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On the Need to Take Both Roads to Open Access

Stevan Harnad harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Sat Oct 11 09:32:40 EST 2003

Here are some very brief comments on the October 6 Guardian article that
usefully describes one of the two roads to open access -- open-access
publishing --  but unfortunately omits the other, larger and faster road:
open-access self-archiving.

>        Scientists take on the publishers in an experiment to make
>        research free to all
>        New academics' journal launched in challenge to multinationals
>        David Adam, science correspondent Monday October 6, 2003 The
>        Guardian
>        http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk_news/story/0,3604,1056608,00.html
>        In the highly lucrative world of cutting-edge scientific research,
>        it is nothing short of a revolution. A group of leading scientists
>        are to mount an unprecedented challenge to the publishers
>        that lock away the valuable findings of research in expensive,
>        subscription-only electronic databases by launching their own
>        journal to give away results for free.

The PLoS open-access journals are very important, welcome and useful.
But they are certainly not the first open-access journals. There have
been open-access journals since the late 1980's, and in many fields.

Moreover the objective is not to challenge research publishers but to
provide open access to published research.

>        The control of information on everything from new cancer
>        treatments to space exploration is at stake, while caught in the
>        crossfire are the world's publicly funded scientists, some of whom
>        will soon face a choice between their career and their conscience.

It is not about control of information (for this information is all being
published, in research journals that anyone whose institution can afford
the access-tolls can read). It is about *access* to that information,
which most potential users' institutions cannot afford.

>        On one side of the conflict stand the major multinational
>        publishing houses like Elsevier Science that package scientific
>        findings into hundreds of specialist journals and sell them for
>        thousands of pounds a year. On the other is a new publishing group
>        called the Public Library of Science (PLoS) that will distribute
>        its journals free of charge and is backed by top scientists,
>        including the British Nobel prize winners Paul Nurse and Sir
>        John Sulston.

And also on the other side, along with the open-access publishers like
PLoS and the Nobel Laureates are the hundreds of thousands of
researchers who are making their own toll-access articles open-access by
self-archiving them on their institutional websites. And on the same
side with them are at least 55% of research journals which, though
toll-access, support open-access self-archiving by their authors --
all Elsevier's journals being among them! (And many of the other journals
will agree, if asked).

The reason 55% of research, at the very least, is not already
open-access is hence not its publishers! It is that researchers and
their institutions have not yet realized that self-archiving their own
research in their own institutional open-access archives is what they
should be doing.

If half as much energy and enthusiasm were invested in promoting
open-access self-archiving as is being invested in open-access
publishing today, then not just the articles in today's c. 500
open-access journals would be open-access, but so would the articles
in the remaining 23,500 toll-access journals. Even at its present paltry
rate, at least three times as much annual research is made open-access
by being self-archived as by being published in an open-access journal
-- and in some areas of physics, *all* research is already open-access.
Promoting open-access self-archiving instead of just open-access
publishing would greatly accelerate that rate -- and it would accelerate
the transition to open-access publishing too!


>        "The publishers are making a lot of money out of our research and
>        it's not fair that lots of good, basic science isn't available
>        to everyone," said Julie Ahringer, a biologist at Cambridge
>        University. "Knowledge should be free."

Not all knowledge, but all knowledge that the author chooses to give away
(as all research journal article authors do). Unless we make this critical
distinction, which is at the very heart of the open-access movement, we
invite royalty-based book and textbook authors (for example) to oppose
the open-access movement! All *author-give-away knowledge* should be free.

>        Dr Ahringer is on the editorial board of PLoS Biology, the
>        group's first journal that is due to be launched on October
>        13. With articles about the genetic origins of elephants and
>        molecular signalling in the fruit fly, it is unlikely to displace
>        Cosmopolitan and FHM from the newsstands. But those behind the
>        new venture have their sights on an equally ambitious target:
>        convincing existing publishers to change their ways and join
>        them in making more information freely available.

