Re: Open Choice is a Trojan Horse for Open Access Mandates

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Tue, 5 Sep 2006 21:46:58 +0100

On Tue, 5 Sep 2006, Jan Velterop wrote:

> I don't recognise your reconstruction of my argument, Stevan. It's
> really very simple. I don't believe in putting a lot of effort
> (including mandates) in a second-best, eventually unsustainable, band-
> aid solution, where a solid, sustainable and radical (at the roots)
> solution is clearly possible.
> That's all.

I think this illustrates very clearly what divides us, Jan: For
you, maximising immediate research usage and impact by mandating
self-archiving, right now, is a "band-aid solution."

But perhaps you'll forgive researchers, their institutions, their funders,
and the public that funds them, for considering that "band-aid solution",
instead, an end in itself.

At the root of this division is the fact that we are not even addressing the same
problem: I am addressing the problem of *research accessibility* -- a current,
pressing problem, as research access and impact are being needlessly lost daily,
and self-archiving mandates would immediately remedy that.

You are addressing the problem of journal affordability and publishing
reform, which is *not* a pressing problem in its own right today (i.e.,
apart from the research accessibility problem), and would become an
even less pressing problem if the research accessibility problem were
remedied. (Journal affordability matters less if there is a supplementary
self-archived author's version accessible, for any article in a
journal your institution cannot afford.)

You speak of catastrophic cancellations as a possible outcome of the
"band-aid solution," and the need, instead, to redirect the funds that are
already being spend on subscriptions toward OA publication costs.

Fine. Then just let the "band-aid solution" be put in place, make
the research community happy by maximising access and impact now, by
mandating self-archiving, and let that very process free up the funds
to be redirected to OA publishing costs, if catastrophic cancellations
are indeed in the cards!

But instead, you are deprecating the "band-aid solution" (in reality a
"self-aid" solution!), a solution that funders and universities are
inclined, and in a position to mandate, and some have already done so
-- and lobbying for a more "radical" solution to *another* problem:
publishing reform, rather than research accessibility.

And you are quite happy to put and keep the solution to the research
accessibility problem on hold still longer, in working toward your more
radical solution to the publishing reform problem -- which is to get the
universities and funders to redirect their funds from subscriptions to
OA publishing a-priori, even without knowing whether there is any need,
nor how much those redirected funds should be.

I think I have reconstructed your argument fully. I think you just don't
like the way it looks when I put it this way!

Moreover, redirecting funds, open-endedly and arbitrarily, from
subscriptions to OA publishing fees, in a worldwide network of
interdigitating subscription-consumer institutions and article-provider
institutions (wearing different hats) would amount to rather radical
reconstructive surgery indeed, requiring all parties to agree to the

So what you propose instead is a leveraged transition, with institutions
double-paying the asking price, in exchange for the promise that the price will
eventually go down: Keep paying subscriptions to whatever journals you are
subscribing to, but for those of your authors publishing in *my* journals, pay me
my asking price per article, and eventually we will pass on any economies to
all of our customers (plus maybe a bigger price break for your institution,
depending on how many articles you publish with us).

Go ahead and offer that. It's fine with me, and I wish it every success. But
don't conflate that attempt to reform publishing with what it is that I and other
advocates of self-archiving mandates are trying to do, which is to maximise
research access and impact right now, not to reform publishing.

Let the two projects proceed in parallel. I welcome Open Option as a
parallel experiment. But not when it is used to discourage the solution
to the accessibility problem as an "unsustainable" band-aid solution:

Not even the "sustain" has the same referent for us! My band-aid is to
put an *end* to a sustained daily loss of research usage and impact that
has already been going on far too long. Even a temporary tourniquet on that
chronic hemorrhage would be welcome relief.

You, in contrast, are talking about sustaining the ongoing revenue
streams of the publishing industry: Fair enough. We have agreed that we
would all be delighted if your radical solution to that other problem
-- publishing reform -- succeeded. But in the mean time, do you mind
if we proceed with trying to mandate the bandaging of the open wounds,
rather than waiting to see whether your radical reconstructive surgery
eventually brings relief some day?

