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[BOAI] Re: Wrong Advice On Open Access: History Repeating Itself

From: "Prof. Tom Wilson" <t.d.wilson AT>
Date: Sat, 31 Oct 2009 17:05:05 +0100

Threading: [BOAI] Wrong Advice On Open Access: History Repeating Itself from amsciforum AT
      • This Message

No one knows exactly how the 'open access' movement will pan out but I think
that some things are fairly clear.  

1, scholarly publishers are facing very similar problems to the newspaper
industry - changes in technologies are making them redundant. 

2, anything that props up the industry will simply delay the inevitable and
institutional repositories prop up the industry - indeed, why else would
publishers give permission for authors' works to be archived?  Strong advocacy
of repositories is strong advocacy of the status quo in scholarly

3, at least in the UK, universities seem to have other things on their minds
(like potential bankruptcies in a number of cases) to be too concerned about
such things as mandating repositories.

4, scholars are increasingly taking matters into their own hands and producing
free OA journals on some kind of subsidy basis and any economist will tell you
that social benefit is maximised by this form of OA.

5, change is difficult when status and promotion are made dependent upon
publication in journals that are highly cited in Web of Knowledge,
consequently, it is only when free OA journals make their way into the upper
quartile of the rankings that they will begin to attract as many submissions as
the established fee-based journals (whether subscription or author-charged).
Some OA journals are already in that position.

6, however, 5 above may be overtaken as scholarly communication methods 
continue to evolve. The present situation is not the end of the line, but a
somewhat confused intermediate stage of development. Cherished features of such
communication, such as peer review, may disappear, to be replaced by
post-publication comments. These may be stronger affirmations of quality than
citation - particularly as we usually have no idea as to why a paper has been

In brief - any strategy evolved today on the assumption that the future is
likely to be the same as the past is probably going to fail.

Professor T.D. Wilson, PhD, Hon.PhD
Publisher/Editor in Chief
Information Research
e-mail: t.d.wilson AT
Web site:

Quoting "Noel, Robert E." <rnoel AT>:

