[Journal-notes] Re: Green Party Green on Gold but not on Green

Stevan Harnad harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Sat Sep 10 10:05:29 EST 2005

Preface: I not in passing that my message about the irony of the Green Party
supporting Gold while not supporting Green -- yet here we are again, debating the
merits of Gold...

On Sat, 10 Sep 2005, Matthew Cockerill  & Jean-Claude Guedon wrote:

> MC: "Gold" - i.e. open access publishing, is not a business model, it is
> simply a measure of the level of service provided by the publisher.

Call it what you like: funders can tell their fundees what to do, but publishers
are not their fundees.

> MC: The research community (which, largely from its own public funding,
> pays publishers for the service they provide) 

Libraries pay for books as well as journals out of whatever public
funds they use: Are books to be given away online too? And all other
digital products (software, for example)?

No, Matt, the relevant give-away is only that of the author's own (funded)
research. The author gives it away (royalty/fee-free) to the publisher,
and can give it away (and be required to give it away) to all would-be
users too, who cannot afford the publisher's version. Publishers cannot
(and need not, hence should not) be forced to give it away, if they do
not wish to.

> MC: it is currently enforced by community standards in most disciplines that
> journals must peer review the research they publish, if they are to
> be taken seriously.  It is entirely possible, and indeed likely, that
> community standards will evolve to require that publishers make
> research openly available immediately on publication. Given that the
> research community is paying for the service from publishers - they
> *can* call the tune.

Researchers can call the tune through their choice of which journals to
submit articles to and to purchase. But if they want OA for their articles
so badly, yet cannot even be bothered to *provide* it by self-archiving
them, it is unlikely they will stop submitting to or using journals that
decline to provide it in their place. If the (failed) PLoS boycott --
in which 34,000 researchers pledged that they would stop submitting to,
refereeing for, or using journals that did not make their articles OA for
them by September 2001 http://www.plos.org/support/openletter.shtml --
demonstrated one thing it is that trying to beg or bully publishers
to give away their authors' give-aways for them is not the way to
achieve 100% OA: Doing it for themselves (by self-archiving) is. And if
researchers haven't the sense to realise or act on this, their funders
and institutions can (and, one hopes, will) require them to do it (just as
they require them to -- and reward them for -- publishing in the first place).

> J-CG: Stevan claims that one cannot impose a business model to publishers. My
> answer, and we should consider it very carefully, is that if a journal
> is run with money that is public money

What proportion of the planet's 24,000 peer-reviewed journals does
Jean-Claude think that corresponds to -- and what proportion of the
budget of those journals does he think that covers?

> J-CG: be it directly from the government or through some agency distributing
> public money - this includes universities and their support in kind for
> many journals, as this is ultimately paid up by public money

Apart from subscribing to journals (with public money, discussed above in
response to Matt), what I assume Jean-Claude means here is the time that
academics and their institutions contribute to editing and peer-reviewing,
sometimes even housing a journal's editorial office. Of course an (unpaid)
editor, referee, or host can impose whatever (local) conditions they
desire, but those are local decisions -- decisions that few, if any,
are making at this time. And no wonder (and we should consider it very
carefully), since the OA enthusiasts who are so eager for OA as to be
willing to militate for imposing OA-provision on their publishers are
not yet willing to impose OA-provision on themselves, by performing the
few keystrokes it takes to make their own give-away articles OA for all
those who cannot afford the paid access.

We all reckon the odds according to our own perceptions, hopes and
expectations, but I'm willing to bet that the likelihood that a research
community that is not even ready to self-archive for the sake of OA is
even less likely to do what the PLoS boycotters threatened to do for
the sake of OA.

As to their institutional employers and research funders: much the
same applies to them, except that, whereas they *are* in a position to
require that all of their employees/fundees provide OA by self-archiving,
they are in no position to require that all their publishers provide OA
(for the reasons already adduced): Institutions/funders have control
over their researchers' budgets and doings but very, very limited input
to, hence control over, publishers' budgets and doings (limited to the
few institutions and/or funders that make a local contribution to a
given journal's editorial or operational budget).

> J-CG: then we should seek to have open access mandated.

Easily said. And easily done in the case of mandating OA
self-archiving. Bur mostly just empty hand-waving in the case of mandating
OA publishing. (Ceterum censeo: We should not be wasting still more
time, this late in the day/decade, with this idle shadow-boxing when on
the one side we have a concrete, implementable policy proposal, RCUK,
and on the other we have merely vague allusions to public funding and
"support in kind.")

> J-CG: There is no reason that public money supporting the publishing of
> scholarly journals should then be the condition of possibility (as French
> philosophers are wont to say...) for toll-gated research results, all
> the more so that the research itself is also supported by public money.

Apart from the (all-important) fact that article-authors give away
their research royalty/fee-free to publishers and users alike (because
they are writing for research impact, not text-sales income), all of
this reasoning would -- if it were valid --  apply equally to books,
textbooks, software, and any other digital (or, for that matter, analog)
product produced by researchers or academics supported all or part by
public money. Hence the implications are far from clear for the whole
incoherent mass that fits the formula.

If we separate the give-away authors from the rest, however, the rational
resolution becomes quite obvious: These can and should give away their
own give-aways in order to make them OA, by self-archiving them (and they
should be required to do so, for their own good, by their employers and
funders, if they are sluggish and/or foolish enough to *want* OA yet not
to know how to go about providing it, or not be spontaneously inclined
to do so, immediately).

To tilt instead at fantasies about requiring publishers to do so in their stead
has other suitable adjectives for describing it, but it is certainly no formula
for reaching 100% OA any time soon -- or over, more likely.

> J-CG: In conclusion, some form of mandating can be applied to both green and
> gold; in the latter case, it would apply only to journals receiving any
> form of public support. When you pay part of the bill, you are entitled
> to having a say in the design of the business model. 

I agree. Strings can be attached to any purse: Now, what percentage of
the planet's annual output of about 2.5 million articles in its 24,000
journals does Jean-Claude believe the "gold mandate" will cover? I reckon
about 20% at most, whereas green covers 100% -- and already has that 20%
covered too.

> J-CG: Scholarly journals with public support should be forced to be OA. Let
> them design their individual business model within that framework. Period!

Scholarly journals (what percent of total 24,000 journals?) with public
support (what percentage of their budgets?) should be forced (by whom?,
how?) to be OA (what percent OA for each journal?) in accordance with their
percent public support.

Some of this is doable, in principle, but I can't imagine why we
would focus on it now, in practice, when 100% OA is 100% doable simply
by mandating OA self-archiving. The need to impose anything else on
publishers may well vanish, once we all have the 100% OA that is all
supposedly about (remember?).

And the point of my posting was that the Greens proposed to mandate Gold,
but not Green...

Stevan Harnad

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