Because, you see, *authors*, for some bizarre reason, are not voluntarily
bandaging their wounds, even though the bandages are free. If they won't bandage
them for free, it's even more unlikely that they'll want to pay for collective
reconstructive surgery, voluntarily.

Now, their minders are becoming increasingly minded to mandate the bandages, but
it is highly unlikely that they are minded to mandate (and fund) the radical
collective surgery.

So let the bandages be mandated while you see what headway you can make in
parallel on your more radical procedure. Who knows, the band-aid solution may
even prove to help you along your way!

(Sorry for the increasingly shrill metaphors! It's all a lot simpler than

Stevan Harnad

> On 5 Sep 2006, at 19:43, Stevan Harnad wrote:
> > On Tue, 5 Sep 2006, L-Soft list server at SIGMA XI (1.8d) wrote:
> >
> >>> SH:
> >>> Why should funders pay a penny more now, when all
> >>> publication costs are still being paid out of
> >>> institutional subscriptions?
> >>
> >> JV:
> >> And who funds the institutions to pay for subscriptions? The very
> >> same
> >> funders! They are paying right now. All I'm suggesting is that
> >> they use
> >> their money to support open access publishing directly. More
> >> money? The
> >> same money. No new or extra money.
> >
> > Let me try to reconstruct Jan's argument:
> >
> > (1) He is concerned that self-archiving might cause subscription
> > cancellations
> >
> > (2) So he suggests that funders should stop funding subscriptions
> > (thereby causing cancellations) -- and use the money to pay OA
> > publishing
> > costs instead.
> >
> > This makes Jan's into a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy!
> >
> > But the reality is that:
> >
> > (i) Subscriptions are not being cancelled (even in the few fields with
> > high spontaneous self-archiving rates)
> >
> > (ii) But spontaneous self-archiving is still mostly far too low: hence
> > the need for self-archiving mandates.
> >
> > We still have very few self-archiving mandates. It sounds to me --
> > correct me if I am wrong, Jan -- as if Jan would like to add to the
> > (so
> > far still non-existent) self-archiving mandates the further condition
> > that funders should redirect funds from subscriptions to OA publishing
> > costs.
> >
> > I think that is asking the mandaters to mandate a lot more, not less,
> > when we still don't yet even have enough of the less (i.e., self-
> > archiving
> > mandates!). Meanwhile, research impact -- the rationale for OA (which
> > is not journal economics!) continues to be lost, daily.
> >
> > Jan worries about hypothetical future loss of publisher subscription
> > revenue; I worry about actual present loss of research impact. The
> > direct
> > and certain remedy for the latter -- actual, present -- problem is
> > self-archiving mandates.
> >
> > I do not see why these self-archiving mandates -- hard enough (and
> > taking
> > long enough) to get already -- should be further burdened by economic
> > demands that not only complicate them and create further resistance,
> > but for which there is not even any evidence that they are necessary.
> >
> > Here is my counterproposal:
> >
> > (1) Mandate OA self-archiving now.
> >
> > (2) IF/WHEN OA self-archiving start shows signs of significantly
> > reducing
> > subscriptions,
> >
> > (3) THEN redirect the subscription funds to pay OA publishing
> > costs: "The
> > same money. No new or extra money."
> >
> > In other words, do it empirically, as needed:
> > mandate self-archiving --> OA ?-->? cancellations --> redirection
> > of funds
> >
> > Not a-priori:
> > mandate redirection of funds --> OA
> >
> > The goal of OA, after all, is OA, not redirection of funds!
> >
> >>> SH:
> >>> (Jan, your arguments are awfully familiar, and they sound
> >>> very much like those of the non-OA publisher lobby that has
> >>> been opposing the OA self-archiving mandates...)
> >>
> >> Maybe it's time you read my comments more carefully.
> >
> > I have, and have, and alas they still sound exactly like the
> > publisher lobby:
> > "Don't mandate self-archiving: It will cause catastrophic
> > cancellations and will
> > destroy publishing." (The only difference is that you add: "Mandate
> > paying us for
> > OA instead -- and provide the funds for it too.")
> >
> > Cf. "Open Letter to Research Councils UK: Rebuttal of ALPSP Critique"
> >
> >
> > Stevan Harnad
Received on Tue Sep 05 2006 - 22:06:04 BST

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