Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Open access, quo vadis?

Now that alternatives for the term 'self-archiving' are being suggested -- presumably in an attempt to increase the number of self-archivers -- it may be time to face up to some uncomfortable truths. Let's be honest, open access is just not all that attractive to individual researchers when they publish their articles. I say that with pain in my heart, but we have, as proponents of open access, singularly failed to get enough support among researchers. Not for want of trying. The proposition is simply not strong enough.

That doesn't, of course, make open access any less desirable. But researchers, as we all, do live in an ego-system and the strength of a person's interest in anything seems to diminish with at least the square of the distance (metaphorical or otherwise) to his or her id. The benefits of open access 'to science' are apparently pretty distant to an average researcher. Now, I know that the case has been made that there are benefits at closer proximity to researchers' ids, such as increased citations to their articles, but they seem, grosso modo, wholly underwhelmed by those. Is it with the benefits of open access rather like with the benefits of dramatically reducing our energy consumption? Reasonable on a super-ego level, but not convincing enough for our id, or so it seems.

So what now?

Mandates, it appears. From the funders -- organisations in charge of the scholarly super-ego, as it were. They have the power to impose OA on their grantees, and maybe the duty. And as they mostly pay the bill for library subscriptions anyway (indirectly, via overhead charges of institutions, but they pay nonetheless), they could simply re-route that money to OA article processing charges and reform publishing in the process. They may still, and follow the excellent leadership of the Wellcome Trust in this regard.

There seems to be one thing standing in the way. Conflation of financial concerns with open access is, unfortunately, a major barrier to open access. If open access were a real priority, in other words, if the starting point would not so much be cost evasion, but the principle that for the amounts now spent on scholarly literature one could, and should, have open access, and if a widespread willingness were displayed on the part of funders and librarians to help flip the model, then I'm thoroughly convinced we would be much, much further with open access. And as for financial concerns, inherent in an author-side payment model is a much clearer scope for real competition, and that will put downward pressure on prices and upward pressure on efficiencies as any economist will tell us. Putting the horse before the cart might be a good idea, for a change.

There is of course the hypothesis, consistently put forward by Stevan Harnad (and Stevan is nothing if not consistent, you have to give him that), that we can have OA without reforming publishing and without damaging journals. Consistent, but unfortunately, that doesn't make it right. In his world of self-archiving, all peer-reviewed and formally published articles would be freely available with open access -- although perhaps in an informal version, but still -- and librarians would continue to pay for subscriptions to keep journals afloat. As evidence he puts forward that having effectively had a physics archive in which published articles have been available freely for a decade and a half or so, this has not discernably reduced the willingness of librarians to keep paying for subscriptions to the journals with the very same material. And indeed, he makes very plausible that in physices, over the last decade and a half, there has been no damage to journals. But then he extrapolates. This always makes me think of Mark Twain, who says in Life on the Mississippi (1884):
"In the space of one hundred and seventy six years the Lower Mississippi has shortened itself two hundred and forty-two miles. That is an average of a trifle over a mile and a third per year. Therefore, any calm person, who is not blind or idiotic, can see that in the Old O├Âlitic Silurian Period, just a million years ago next November, the Lower Mississippi was upwards of one million three hundred thousand miles long, and stuck out over the Gulf of Mexico like a fishing-pole. And by the same token any person can see that seven hundred and forty-two years from now the Lower Mississippi will be only a mile and three-quarters long, and Cairo [Illinois] and New Orleans will have joined their streets together and be plodding comfortably along under a single mayor and a mutual board of aldermen. There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact."

And although Stevan may even turn out to be right -- only hindsight will tell and we have to keep an open mind on that -- for societies and other publishers just to take his word for it or even his 'evidence' that his extrapolations are valid, would be a serious dereliction of fiduciary duty, and sooo unnecessary. Because with some political will, publishing can be reformed, and reformed very quickly, without damage, or even the threat of damage, to anyone. And thus the problems could be fundamentally solved instead of treated with sticky-plasters such as OA through self-archiving (great as institutional repositories otherwise are).

