Budapest Open Access Initiative      

Budapest Open Access Initiative: BOAI Forum Archive

[BOAI] [Forum Home] [index] [prev] [next] [options] [help]

boaiforum messages


From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum AT>
Date: Sat, 19 Sep 2009 07:25:00 -0400

On Thu, 17 Sep 2009 Heather Morrison wrote:

> the Compact for Open Access Publishing Equity (COPE)
> is a key initiative in the transition to open access.

In my last two postings -- "Please Commit To Providing Green OA Before
Committing To Pay For Gold OA!" and "Fund Gold OA Only AFTER 
Green OA, Not INSTEAD" -- I have been at pains to make it as clear as
possible precisely why and how COPE, far from being "a key initiative
in the transition to open access," is at best a waste of a
university's scarce funds today and at worst a distraction from and
retardant to a university's taking the substantive initiative that
actually needs to be taken today to ensure a transition to open access

OA means free online access to published journal articles. A
transition to OA on the part of a university means a transition to
making all of its own published journal article output OA.

COPE makes only a fraction of university article output OA today --
that fraction for which the university has the extra cash today to pay
"equitable" Gold OA publishing fees -- while the lion's share of the
university's potential funds to pay for publication are still tied up
in journal subscriptions. Hence, at best, this token pre-emptive
payment for Gold OA is a waste of scarce funds.

But if -- because the university imagines that committing to COPE is
the "key initiative" for providing OA today -- the university does 
first take the initiative to make its own article output OA by
mandating that it must be self-archived in the university's OA
repository (Green OA),  then committing to COPE is not just wasteful,
but a diversion from and retardant to doing what universities urgently
need to do to provide OA today.

> Signatories are asked to make a commitment to provide support for open
> access publishing that is equitable to the support currently provided
> to journals through subscriptions.

Universities currently "provide support" for whatever journals they
are currently subscribing to. That is what is what is paying the cost
of peer-reviewed publication today.

Universities committing to spend whatever extra funds they might have
available to pay for Gold OA publishing fees today provides as much OA
as the university can currently afford to buy, at "equitable" prices,
over and above what it subscribes to.

One need only go ahead and do the arithmetic -- calculating the number
of articles a university publishes every year, multiplied by the
"equitable" Gold OA price per article -- to see that a university can
only afford to pay for Gold OA today for a small fraction of its
annual article output as long as it is still subscribing to non-OA
journals. (Most journals -- especially the top journals that most
universities want and need to subscribe to and most authors want and
need to publish in -- are non-OA today, let alone "equitably" priced
Gold OA.)

The notion that a commitment to paying pre-emptively for "equitably"
priced Gold OA today only gives the illusion of being "a key
initiative in the transition to open access" if one equates OA with
Gold OA. Otherwise it is clear that COPE is just a very expensive way
of generating some OA for a small fraction of a university's research

Meanwhile, as I have also pointed out, three out of the five
signatories of COPE to date (60%) have not mandated Green OA
self-archiving for their research output.

That means that those signatories have failed to take the "initiative
in the transition to open access" that really is "key" (if OA 
open access, rather than just the Gold OA publishing cost-recovery
model), which is to mandate that all of their research output must be
made OA through author self-archiving.

Instead, the majority of the COPE signatories so far have indeed
assumed that signing the commitment to pay for whatever Gold OA is
available and affordable really is the "key initiative in the
transition to open access."

If all universities who commit to paying for whatever "equitable" 
OA they can afford today by signing COPE would first commit to making
all their research output OA by mandating Green OA self-archiving
today, then there would be nothing to object to in promoting and
signing COPE. COPE would simply be universities spending their spare
cash to try to steer publishing toward their preferred cost-recovery
model, at their preferred asking price, having already ensured that
all their research output is made OA (by mandating Green OA

But if universities commit to paying for whatever "equitable" Gold OA
they can afford today INSTEAD of committing to make all their research
output OA by mandating Green OA self-archiving today, then COPE is a
highly counterproductive red herring, giving universities the false
illusion of having adopted a "key initiative in the transition to open
access" while in reality diverting and dissipating initiative for the
transition to open access from a substantive step (mandating Green OA)
to a superficial and superfluous step (funding Gold OA).

