The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)

Stevan Harnad harnad at
Tue Jul 22 09:27:40 EST 2003

On Tue, 22 Jul 2003, Fytton Rowland wrote:

>   I think this interesting exchange between Stevan and a member of an
>   unnamed university illustrates the enormous misunderstanding...
>   The same could be said of the other exchange a day or two ago...
>   Stevan's exposition of the situation is accurate and clear, but
>   unfortunately most of the confused won't read it.

I would like to make a proposal: What open-access needs most of all
at this point is accurate and clear information. My impression matches
Fytton's that although I have been at it for over 10 years (revising and
updating as I go along, to keep up with developments) I alas find myself
having to say the very same things over and over again because most of
the confused won't read it! What open access needs in order to accelerate
progress is:

    (1) A concerted and systematic programme to inform researchers and
    university administrators (and, to a lesser extent, librarians
    and publishers) of the benefits of open access and the means of
    attaining it.

    (2) Both BOAI Strategy 1 (self-archiving) and BOAI Strategy 2
    (Open Access Publishing) are widely misunderstood and the subject
    of continuing confusion, but the misunderstanding of BOAI-1
    (self-archiving) is the greater, along with the misunderstanding
    about the relation between BOAI-1 and BOAI-2. This is ironic, because
    BOAI-1 (self-archiving) is the more immediate, simple, direct,
    certain and universal of the two strategies, and their complementary
    relation could not be more transparent:

        IS AVAILABLE (about 5% currently) AND WHERE A SUITABLE OPEN

    (3) The material for the information campaign is already contained
    in the many self-archiving FAQs in:

   (4) All that's needed is a cadre of well-informed speakers,
   well-tutored in those FAQs, to travel to universities and learned
   associations to inform the research community.

   (5) It is ironic also that virtually all the money that is being spent
   on promoting and supporting open access ($3 million from the Soros
   Foundation and $9 million from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation,
   plus all the support universities have provided to PLoS and BMC by
   paying their respective $1500 and $500 per article processing fees)
   is being spent on the 5% solution (BOAI-2), while neglecting the 95%
   solution (BOAI-1)!

A systematic, worldwide information campaign would help dispel the
confusion, diffuse the information, accelerate open access (and take the
pressure off my throat and pen!).

>  The clear, simple, $500 per article fee payable by each author (Keep
>  It Simple, Stupid) is obviously *not* a library expense. It is also
>  about the right sum, in my view based on my 2002 research into the
>  costs of peer review.

Of course research peer-review costs are not library expenses! And of
course adding them to the already overburdened library serials budget at
this time only creates confusion and resentment (especially in the
absence of a coherent causal explanation of where it is all headed, and
how). Universities need to find a provisional pocket out of which they
can pay peer review costs today, and the library's over-wrought pocket
is perhaps the worst possible choice -- especially without an
explanation, a roadmap, and a timetable.

One way to have presented it to libraries would have been as an
*investment* in eventual toll-budget savings, as the world of journals
converts to open access (and so it was presented by some proponents),
but this is still not a roadmap, and certainly not a timetable. Nor has
the causal scenario been clearly worked out in anyone's mind; it has
all been a matter of enthusiasm for open access, plus hand-waving.
Otherwise the obvious incoherencies in the hopes for scaling from the 5%
to the remaining 95% that I pointed out in my postings would have been
noticed at once, chief among them being that (1) the BMC institutional
licensing solution will not scale up as the number of competing
open-access publishers in the equation increases (licensing is a
reader-end, toll-access solution only) and (2) it is a lot of money
spent for a local 5% solution whose growth is slow and uncertain, while
completely neglecting the global 95%, which can already implemented at

And yet the library serials budget *is* relevant, for, if open-access
should prevail, it is the library that will enjoy the annual windfall
savings on its erstwhile serials toll expenditures. At the moment,
though, this is but a kiss and a promise, as a return for the library's
immediate investment. Self-archiving also calls for an investment, but a
far smaller one per (outgoing) article: About $5 or less, rather than
$500 or $1500. But it has the advantage that it creates immediate open
access to 100% of a university's peer-reviewed research output, which
continues being published in the peer-reviewed (toll-access) journals,
until and unless the competition from the self-archived open-access
versions worldwide reduces journals' toll-access income -- while
correspondingly increasing university libraries' toll-access savings --
to the point where, even by cutting out all inessential costs and
offloading all access onto the university eprint archives, they will
not cover the essential cost of peer review. For by then the institutional
library windfall savings will be more than enough to pay the peer-review
costs for all institutional research output several times over.

So there *is* a connection between library budgets and peer review costs,
but it is an indirect one, requiring the open access through institutional
self-archiving to come first. (And the scenario need never lead to its
denouement, the conversion from toll-access to open-access publishing,
if the competition from the self-archived vanilla [but peer-reviewed and
certified] open-access versions is *not* enough to erode toll-access
revenues from the institutions that still can and wish to pay for the
publishers' enhanced, deluxe versions. We will then still have 100% open
access, if not open access publishing! And then peer review will *not*
have to be paid out of the (nonexistent) library toll-access savings!)

> There is a head of steam building up against the "author pays" model now,
> partly due to these confusions, and partly due to the long-term dislike of
> authors for page charges.

True, but it's still just steam, because this reflexive negative reaction
to institutional (sic) peer-review service-charges is based on no clearer
an understanding of the benefits of open access or the causal scenario
that will get us there than the euphoric but uninformed gestures toward
immediate open-access publishing that we are currently witnessing.

> Many authors do not distinguish between charges levied by journals
> that also charge subscriptions, and charges levied by open- access
> journals. This may lead to the early death of the new model and the
> continuation of toll-access and the journals crisis for libraries.

That's because what's wrong with institutional charges at this
time is *not* whether they are charged by an open-access publisher
or a hybrid one (on the Walker/Prosser "pay journal for online
offprints" [i.e., pay journal to self-archive for you!] model: but that these charges
are premature, being only a 5% solution, with no clear way to scale up
to the rest of the 95% except through blind faith! Self-archiving, in
contrast, will scale up immediately -- if only researchers can be induced
to go ahead and do it! No need to wait for new open-access journals;
no need to pay charges. Just self-archive.

This is why it is a clear, global information campaign that open-access
needs most at this point!

> [Stevan's] his preferred model of institutional open-access
> repositories depends on someone else doing the refereeing.

Indeed it does: It depends on the 20,000 toll-access peer-reviewed
journals that are currently doing the refereeing to continue doing
the refereeing -- as long as they can keep funding it out of their
toll-access revenues, without downsizing to become only peer-review
service-providers. The virtue of the self-archiving approach to open
access is not only that it is universal and certain to provide immediate
open access, but that it does not depend on whether or not the final
outcome turns out to be open-access publishing alone, or else toll-access
publishing plus universal open-access through self-archiving continue to
co-exist forever.

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online is available at
the American Scientist September Forum (98 & 99 & 00 & 01 & 02 & 03):

Discussion can be posted to: september98-forum at

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