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For Whom the Gate Tolls?

Stevan Harnad harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Mon Feb 2 23:00:50 EST 2004

Subject Thread: 
    "For Whom the Gate Tolls?"

On Mon, 2 Feb 2004, [identity deleted] wrote:

> I would like to make a point that is being missed. What is wrong with
> a publication policy that charges institutions but not individuals? 

(1) Institutional library subscriptions and site-licenses *are* the main way
that individual researchers access the peer-reviewed journal literature today
(24,000 journals, 2.5 million articles per year).

(2) Institutional subscriptions-tolls, site-license-tolls, or pay-to-view tolls
are the three forms of *toll* access.

(3) Tolls block access by those would-be users whose institutions cannot afford
the access tolls.

(4) No institution can afford toll-access to all or most of the 24,000 journals,
but only to a small and shrinking fraction of them.

(5) That is precisely the access problem: The authors of the annual 2.5 million
peer-reviewed journal articles write so that the maximal number of would-be
users can use their findings ("research impact").

(6) Access tolls block research impact: Every article is accessible
only to a fraction of its would-be users. (Those employed by an institution
that can afford the tolls for the journal the article appears in.)

(7) Hence institutional tolls are the problem, not the solution.

(8) The solution is for the authors of every one of the annual 2.5
million articles to provide open access to all of their article's
would-be users by either (i) publishing it in a suitable open-access
journal if one exists (5%) or else (ii) publishing it in a suitable
toll-access journal (95%) but also self-archiving it in their
own institutional open-access eprint archive.

> For example, I believe that a model charging libraries but not individuals
> is viable and even attractive. 

It is viable only for those libraries that can afford to pay
for *that particular journal* (out of the total 24,000). It is
attractive only to the author who has not yet been made aware
of the substantial and needless impact loss it means for his research:

> Why would a library pay? It is in the library's best interest to provide
> a portal to all research, organized and indexed appropriately, with other
> benefits made possible by patrons using the portal on a regular basis -
> personalization, for example.

There are plenty of benefits to the library that can afford to pay for any
particular journal. But the point here is that no library can afford to pay for
all or most journals, but only to a small and shrinking fraction of them. And the
real loser is the author (and the author's research impact -- hence research
progress itself is a joint loser with the author and the author's institution).

Nor is open access merely a matter of making tolls more affordable: Even if all
24,000 journals were sold at-cost (zero profit) it would still remain true of
every article published that most of its would-be users could not access it,
because most institutions worldwide still could not afford most journals,
even at-cost.

In short, peer-reviewed research articles are not a form of writing that
should ne sold for tolls at all. It is an author give-away, not fee-
or royalty-seeking writing.

> The charge need not be high for all to benefit. And if a library chose
> not to participate, and instead directed users to some other Web site?
> So what? The point remains the same: no violation of a reasonable free
> access model.

I could not quite follow. Libraries can afford toll-access to what they can
afford. Beyond that, the institutional user is out of luck. (Should he go to
the vendor's site and pay-to-view out of his own pocket, article by article?)

But there *is* another site to which the would-be user at an institution
that cannot afford the toll-access to that particular journal should
go instead: The author's own institutional open-access eprint
archive (harvested and integrated by the OAI-interoperability
protocol). The self-archived versions of the 2.5 million annual articles
provide a supplementary open-access version for all would-be users whose
institutions cannot afford the toll-access version.

> One outstanding point was made in the debate: the open access movement
> should not become synonymous with changing the cost recovery model for
> journal publication.  Indeed, from the definitions being discussed,
> it would change the model to forbidding cost recovery.

No, both the toll-access (user-institution-end) cost-recovery model and
the open-access (author-institution-end) cost-recovery model are cost-recovery
models. So no one is forbidding cost-recovery (though there may be pressures to
try to reduce costs to the essentials in an open-access model).

But it is certainly true -- in fact, I think the wrong-headed view that it
is *not* true has lately joined the long list of self-generated obstacles
that are slowing the progress of research to the optimal and inevitable
outcome http://www.eprints.org/self-faq/#31.Waiting -- that there is no
need for the change in cost-recovery model to come *before* open access
can be provided (and no sense in waiting passively for it). Self-archiving
is the surest and fastest road to immediate universal open access.

    "The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition"

Stevan Harnad

NOTE: A complete archive of the ongoing discussion of providing open
access to the peer-reviewed research literature online (1998-2004)
is available at the American Scientist Open Access Forum:
        To join the Forum: 
        Post discussion to: 
    american-scientist-open-access-forum at amsci.org
        Hypermail Archive: 

Unified Dual Open-Access-Provision Policy:
    BOAI-2 ("gold"): Publish your article in a suitable open-access
            journal whenever one exists.
    BOAI-1 ("green"): Otherwise, publish your article in a suitable
            toll-access journal and also self-archive it.

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