> Does it make that much difference how universities, scholars, and readers
> arrive at Open Access?  I'm a little puzzled by the lengths to which 
> Harnad goes to advance a specific path, while very deliberately excluding
> other cogent, seemingly sensible ideas.  I have not talked to Jackson 
> "Getting Yourself out of the Business"; perhaps he read the 
"Wrong Advice"
> message below and now agrees with Mr. Harnad, I don't know.
> It seems the efforts of Berkeley's mathematician Rob Kirby (launched SPARC
> endorsed "Algebraic and Geometric Topology", and "Geometry 
and Topology")
> were largely seeded by the spirit of Jackson's strategy as opposed to any
> other strategy.  Kirby has been concerned about commercial publishers'
> journal prices and took action that seems to me to have been constructive
> action (see Notices of the AMS, 2004, "Fleeced").  The message 
of that
> opinion piece again seems to me to be related to Jackson's points, and not 
> much to the Harnad solution.  In what ways are the actions of Prof.
> Bruynooghe and JLP's editorial board roughly a decade ago a failure?  The
> resignation of that Board was motivated by "Getting yourself out of 
> Business".  Similarly, the price of "Nuclear Physics B" 
(Elsevier) has been
> going down in recent years and many users of that literature regard that 
as a
> positive thing.  Many variables have driven that drop in price, and it's
> presumptuous to think that none!
>   of them have to do with Jackson's points.
> Anyway, others have devoted much more time and energy to this topic than I
> have, but I'm skeptical of recommendations that bluntly reject other
> strategies from the outset.  It makes me think that open access is not the
> primary goal, but that a specific path to open access is the primary goal,
> and that access itself is a convenient result, but still an afterthought. 
> It's tantamount to engineers and scientists recommending to policy makers
> that solar and wind energy are viable alternatives that will reduce a
> country's dependence on oil, but research into biofuels, maglev trains, 
> clean coal is utter nonsense, and reducing individual energy consumption 
> changing lifestyles is a sham, and in fact counterproductive.
> Does anyone on the planet have this much foresight as to how civilization
> should communicate and share information?
> Bob Noel
> Swain Hall Library
> Indiana University
> Bloomington, IN  47405
> -----Original Message-----
> From: boai-forum-bounces AT
> [mailto:boai-forum-bounces AT] On Behalf Of Stevan Harnad
> Sent: Wednesday, October 21, 2009 8:35 AM
> To: American Scientist Open Access Forum
> Cc: SPARC Open Access Forum
> Subject: [BOAI] Wrong Advice On Open Access: History Repeating Itself
>     [Apologies for Cross-Posting: Hyperlinked version is at:
> ]
> With every good intention, Jason Baird Jackson -- in "Getting 
> Out of the Business in Five Easy Steps"
> is giving the wrong advice on Open Access, recommending a strategy
> that has not only been tried and has failed and been superseded
> already, but a strategy that, with some reflection, could have been
> seen to be wrong-headed without even having to be tried:
> *       Choose not to submit scholarly journal articles or other works to
> publications owned by for-profit firms.
> *       Say no, when asked to undertake peer-review work on a book or
> article manuscript that has been submitted for publication by a
> for-profit publisher or a journal under the control of a commercial
> publisher.
> *       Do not seek or accept the editorship of a journal owned or under 
> control of a commercial publisher.
> *       Do not take on the role of series editor for a book series being
> published by a for-profit publisher.
> *       Turn down invitations to join the editorial boards of commercially
> published journals or book series.
> In the year 2000, 34,000 biological researchers worldwide signed a
> boycott threat to stop publishing in and refereeing for their journals
> if those journals did not provide (what we would now call) Open Access
> (OA) to their articles.
> Their boycott threat was ignored by the publishers of the journals, of
> course, because it was obvious to them if not to the researchers that
> the researchers had no viable alternative. And of course the
> researchers did not make good on their boycott threat when their
> journals failed to comply.
> The (likewise well-intentioned) activists who had launched the boycott
> threat then turned to another strategy: They launched the excellent
> PLoS journals (now celebrating their 5th anniversary) to prove that
> there could be viable OA journals of the highest quality. The
> experiment was a great success, and many more OA journals have since
> spawned, some of them (such as the BMC -- now Springer -- journals) of
> a quality comparable to conventional journals, some not.
> But what also became apparent from the (now 9-year) exercise was that
> providing OA by creating new journals, persuading authors to publish
> in them instead of in their established journals, with their
> track-records for quality, and finding the funds to pay for the author
> publication fees that many of the OA journals had to charge (since
> they could no longer make ends meet with subscriptions) was a very
> slow and uncertain process.
> There are at least 25,000 peer-reviewed journals published annually
> today, including a core of perhaps 5000 journals that constitute the
> top 20% of the journals in each field, the ones that most authors want
> to publish in, and most users want to access and use (and cite).
> There are now about 5000 OA journals too, likewise about 20%, but most
> -- unlike the PLoS journals (and perhaps the BMC/Springer and Hindawi
> journals) -- are far from being among the top 20% of journals. Hence
> most researchers in 2009 face much the same problem that the
> signatories of the 2000 PLoS boycott threat faced in 2000: For most
> researchers, it would mean a considerable sacrifice to renounce their
> preferred journals and publish instead in an OA journal: either (more
> often) OA journals with comparable quality standards do not exist, or
> their publication charges are a deterrent.
> Yet ever since 2000 (and earlier) there has been no need for either
> threats or sacrifice by researchers in order to have OA to all of the
> planet's peer-reviewed research output. For those same researchers who
> were signing boycott threats that they could not carry out could
> instead have used those keystrokes to make their own peer-reviewed
> research OA, by depositing their final, peer-reviewed drafts in OA
> repositories as soon as they were accepted for publication, to make
> them freely accessible online to all would-be users webwide, rather
> than just to those whose institutions could afford to subscribe to the
> journals in which they were published.
> Researchers could have made all their research OA spontaneously since
> at least 1994. They could have done it OAI-compliantly (interoperably)
> since at least 2000.
> But most researchers did not make their own research OA in 1994, nor
> in 2000, and even now in 2009, they seem to prefer petitioning
> publishers for it, rather than providing it for themselves.
> There is a solution (and researchers themselves have already revealed
> exactly what it was when they were surveyed). That solution is not
> more petitions and more waiting for publishers or journals to change
> their policies or their economics. It is for researchers' institutions
> and funders to mandate that their researchers provide OA to their own
> refereed research by depositing their final, peer-reviewed drafts in
> OA repositories as soon as they are accepted for publication, to make
> them freely accessible online to all would-be users webwide, rather
> than just to those whose institutions can afford to subscribe to the
> journals in which they were published.
> I would like to suggest that Jason Jackson (and other well-meaning OA
> advocates) could do incomparably more for global OA by lobbying their
> own institutions (and funders) to adopt OA mandates than by launching
> more proposals to boycott publishers who decline to do what
> researchers can already do for themselves. (And meanwhile, they should
> deposit their articles spontaneously, even without a mandate.)
> OA Week 2009 would be a good time for the worldwide research community
> to come to this realization at long last, and reach for the solution
> that has been within its grasp all along.
> Stevan Harnad
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