Jan Velterop

2 comments:

  1. SUMMARY: Jan Velterep (of Springer Open Choice) argues that the money being spent today on journal subscriptions needs to be "re-routed" to paying for Open Access journal publishing instead. If that is indeed a desirable outcome, then supporting the many actual and proposed Open Access self-archiving mandates worldwide today is the best way to facilitate that outcome. Meanwhile, it will also generate 100% Open Access, a desirable outcome in and of itself.



    Jan Velterop [JV] (Springer Open Choice), wrote, in "Open access, quo vadis?":

    JV: "Now that alternatives for the term 'self-archiving' are being suggested -- presumably in an attempt to increase the number of self-archivers --"

    Actually, alternative terms are not needed, and will not be adopted, and the reason alternatives were even being mentioned was because of the distracting and irrelevant associations with preservation archiving of originals, rather than access archiving of supplementary copies (authors' final refereed drafts) of journal articles.

    JV: "it may be time to face up to some uncomfortable truths. Let's be honest, open access is just not all that attractive to individual researchers when they publish their articles."

    If that were indeed true, it would of course be just as uncomfortable a truth for Open Access journals as for Open Access self-archiving. But I think it is very far from being true! (Isn't OA what 34,000 researchers, for example, signed the PLoS Open Letter to demand in 2001?)

    Jan is conflating two separate things here, both of which researchers indeed do find unattractive, but neither of which is Open Access (OA) itself: (1) paying OA journal publication charges and (2) doing the keystrokes to OA self-archive.

    In reality, researchers find it no more nor less attractive to provide OA to their publications than they find it attractive to publish at all: For let us not forget that without "publish or perish" mandates, Springer's journals would be a lot thinner in content!

    Fortunately, the publish-or-perish mandate can be naturally extended, in the online age, to "publish and self-archive" -- in order to maximize each article's usage and citation impact. Both publications and citations are already being counted and rewarded by researchers' employers and funders today, and the two JISC author surveys by Swan & Brown (plus several subsequent replications as well as concrete implementations) have confirmed that about 95% of authors will comply with self-archiving mandates (91% of them willingly, only 14% of them reluctantly).

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

    Nor (as the surveys likewise show) is it the case that OA is not attractive to researchers (and Jan too had better hope that's not the case!). It is the case that many researchers still don't know about OA, and that many of those who do know still think OA means they would have to publish in journals other than their currently preferred ones.

    Researchers are mistaken, of course, on both counts. Researchers' first mistake is unawareness that with journals that offer Open Choice there is no need for them to switch journals: they are given the option to pay their chosen journal to provide OA for their article. Researchers' second mistake is that there is no need for them (or their institutions or their funders) to pay for Open Choice either, because authors can self-archive their own published articles.

    It may be the combination of these truths that causes Jan's heartache:

    JV: "I say that with pain in my heart, but we have, as proponents of open access, singularly failed to get enough support among researchers. Not for want of trying. The proposition is simply not strong enough."

    Yes, telling researchers about OA and its benefits -- whether gold OA publishing or green OA self-archiving -- is not enough to induce more than about 5% - 25% of researchers to go ahead and provide OA, either way. That's why OA mandates from their institutions and funders are needed to induce researchers to do it, for their own (and the public) good, just as mandates were needed to induce them to publish at all, for their own (and the public) good.

    But only OA self-archiving can be mandated: OA publishing cannot be mandated (1) until enough publishers offer at least the Open Choice option and (far more important) (2) until the cash that is currently tied up in paying for institutional journal subscriptions is freed so it can be "re-routed" to pay for institutional OA publishing costs.

    So instead of feeling a pain in his heart, Jan should be vigorously supporting OA self-archiving mandates because (a) they are sure to provide immediate (at least 95%) OA and (b) if they ever do cause substantial subscription cancellations, they will free up the cash to be re-routed to pay for OA publishing.

    JV: "That doesn't, of course, make open access any less desirable. But researchers, as we all, do live in an ego-system and the strength of a person's interest in anything seems to diminish with at least the square of the distance (metaphorical or otherwise) to his or her id."

    How far are citation-counts from a researcher's ego or id?

    But it is not ego that's keeping researchers from performing the few extra keystrokes it takes per article (over and above the keystrokes to write it) to self-archive it: it's ergo and igno: ergonomic inertia together with ignorance about how few keystrokes and how little time are actually involved in self-archiving:



    Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2005) Keystroke Economy: A Study of the Time and Effort Involved in Self-Archiving.