(Heather Morrison seems to be missing this substantive strategic point

> One of the reasons COPE is key is simply the recognition that
> universities (largely through libraries) are the support system for
> scholarly communication.

It is hard to see the substance or purpose of this formal statement of
the obvious. Everyone who knows that it is university library
subscriptions that both pay the publication costs and provide access
to most journals "recognizes" that "universities (largely 
their library budgets) are the support system for scholarly

Did universities have to go on to commit whatever spare cash they had,
over and above what they are already spending for journal
subscriptions, in order to earn "recognition" for this obvious fact?

And what has all this formal recognition of the obvious to do with
providing OA?

No, the incoherent, Escherian notion behind all of this formalism is
obvious: COPE is about the hope that INSTEAD of paying to subscribe to
their incoming non-OA journals, as they do now, universities will one
day be able instead to pay "equitable" fees to publish their outgoing
articles in Gold OA journals. (The COPE initiative has even been
called HOPE.)

But hope alone cannot resolve a geometrically self-contradictory
Escher Drawing: Universities subscribe by the incoming journal but
they publish by the individual outgoing article. There are 25,000
journals, most of them not Gold OA, let alone equitably priced Gold
OA, publishing 2.5 million articles a year from 10,000 universities
worldwide. The tacit hope of COPE is to persuade all journals to
abandon subscriptions and convert to equitably priced Gold OA by
offering to pay for equitably priced publication today.

Now here is the crux of it: There is no incentive for journals to
renounce subscription fees and convert to equitably priced Gold OA
today just because some universities offer a commitment to pay for it.
To induce publishers to do that, we would not only have to wait until
most or all universities committed to pay for Gold OA, but until they
also backed up that commitment by collectively committing to cancel
their subscriptions (in order to release the funds that they can then
redirect to pay for Gold OA).

Without that cancellation pressure, the inelastic market for
university subscriptions remains, so that the best that can be hoped
for is the publishers' hedged option of "Hybrid Gold OA" -- the 
either to leave an individual article in a subscription-based journal
non-OA or to pay that same journal a Gold-OA fee to make that
individual article Gold OA.

This Trojan Horse (which really amounts to double-paying publishers
for articles) is (some) publishers' "hope" -- their counterpart for
universities' COPE/HOPE -- to the effect that universities will buy
into this double-pay/Hybrid Gold model in exchange for the promise
that publishers will faithfully reduce their subscription and Gold OA
fees in such a way as to keep their revenues constant, as and when the
demand for the Gold-OA option grows.

Such an equitable deal between 10,000 universities and 25,000 journals
for 2.5 million individual articles -- each university subscribing to
different subsets of the journals annually, and publishing in a still
different subset, depending on author, and varying from year to year
-- is the publishers' variant of the Escherian transition scenario
that the signatories of COPE are likewise hoping for.

What is clear is that this transition is not only speculative,
untested, remote and far-fetched, but it does not depend on the
university community: It is a transition that depends on the
publishing community, journal by journal.

In contrast, open access to all of OA's target content -- the 2.5
million articles published annually in the 25,000 journals virtually
all come from the planet's 10,000 universities -- is already within
immediate reach: All universities have to do is o mandate Green OA
self-archiving, as Harvard and MIT have already done, before signing

My only point -- but it is the crucial point -- is that universities
should on no account commit to funding Gold OA before or instead of
mandating Green OA.

> Scholarly publishing is not a
> straightforward business transaction where one side produces goods and
> the other purchases them.  Rather, it is university faculty who do the
> research, writing, reviewing, and often the editing, often on time and
> in space provided by the universities.  Scholarly publishing is a
> service, rather than a good.

