Ian Gibson on open access

From: Stevan Harnad <harnad_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk>
Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2006 16:03:13 +0100

Ian Gibson (whose introduction to the forthcoming OA book is appended
below) is remarkable, and will certainly get the historic credit for
having shepherded-through the landmark UK Select Committee

Historians and sociologists of science will find it especially
interesting that Ian has done what he has done despite the fact that
much of his admirable populist rationale for OA will prove to have been
completely wide of the functional mark (though perhaps not of the
practical, political mark).

In the PostGutenberg Era, OA will be seen clearly to have been a research community
objective and a research community benefit, in making research
accessible to all researchers who need to use it, not just to those
whose institutions can afford the journal in which it happens to have
been published (as in the Gutenberg Era). OA may or may not eventually
lead to publishing reform, but in and of itself it will become clear that
OA was not and would not have been provided by researchers merely or
primarily in order to reform publishing, nor in order to make journals
more affordable. It will have been provided *by* researchers *for*
researchers because that is what research and researchers need and want,
and the Web has at last made it possible for them to give and get it.

The idea that OA is needed in order to break journal publishers'
"monopoly" may hence prove to have been one of OA's actual intermediate
selling points, in inspiring indignation and action, but it will also
prove to have been a specious point.

Missing the mark too is the notion that OA is needed to feed a "hungry"
public with the content of peer-reviewed research journals. Apart from a
few small and non-representative fields, such as clinically relevant
biomedical research and possibly some areas of applied and social
science research, there is not only no hunger but no appetite on the part
of the general public for reading the mostly specialised and esoteric
peer-reviewed research literature, written by researchers, for researchers
with the expertise to understand and use it (2.5 million articles per
year, across all research fields, in 24,000 peer-reviewed journals). It
is through researchers using, building upon and applying the fruits of
research that the general public benefits from OA, not from reading it
for themselves.

Developing-world access on the part of developing world *researchers*
(rather than the general public) is of course part of the rationale
for OA, but let us not imagine that it is merely or mainly an act of
charity! There are just as many "needy" would-be users in the developed
world as in the developing world, insofar as the research literature is
concerned, because no researcher's institution can afford all the journals
any researcher might ever need, and, a fortiori, none can afford all the
peer-reviewed journals there are (24K). And this would still be true (please
note carefully!) *even if all journals were sold at cost* (zero profit,
hence no point blaming monopolists and price-gougers).

And Ian is even off the mark insofar as "free-riding" is concerned. His
own committee's (spot-on) recommendation was that all researchers should
be required to self-archive their own published research article output in
their own institutional repositories, free for all. Publishers have filled
Ian's ears, no doubt, with apocalyptic alarms about the possibility of
rival publishers free-riding on and underselling that free content: Utter
nonsense, because based on a *profound* misunderstanding of the Web,
of OA itself, and of what comes with the territory:

For if/when all articles are available free for all on the web, it is
absurd to imagine that any free-riding rival publisher will be able to
*sell* them, to anyone! On the contrary (and somewhat incoherently),
the original publishers have also raised alarms about whether they
themselves will continue to be able to sell them, under competition
from their own author's free versions. All evidence to date is that they
can and will; but if/when the subscription/license market should ever
shrink to a non-sustainable level, there can and will be a natural adaptive
transition to OA publishing -- but not before; and there's no sign on the
horizon of anything like that yet.

But having said all that: Neither Ian nor OA enthusiasts (or detractors)
seem to be aware of or deterred by such inconsistencies. So let them keep
fighting for (or against) OA on the grounds of journal affordability,
public accessibility, or what have you, if they like. Just as long it
is Ian's own remedy that the proponents promote: mandated self-archiving
in the researcher's own IR.

For those who are actually in a position to mandate self-archiving,
however -- namely, researchers' own institutions and their research
funders -- it might be helpful if we gave them a more compelling and
face-valid reason for mandating OA than merely to fight publisher
monopolies or to feed peer-reviewed research information to a hungry
general populace: OA self-archiving dramatically enhances the uptake and
usage -- and hence the productivity and progress -- of research itself,
and that is what pays researchers' salaries, funds their research, and
provides the return on the tax-payer's investment in research. OA is
optimal (hence inevitable) for research. It is also already well overdue,
having been reachable for well over a decade now. That's why we need the
self-archiving mandates, at long last.

Stevan Harnad

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Fri, 28 Apr 2006 08:03:24 -0400
From: Peter Suber <peters_at_earlham.edu>
To: SPARC-OAForum_at_arl.org, boai-forum_at_ecs.soton.ac.uk
Subject: [BOAI] Ian Gibson on open access

This is Ian Gibson's foreword to Neil Jacobs (ed.), Open Access: Key
strategic, technical and economic aspects, Chandos Publishing, forthcoming 2006. Forwarding with permission.


----------cut here----------


The era of open access is dawning and it could not come a moment too soon.
The rapid development of the internet and its increased use across the
globe has meant that there is a wide and growing audience that is hungry
and in some cases, desperately in need of information that traditionally
few have been able to access.

The idea of open access is highly controversial and divisive. If one were
to politely mumble the phrase at a dull gathering of academics, publishers
and policy makers, one would be sure to instantly divide the room and
instigate a heated debate. This book is therefore an important introduction
for those who know nothing of a debate that has been raging in academic
circles for a long time. And for those with seemingly entrenched positions,
this book will most certainly change some minds.

In science, my own area of expertise, the issue of open access has been
making troublesome waves in the last few years. The 2004 House of Commons
Science and Technology Committee inquiry 'Scientific Publications: free for
all?' which I chaired, looked into a number of issues; such as whether the
market for scientific publications was working well, the trends in journal
pricing, the impact of new publishing trends on the scientific process, the
integrity of journals and so on. What we found was not pleasant.

The commercial publishing world has an increasingly harmful monopoly on a
number of prestige journals which are essential to disseminating new ideas
and research. This monopoly over knowledge has been one factor underlying
an increase in the price of subscriptions, leaving some academic libraries
with no choice but to cancel subscriptions as they can no longer afford to
pay for a full range of journals.

I believe the current situation is highly unethical. As vast amounts of
public money is used to fund research, it should follow that such research
should be freely available to the public to boost up their knowledge and
appreciation of science, instead of increasing the profit margins of a few
publishing houses. One therefore would be hard pressed to deny the ethical
case for open access. Indeed one only has to think of the need to make new
research readily available to developing countries which do not have the
resources to purchase such information and yet face some of the world's
most devastating problems.

However, better ethical conduct is only one of the many objectives of the
open access project as this excellent collection of essays will show. I do
not deny that there are legitimate fears about the implications of open
access. It is one thing to make information readily available for the
public who through taxation fund such research, and developing countries
who need access to life-saving ideas; but it is quite another matter to
make knowledge available for those who will free ride their way through
improved access to profit themselves. But these are problems I believe can
be overcome with a bit of creativity as some of the authors in this
collection show. Turn the page and start reading.

Ian Gibson MP
Received on Fri Apr 28 2006 - 19:29:33 BST

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