Elsevier Gives Authors Green Light for Open Access Self-Archiving

Stevan Harnad harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Fri May 28 22:03:18 EST 2004


On Fri, 28 May 2004, David Goodman wrote:

> I do not think any scientist would consider Elsevier's policy a fully
> satisfactory permanent arrangement, and all would prefer that the edited
> version from the publisher could be posted.

One can always prefer more. Free journals with all costs covered by a
generous subsidy from somewhere would be nice too. But Elsevier's green
self-archiving policy is all that it is *reasonable* for a scientist
to demand of a publisher today, in the interests of OA. More important,
it is all that is needed for 100% OA today. I, for one, would consider
the arrangement fully satisfactory till doomsday if the pre-refereeing
preprints and the refereed final drafts of all 2.5 million annual
articles in all 24,000 journals were all OA as of tomorrow. Nothing more
would be needed: Nothing.

> But it is not unreasonable to accept partial solutions for the time
> being, on the realistic principle that it is better to get the material
> disseminated in some fashion. This move does provide for the access to
> the material in some form, especially considering that articles in some
> fields are only lightly edited, and that some authors may consider the
> preprint version close enough--or conceivably superior--to the changes
> imposed by the editor and peer-reviewer.

We are not talking here about the preprints only, or even mainly:
The announcement was that Elsevier had gone from pale-green (green
light for self-archiving pre-refereeing preprints self-archiving only)
to fully green (preprints and postprints). That was the target, and it is
about that that I repeat that nothing more is needed. Please let us not
blur that fact.

Of course a lot more can be self-archived than the preprint and
postprint: An author can self-archive the various revisions in between,
can self-archive an enhanced version of the postprint, or even revised
post-postprints corrected, updated or upgraded in response to
subsequent comments or findings.
http://www.eprints.org/self-faq/#What-self-archive

That is the scholarly skywriting continuum. But a critical milestone
will always be the refereed final draft, the draft accepted for
publication as having met the peer-review standards of a particular
journal.

    Harnad, Stevan (1990) Scholarly Skywriting and the Prepublication
    Continuum of Scientific Inquiry. Psychological Science 1: 342 -
    343 (reprinted in Current Contents 45: 9-13, November 11 1991).
    http://cogprints.soton.ac.uk/documents/disk0/00/00/15/81/index.html

> The move to open access journals also has less-than-satisfactory temporary
> arrangements. Among such partial solutions are journals where all but
> the last few months are openly available, or the widely-acclaimed PNAS
> policy of letting the author pay extra for open access.

If you look at the BOAI definition of Open Access, you will see
that it amounts to immediate, permanent, toll-free, full-text online
access. 
http://www.soros.org/openaccess/read.shtml 
Delayed/embargoed access is of course better than no access (i.e., just
toll-access; just as lower-toll access is better than higher-toll access),
but it certainly isn't Open Access. And a journal (like Science, for
example) that offers only delayed/embargoed access is certainly not an
OA journal:

    "Shulenburger on open access: so NEAR and yet so far"
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/3277.html

    "Is Embargoed Access Open Access?"
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/3687.html

> I can understand the excitement felt when Elsevier liberalizes its
> policy. Considering the size of the publisher and the amount of material
> affected, there has been a tendency to accept all its progressive moves,
> however small intrinsically, as major progress.

This is not a small progressive move but *exactly* what every responsible
publisher, not setting its own interests over those of research and
researchers, would and should do: no more nor less. (Note that it has
nothing to do with pricing policy, and none of this should be taken as
pertaining to pricing policy in any way.)

> Elsevier's policy is a perfectly reasonable competitive move to encourage
> authors to use its journals rather than those of other commercial
> publishers, some of which do not yet allow postprints. It may also
> have the effect of encouraging them to use Elsevier rather than society
> journals (many of which do not allow posting at all), hoping to balance
> the right to self-archive against the narrow distribution of some of
> Elsevier's weaker titles.

I do not think it is useful to make these rather cynical speculations
about Elsevier's motivation. I do not believe Elsevier went green just in
order to drum up more business; but if it does drum up more business --
or forces the competition to do likewise -- so much the better. The more
green the better, because more green means more OA.

> I have been informed that Cell Press, arguably the portion of Elsevier
> that has the strongest titles, does not have the same policy to pre-
> and post-prints as the other Elsevier Science titles. I have not yet
> been able to determine exactly how it differs.

Perhaps Karen Hunter could reply to clarify this.

> It may, indeed be the case that in order to achieve the widest
> dissemination we may have to be content with policies such as this
> for a time. 

This is another clear instance of the conflation of the affordability
and access/impact problems: 
http://www.nature.com/nature/focus/accessdebate/21.html
Insofar as access/impact is concerned, 100% OA is not just something
"to be content" with: It is that optimal and inevitable outcome for
research and researchers that has so far proved so elusive, even though
it has been within reach for at least a decade.

It is only those for whom the problem is primarily affordability
rather than access who will (understandably) fail to be content with
this outcome.

> It may even be the case that the scientific world decides
> to ignore the need for anything more than the basic presentation of
> ideas, and accepts a self-prepared report as full publication. There are
> applied fields where this has long been the case, and where semi-edited
> and semi-peer-reviewed conference proceedings or technical reports form
> the important literature.

I find this sort of speculation as unhelpful and off-the-mark as the
speculation that green publishers will become indian-givers and turn the
green light off if authors actually take them up on it, or that they are
really just going green to steal the business from the gray publishers:
Peer reviewed research is what this is all about. The point has been
made repeatedly from the outset of this Forum that it is the refereed
postprint that is the real target of OA, nothing else.

    "Distinguishing the Essentials from the Optional Add-Ons"
    http://www.ecs.soton.ac.uk/~harnad/Hypermail/Amsci/1437.htm

Stevan Harnad




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