This is again stating the obvious in a formalistic way that sheds no
light at all on what makes peer-reviewed research publication such a
special case, let alone how to resolve the Escher drawing:

"Scholarly publishing is a service, rather than a good": What does
this mean? What is the service? And who is performing it for whom? And
who is charging whom for what?

Assuming we are talking about journals (and not books), is the
publisher's printed copy of a journal not a good? Is that good not to
be bought and sold? Individually and by subscription?

Same question about the publisher's digital edition: Is that not a
good, bought and sold, individually and by subscription?

Should publishers be giving away print journals and online PDFs, as a
public service?

To be sure, scholars do research as a profession, and because they are
funded to do so. Perhaps we can call this a "service." They also 
up their research, submit it for peer review, revise it, and finally
allow it to be published, without asking for any revenue, because that
too is part of their profession and what they are paid to do; and
because the impact of their publications -- how much they are used and
cited -- is beneficial both to research progress and to their careers.
So let's say that's a service too.

It is also a fact that scholars do peer review for publishers for
free. So let's say that's a service too.

But how is this complicated, intertwined and interdependent picture of
what researchers -- as authors and referees -- their institutions and
funders, and their publishers do, jointly, captured by saying that
"scholarly publishing is a service, rather than a good"?

Is the devil not in the details of who is doing what for whom, why, and how?

> Once we understand that academic library budgets are the support for
> scholarly communication, it is much easier to see that we should be
> prioritizing supports that make sense for scholarly communication into
> the future, and equity for open access publishing is a great beginning.

OA is not about academic library budgets. It is about access to
research articles. Universities are the research providers. They now
need to also become the access providers for their own (peer-reviewed)
research output. That leaves peer review to be implemented by
independent honest brokers (journals), the results certified by their
name and track-record for quality standards.

But these vague generalities about scholarly publishing being a
"service rather than a good" do not give even a hint about how to get
there from here -- i.e., how to generate a coherent transition that
resolves the Escher drawing.

And neither does COPE.

Yet the answer is simple, and has nothing to do with COPE,n or with
academic library budgets: Universities need to provide OA for their
own research output by mandating Green OA self-archiving.

That done, universities can, if they wish, commit to whatever they
like if they think it will speed a transition to a publication funding
model that they find more congenial.

But committing to a more congenial funding model without first
committing to providing OA is certainly not "a key initiative in the
transition to open access."

> Best wishes to COPE.  I encourage every library and university to
> join.  There is no immediate financial commitment required, rather a
> commitment to develop models for equity.

Would it not be more timely and useful (for OA) to encourage every
university to provide OA for its own research output, by mandating
Green OA self-archiving, rather than making formal or financial
commitments before or instead of doing so?

> Supporting transition to gold OA, in my opinion, in no way diminishes
> the importance of green OA.  There are good reasons for pursuing both
> strategies, both in the short and the long term.

This again blurs the point at issue completely, and turns priorities
upside down: The issue is not short- or long-term pursuits but
immediate and urgent priorities. Mandate Green OA today, and go ahead
and pursue Gold OA in any way you think will help. But pursue Gold OA
only if you have mandated Green OA.

(Stuart Shieber, by the way, has proposed another rationale for COPE,
based on his experience with having successfully forged a consensus on
adopting Green OA mandates at Harvard: COPE assuages authors' prima
facie worries about the viability of peer-reviewed journal publication
should subscriptions eventually be made unsustainable by Green OA
mandates. But this rationale for COPE is only justifiable if
committing to COPE is indeed coupled with mandating Green OA. The
actual evidence to date includes not only COPE, which has more
non-mandating signatories than mandating ones, but also the very
similar SCOAP3 commitment in physics, which includes incomparably more
non-mandating universities than mandating ones. To support Stuart's
hypothesis, universities committing to COPE or SCOAP3 should also be
committing to Green OA mandates. The effect instead looks more like
the reverse.)

Stevan Harnad

To unsubscribe from the BOAI Forum, use the form on this page:

[BOAI] [Forum Home] [index] [prev] [next] [options] [help]

 E-mail: .