):pp. 219-224.

    Swan, A. and Brown, S. (2004) ISC/OSI JOURNAL AUTHORS SURVEY
    Report. Technical Report, JISC, HEFCE

> Evangelism and blind faith can to be sure result
> in colourful ceremony and impressive liturgy but if the congregation (the
> researchers) don't know what is going on, it is only empty rhetoric. At the
> conference, it was significant that the researchers were conspicuous by their
> absence, despite having been invited.

Perhaps researchers (rightly) regard research access and impact as a researcher
affair, and not a publisher affair.

That said, it is true that researchers have been sluggish in actually doing what
most of them by now (evidence shows) already know to be in their best interests.
That too has emerged from the JISC surveys:

    "second author international, cross-disciplinary study on open
    access... 1296 respondents... Almost half (49%) of the respondent
    population have self-archived at least one article during the last
    three years. Use of institutional repositories for this purpose
    has doubled and usage has increased by almost 60%... Self-archiving
    activity is greatest amongst those who publish the largest number
    of papers. There is still a substantial proportion of authors
    unaware of the possibility of providing open access to their work by
    self-archiving. Of the authors who have not yet self-archived any
    articles, 71% remain unaware of the option. With 49% of the author
    population having self-archived in some way, this means that 36%
    of the total author population (71% of the remaining 51%), has
    not yet been appraised of this way of providing open access...
    Communicating their results to peers remains the primary reason
    for scholars publishing their work; in other words, researchers
    publish to have an impact on their field. The vast majority of
    authors (81%) would willingly comply with a mandate from their
    employer or research funder to deposit copies of their articles
    in an institutional or subject-based repository. A further 13%
    would comply reluctantly; 5% would not comply with such a mandate."

The above is the evidence-based rationale for the RCUK self-archiving mandate.
Now to the evidence for RS's doomsday hypothesis, on the basis of which it
is trying to delay the RCUK mandate, pending still further evidence:

    "In a separate exercise we asked the American Physical Society
    (APS) and the Institute of Physics Publishing Ltd (IOPP) what
    their experiences have been over the 14 years that arXiv has been
    in existence. How many subscriptions have been lost as a result of
    arXiv? Both societies said they could not identify any losses of
    subscriptions for this reason and that they do not view arXiv as
    a threat to their business (rather the opposite -- in fact the APS
    [American Physical Society, publisher] helped establish an arXiv
    mirror site at the Brookhaven National Laboratory)."

Institute of Physics Publishers (IOPP) are shortly establishing a mirror
site too.

Perhaps the Royal Society should consider establishing an archive for FRS
research output: They could do so by harvesting the FRS content from the
UK Institutional Repositories that will be filled thanks to the RCUK
self-archiving mandate. It might even breed some new archivaneglists amongst
the Fellows of the Royal Society.

> To my mind, this is 'the dog in the
> night time' (reference 'Silver Blaze' to non-Sherlockians): they weren't there
> because it doesn't matter to them and it wont matter to them until there is
> real research to show the benefits. It is an affront to the entire research
> community that a body like RCUK can draw conclusions and determine policy
> before even basic research about demand and benefits has been conducted. Or
> is it normal for the verdict to be reached before the trial has been
> conducted?

What is normal is to consult and act upon the strong and consistent
existing evidence, if one is a scientist, as RCUK has done, and not
to engage in protectionist polemics and filibusters, as the Royal
Society and its apologists are doing, disguising counterfactual claims
about hypothetical risks to publisher revenue streams -- for which
there exists no evidence, and 15 years' worth of counterevidence --
as disinterested calls for further empirical evidence, of which there
is plenty already, both for the presence of positive effects of open
access and self-archiving on research and for the absence of any negative
effects of open access self-archiving on publishing.

The RS's calls for "further evidence" are calls for empirical support for a
doomsday hypothesis of the publishers' own imagination, for which no
actual empirical evidence exists. The RCUK's call for a self-archiving
mandate, in contrast, is based on strong and long-standing evidence of its
benefits to research and researchers.

This is why this will not be remembered as a proud day for the Royal Society.

> Oh, and by the way, can I nail the canard that the Royal Society published the
> world's second scientific journal? Of course Phil. Trans. holds that
> distinction but it was published as a commercial venture by Henry Oldenberg,
> one of those despised publishers who stand in the way of progress. As indeed
> was Journal des Scavans, the earliest scientific journal.

Bravo. Long live commercial ventures. And long live the Royal Society.

Now, let us get on with maximising UK research impact by maximising online
access to UK research online in the online age, as the RCUK is proposing
to do, on the basis of the strong supporting empirical evidence, and as
is already long overdue.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Thu Nov 24 2005 - 16:22:01 GMT

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