Surely publishers are far more likely to be persuaded that the research
community really does want and need open access if researchers prove
they want and need it -- by at least going ahead and self-archiving that
55% of it for which they already have publishers' official green light!
Instead waiting passively for publishers to make all the effort and take 
all the risk of converting to open-access publishing, one journal at a
time, in order to provide the open access the research community purports
to need and want so much, not only delays open-access needlessly and
indefinitely, but it casts doubt in publishers' minds, understandably,
about how much the research community really does want and need open

>        "Our goal is to have this publishing model extend well beyond
>        us. We don't want to have 1% or 5% of the literature being
>        open access, we want all the literature to be open access,"
>        said Vivian Siegel, executive editor of the PLoS.

If so, then why focus only on the articles in the 500 open-access
journals (<5%), and not at least much on the self-archiving of
the articles in the other the 23,500 journals (>95%)?

>        The new biology journal will be available on the internet, but
>        25,000 print copies of the first monthly edition will also be
>        produced. A second journal for medical research is planned for
>        next year and more could follow.
>        While PLoS Biology is not the first open access scientific
>        journal, it is the most high-profile and best supported so far,
>        and, crucially, it is financed by a grant of several million
>        dollars from an American charitable foundation. It is probably
>        also the first science journal to advertise on US peak-time
>        television.

Self-archiving does not require or depend upon large grants. All it
needs is understanding and direct action by researchers who desire
open-access. It would help too if universities and research-funders
mandated that *all* research journal articles must be made
open-access (as an extension of existing "publish or perish" policy to
"publisher with maximal access, hence impact") -- either by publishing in
an open-access journal, if a suitable one exists, or by self-archiving
articles published in toll-access journals. As long as our attention
and effort is focused only or mainly on the 5% solution, progress will
be slow and uncertain.

>        Hallmark
>        "The goal of this journal is to become the first destination
>        for research in the life sciences and to compete head-on with
>        the existing high-profile journals," Dr Siegel said. "It's about
>        doing something you believe in rather than doing things the way
>        everybody else does them and I think that's the hallmark of the
>        best scientists."
>        While other publishers publicly say they are not threatened by the
>        move, they are watching the situation with mounting concern. At
>        least one already has its own open-access version primed and
>        ready to launch if necessary.

Publisher concern about -- and solidarity with -- the research community's
expressed desire for open-access has led to 55% of journals already
declaring themselves "blue" or "green" (self-archiving-friendly). Are
publishers likely to take that concern very seriously if researchers
themselves do not vote for open-access by self-archiving their own
research, and instead just wait passively for publishers to do it for
them, journal by journal?


>        "We're all scientists and we like experiments, well here's an
>        experiment. And if it works then we'll all take the lessons from
>        it," said Dr Alan Leshner, executive publisher of the American
>        journal Science.
>        In a statement, Elsevier Science said: "Elsevier welcomes further
>        experimentation and are open to competition, but do not believe
>        that the existing subscription-based business model should be
>        abandoned prior to proving that another model works."

Should the research community not first make clear its immediate need of
open-access, by investing the tiny effort it takes to self-archive their
own articles, rather than expecting publishers to pre-emptively change
their business models based on faith alone?

>        Some competitors have predicted that the new journal group will
>        be unable to keep its head above water once its initial funding
>        runs out.  While most journals charge hefty subscription fees,
>        the PLoS intends to pay its way by charging the scientists
>        whose work is published; it hopes that the funding agencies and
>        charities paying for the research in the first place will pick
>        up the $1,500 bill. "Our motivation is to serve the community
>        in the best way possible and to do it by just making ends meet
>        rather than generating huge profits," Dr Siegel said.

It's all worthwhile, but surely, if funding agencies invest the money in
paying the costs of the few open-access journals that so far exist,
then investing also in promoting and even mandating self-archiving would
bring far greater returns on both investments in open access.


>        The new journals follow a failed attempt by the PLoS group to
>        use more direct action to force scientific publishers to make
>        information freely available. More than 30,000 scientists signed
>        its pledge to boycott journals that refused to fully release
>        scientific results, but backed down when the publishers called
>        their bluff.

