Royal Society Offers Open Choice

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Thu, 22 Jun 2006 19:11:59 +0100

  Pertinent Prior AmSci Topic Thread:
  "Not a Proud Day in the Annals of the Royal Society" (Nov 2005)

On Thu, 22 Jun 2006, [Identity Deleted] wrote:

> I'm working on a brief article... on the decision by
> the Royal Society to dip its toe into the waters of open access
> publishing and wondered if you had a moment to reflect on this.

> I must admit I was surprised when I heard the news. The Royal Society
> has been so cautious, not to say negative, about the whole idea up
> until now. Would you care to share your thoughts?

It is fine that the Royal Society is experimenting with the "EXiS Open
Choice" option (giving individual authors the choice to pay their
journal to make their article Open Access [OA] for them), but this is
a minor gesture, given that the Royal Society is stoutly -- and so
far successfully -- opposing the RCUK proposal to mandate that all RCUK
fundees make their own articles OA by depositing them in their own
institutional (or central) OA repositories.

What the research world needs today is OA: 100% OA (not necessarily OA
publishing: OA itself). It is a matter of historical record that (without
consulting its membership) the Royal Society, driven by its publishing arm
-- and exactly as many other (decidedly non-royal) publishers have done --
has shrilly opposed the UK proposal to mandate that UK-funded researchers
provide immediate OA by self-archiving their research: opposed it on
the grounds of no evidence whatsoever, just speculative hypotheses of
doom and gloom (eliciting great disappointment in the Royal Society's
admirers, as well as an open letter of protest from 64 of its members,
including 6 Nobel Laureates, opposed to the Royal Society's stance on OA).

The fact that the Royal Society, like a number of other publishers,
is now trying a leisurely experiment with Open Choice by offering their
authors and their institutions the option of paying for OA is next to
ludicrous in this context -- while institutional funds are still tied up
in subscriptions, while there is no evidence that self-archiving reduces
subscriptions, and while publishers are vigorously opposing self-archiving
mandates on the grounds that they might reduce subscriptions.

Although the analogy is unfairly shrill, it is useful in order to make
the underlying logic transparent if we note that this is not unlike a
call for an immediate public-smoking ban being opposed by a royal tobacco
company, with a counter-offer to sell individual clients an alternative
smoke-free product, as a matter of (paid) personal choice.

We will never even come near 100% OA if we keep waiting for the 24,000
journals to convert to paid OA publishing, one by one, author by author,
under these conditions. OA and hybrid OC (Open Choice) journals today
are merely a sop for the ongoing worldwide need for immediate OA: They
do little to stanch the daily, needless hemorrhaging of research usage
and impact.

An OA self-archiving mandate for publicly funded research (like a
public-smoking ban), as proposed by the RCUK, FRPAA and EC (and already
implemented by the Wellcome Trust and 6 universities and research
institutions) would be a genuine remedy, but the Royal Society is opposing

This is a sad historical fact -- even though, to its credit, the
Royal Society's 7 journals are among the 94% of journals that have
endorsed their authors' right to exercise the choice of self-archiving
their own papers, if they wish:

  "the author(s) may... post the work in its published form on their
  personal or their employing institution's web site"

It is just that the choice that the Royal Society affirms with one hand,
it lobbies vigorously with the other hand to discourage authors, their
institutions and funders from actually exercising.

There is absolutely nothing in the Royal Society's ignoble deportment
today that warrants making any reference whatsoever to its noble history
in the evolution of research and publishing. The less said about that,
the better.

Stevan Harnad
Received on Thu Jun 22 2006 - 21:20:16 BST

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