    Researchers who have never self-archived imagine that it takes a lot of time and trouble. In reality it does not. The self-archiving mandates will see to it that researchers discover for themselves how little effort it entails, for such a substantial benefit (to themselves).

    JV: "The benefits of open access 'to science' are apparently pretty distant to an average researcher."

    But his own citation impact is not.

    JV: "Now, I know that the case has been made that there are benefits at closer proximity to researchers' ids, such as increased citations to their articles, but they seem, grosso modo, wholly underwhelmed by those."

    (1) More underinformed than underwhelmed (but time is remedying that).

    (2) Information about personal benefits alone, however, is not enough to induce researchers to provide OA, any more than information about the personal benefits of publishing alone is enough to induce them to publish. The carrot/stick of "publish or perish" was needed for the one, and its natural online-age extension to OA self-archiving is now needed for the other.

    (3) On the other hand, researchers' institutions and funders seem to be less "underwhelmed" about the benefits of OA self-archiving than the researchers themselves, for they (RCUK, FRPAA, NIH, CURES, EC, CERN, and several individual universities) are evidently inclined to mandate it

    (4) Who is opposing the mandates? Not researchers: publishers.

    (5) Where does Jan (with all the pain in his heart) stand on self-archiving mandates?

    JV: "So what now? Mandates, it appears. From the funders -- organisations in charge of the scholarly super-ego, as it were. They have the power to impose OA on their grantees, and maybe the duty. And as they mostly pay the bill for library subscriptions anyway (indirectly, via overhead charges of institutions, but they pay nonetheless), they could simply re-route that money to OA article processing charges and reform publishing in the process. They may still, and follow the excellent leadership of the Wellcome Trust in this regard."

    But dear Jan, the message does not seem to be sinking in: It is not OA publishing that funders are proposing to mandate, it is OA self-archiving. And there is no money (nor need) to "re-route" while it is all tied up in paying the bills for publication via subscriptions!

    JV: "There seems to be one thing standing in the way. Conflation of financial concerns with open access is, unfortunately, a major barrier to open access."

    Whose financial concerns? Whose conflation? Research funders and institutions are proposing to mandate OA self-archiving, and publishers are opposing it, claiming it puts their finances at risk. So what, exactly, is the "major barrier" to OA at this moment?

    JV: "If open access were a real priority, in other words, if the starting point would not so much be cost evasion, but the principle that for the amounts now spent on scholarly literature one could, and should, have open access, and if a widespread willingness were displayed on the part of funders and librarians to help flip the model, then I'm thoroughly convinced we would be much, much further with open access."

    "Cost evasion"? When, as you say, correctly, "the amounts now spent on scholarly literature" are tied up in subscriptions? Isn't it closer to reality to say that this is, if anything, "re-routing evasion," since the costs are all being paid?

    Let me translate what you are saying, Jan: If all publishers converted to Open Choice, and if all institutions cancelled all their subscriptions, then there would be plenty of cash to pay for taking the paid-OA option. But this is evidently not happening, and it cannot be mandated. "Re-routing" cannot be mandated.

    Self-archiving, however, can be mandated. And perhaps it will eventually lead to the same outcome ("re-routing"). But before that it will certainly lead to the OA that is already long overdue.

    It is not a matter of springing still more cash, in advance, to pay for OA, at a time when journals are already making ends meet via subscriptions. The available cash is all tied up; moreover, there's no need for further cash: There's need for further OA. And that's what OA self-archiving mandates will deliver, now.

    Moreover, re-routing is not the goal of OA or the OA movement: OA is!

    JV: "And as for financial concerns, inherent in an author-side payment model is a much clearer scope for real competition, and that will put downward pressure on prices and upward pressure on efficiencies as any economist will tell us. Putting the horse before the cart might be a good idea, for a change."

    Fine, but first we would have to get from here to there. And there -- i.e., OA publishing -- is not the pressing goal: OA is. And that is what OA self-archiving mandates will provide. The horse is OA, which can be mandated through self-archiving mandates. The cart (publishing reform) is hypothetical, but if the cart ever does get re-routed in that direction, surely it will be driven by the horse (the self-archiving mandate) not by a re-routing mandate!