Yes, threatening to boycott 23,500 toll-access journals is not very
convincing, especially when only 500 open-access journals exist
as an alternative venue to publish in! And creating open-access
journals one at a time (and finding funding to pay their costs)
is a slow process. Would not the self-archiving of at least
the contents of the 55% of journals that have already declared
themselves blue or green send a clearer message? (And it might
even start generating some of the windfall toll-access savings
out of which open-access journal costs could eventually be paid:
http://www.nature.com/nature/debates/e-access/Articles/harnad.html#B1 ).

>        This is partly because such journals offer scientists more than
>        just information. Researchers need to publish their findings to
>        secure funding and job offers, and an appearance in the highly
>        regarded pages of Science or the London-based Nature effectively
>        places a large gold star on a young scientist's CV.

So why not have your cake and eat it too, by publishing in Nature (a
green publisher) and self-archiving your paper too?

>        Some scientists say this academic pecking order could yet scupper
>        the PLoS journals. "I would probably at the moment continue
>        sending my best work to the established journals," said Dr William
>        Harrison, a chemistry researcher at Aberdeen University who signed
>        the original PLoS petition.  "However good or well-intentioned
>        this new kind of initiative is, it will certainly take time for
>        it to become known and established and even respectable."

It is apparent that researchers have not yet understood that there is
no "either/or" between toll-access and open-access publishing, insofar
as open-access itself is concerned, because there is the option of

>        One group of people willing it to succeed are university
>        librarians, who have seen both the number and price of journals
>        escalate rapidly in recent years.

The library community, driven by their serials budget crisis,  will get
historical credit for having been the first to sound the alarm about
access. They first fought for lower access tolls, and now they have
taken up the cause of open access.

It is important, though, that the library community should not redirect
all of its hopes and efforts toward supporting the open-access publishing
road to open access. They are also perfectly positioned and qualified to
support open-access self-archiving too -- and it too promises a strong
return on their investment: http://www.eprints.org/self-faq/#libraries-do

>        Jan Wilkinson, head librarian at the University of Leeds, said
>        an average journal subscription costs about £1,000, with some,
>        such as Elsevier's Brain Research, costing as much as £15,000 a
>        year. "Big research libraries have tried to act collectively to
>        put pressure on publishers, but our academics need the journals
>        for their research and the pressure from them is so great that
>        our ability to withhold payment isn't very powerful," she said.

Hang in there. Although self-archiving, being distributed and anarchic,
will not generate cancellations journal by journal, as open-access
creation and conversion can do, it is in a position to produce much more
global changes in the same direction, heading the entire planet toward
a sea-change in the direction of open access.

>        Most research libraries are phasing out print subscriptions
>        in exchange for access to large electronic packages that give
>        access to hundreds of titles, but the price of these packages
>        is rising by as much as 150% a year.
>        "We need to get academics to recognise the craziness of what
>        they've been doing," she said. "They do all this work and then
>        they just hand it over for free, and then the publishers sell
>        it back to us at these rip-off prices."

There are two logical and strategic errors here:

First, the often repeated library lament that "our researchers give it
away and then we have to buy it back" is incorrect! What our institutional
library buys in is not our *own* research output (we already have that!)
but the research output of *other* institutions! All the more reason to
self-archive our research output, under the Golden Rule of reciprocity:
"Self-Archive Unto Others as Ye Would Have Them Self-Archive Unto

Second, although researchers have sympathy for the library serials
crisis, they will *not* be persuaded either to switch to open-access
journals or to self-archive for the sake of relieving their library's
serial crisis. Hence it is important to couch the appeal to
self-archive in the (self-interested) terms of the Golden Rule Above,
all for the sake of maximizing the impact of their *own* research
(by making it openly accessible to all its would-be users worldwide)
as well as to maximize their *own* access to the research output of
others -- by the dual open-access strategy:

    (1) Publish your research in an open-access journal whenever a suitable 
        one exists.

    (2) Otherwise, publish your research in a suitable toll-access
    journal otherwise, and also self archive it in your own institutional
    open-access eprint archives.

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 amsci-forum.amsci.org 

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