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[BOAI] COPE, HOPE and OA
From: Stevan Harnad <amsciforum AT gmail.com>
On Thu, 17 Sep 2009 Heather Morrison wrote: http://poeticeconomics.blogspot.com/2009/09/compact-for-open-access-publishing.html > the Compact for Open Access Publishing Equity (COPE) > is a key initiative in the transition to open access. > http://www.oacompact.org/ In my last two postings -- "Please Commit To Providing Green OA Before Committing To Pay For Gold OA!" and "Fund Gold OA Only AFTER ↵ Mandating 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). 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 ↵ not 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 output. 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 ↵ means 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" ↵ Gold 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 self-archiving). 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 completely.) > 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 ↵ through their library budgets) are the support system for scholarly communication." 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 ↵ option 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 COPE. 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 ↵ write 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: http://www.soros.org/openaccess/forum.shtml?f
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