    JV: "There is of course the hypothesis, consistently put forward by Stevan Harnad (and Stevan is nothing if not consistent, you have to give him that), that we can have OA without reforming publishing and without damaging journals."

    Jan, you are (knowingly or unknowingly) misrepresenting what I have been saying all along, despite the frequency (and consistency) with which I have been pointing out this published set of conditional probabilities, over and over, for years and years now:

    What I have been consistently saying is that we can have immediate (and long-overdue) OA (e.g., by mandating self-archiving), right now, without having to first reform publishing. What subsequent effect that will in turn have on publishing is an empirical question, to which no one has a sure answer, so all we can do is speculate (see above link). I personally think 100% OA self-archiving will eventually lead to subscription cancellations and a transition (your "flip") to OA publishing.

    So what is your point, Jan?

    JV: "Consistent, but unfortunately, that doesn't make it right. In his world of self-archiving, all peer-reviewed and formally published articles would be freely available with open access -- although perhaps in an informal version, but still -- and librarians would continue to pay for subscriptions to keep journals afloat."

    That is again an incorrect statement of my view. What I have said is:

    (1) All evidence to date indicates that mandated self-archiving will generate 100% OA (1a) and will increase research usage and impact (1b).

    (2) There is no evidence to date that it will decrease subscriptions, but it may or may not eventually do that.

    (3) If mandated self-archiving ever does decrease subscriptions sufficiently to make it impossible to make ends meet via institutional subscriptions, it will then also have increased the institutional subscription cancellation savings that can be "re-routed" to pay for OA publishing.

    But (2) and (3) are hypothetical speculations whereas (1) is a certainty. And (most important), a certainty whose demonstrated benefits are not outweighed by the hypothetical risk to publishers' subscription revenues.

    JV: "As evidence he puts forward that having effectively had a physics archive in which published articles have been available freely for a decade and a half or so, this has not discernibly reduced the willingness of librarians to keep paying for subscriptions to the journals with the very same material. And indeed, he makes very plausible that in physics, over the last decade and a half, there has been no damage to journals. But then he extrapolates."

    I do not extrapolate. I say (truly) that there is no evidence as yet of self-archiving's decreasing subscription revenues; but if and when it ever does, the system will adapt naturally, with institutional subscription cancellation savings being "re-routed" toward institutional OA publication costs.

    JV: "And although Stevan may even turn out to be right -- only hindsight will tell and we have to keep an open mind on that -- for societies and other publishers just to take his word for it or even his 'evidence' that his extrapolations are valid, would be a serious dereliction of fiduciary duty, and sooo unnecessary. Because with some political will, publishing can be reformed, and reformed very quickly, without damage, or even the threat of damage, to anyone. And thus the problems could be fundamentally solved instead of treated with sticky-plasters such as OA through self-archiving (great as institutional repositories otherwise are)."

    May I make a proposal? Go ahead and reform publishing! But in the meanwhile, please let OA self-archiving be mandated, so that researchers can have their long-awaited OA, ending at last their needless, cumulative research usage and impact losses, and so that any further adaptations, if there are indeed to be any, can take their natural course in the OA era.

    Publishers should stop delaying and disparaging the OA self-archiving mandate and re-route their energy and attention toward publishing reform. Then everyone will be happy: Researchers, their institutions, their funders, and the public that funds them will be happy with their maximized research access, usage and impact, and publishers, with whatever they wish to do toward re-routing publishing toward another cost-recovery model.

    Let one not stand in the way of the other.

    PS There is perhaps also something to be said in defence of consistency (and clarity too): One cannot both affirm and deny the very same thing, no matter how one blurs it and how wishfully one thinks...

    Stevan Harnad
    American Scientist Open Access Forum

    ReplyDelete
  2. I note that Jan has not posted my reply. Perhaps he will be willing to post a link to it on my blog?

    Open Access Self-Archiving Mandates to Re-Route Cash Flow Toward Open Access Publishing?


    Stevan Harnad
    American Scientist Open Access Forum

    ReplyDelete