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Re: Is OA (Gold) really a desirable goal for scientific journal publishing? (fwd) Stevan Harnad 10 Jan 2007 03:41 UTC

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 8 Jan 2007 23:26:22 +0000
From: Stevan Harnad <>
Subject: Re: Is OA (Gold) really a desirable goal for scientific
      journal publishing?

  [Note: This exchange is between two different Harnads: John Harnad, a
  mathematical physicist, and Stevan Harnad, an archivangelist...]

On Mon, 8 Jan 2007, John Harnad wrote:

> JH:
> Open Access (Gold) means: a journal charging
> nothing for reader access to electronic versions of articles published
> in it. This is to be distinguished from Open Access (Green), which
> means a journal allowing, or encouraging the simultaneous deposit
> of peer reviewed published papers in publicly accessible, linked
> institutional repositories, or central repositories...


> JH:
> It is a pity that the same expression "Open Access" is used by many to
> refer to both these policies, without making clear that two logically
> and practically distinct concepts are being confounded. This may
> cause misunderstandings which, in some instances, can camouflage a
> hijacking of objectives.

The expression "OA" is used for the *outcome*, not for the "policy": Gold
is a journal's cost-recovery model, whereas Green is a journal's copyright
policy (and it can also be an institution's or funder's access-provision
policy for its employees/fundees, e.g., a self-archiving mandate). Either
way, Gold or Green, the outcome is the same: free online access, and
OA is the name of that outcome. Gold and Green are merely the two ways
to reach it.

> JH:
> The "Gold" version of Open Access involves
> several questionable implications for the scientific community, and
> those advocating it within the community should seriously rethink
> its desirability.


> JH:
> the only mechanisms by which a
> journal can operate in "Gold" Open Access mode are: 1) direct support
> through public or other institutional grants, 2) advertising revenues,
> 3) subscription costs for paper versions that exist in parallel with
> the free, electronic versions, or 4) transferring the costs for a
> major share of its overhead, and profits, to the authors.

Yes, but those costs are very different now, on the subscription model,
and while people still want the paper edition, from what they will be when
the only function being performed by journals will be peer review, and
everything else has been offloaded onto the network of OA Institutional
Repositories (archiving and access provision).

> JH:
> Charging only for the paper version of subscriptions, when the electronic
> version is accessible to all for free is, in most cases, not likely to
> be a viable way to cover costs or make a profit. Therefore, the only
> candidates for [paying] this are, either: the authors, or paying
> advertisers, or direct grants from public or private funding agencies.

Agreed that the residual costs, whatever they turn out to be, *if/when
subscriptions should ever become unsustainable* and there is a conversion
to OA publishing, will be borne by the author's institution and/or funder.

> JH:
> Of the roughly 2500 journals currently listed by the Lund University
> Directory of Open Access Journals, a large number function by charging
> their authors very hefty publications fees (e.g., those published by
> the OA (Gold) publishers Biomed Central charge their authors "article
> processing charges" that are typically of the order of $1500 US
> (1120 euros) per article).

Those prices are all still inflated because journals (including BioMed
Central and PLoS journals) have not yet downsized to peer-review
provision alone. That will only happen if and when subscriptions are no
longer covering costs. Then journals will cut costs and downsize to the
essentials, offloading text-generation, access-provision and archiving
onto the OA IR network and only performing peer review.

> JH:
> Some (e.g., in biomedical research) have
> advertising revenues that are adequate to sustain them, possibly when
> combined with professional association fees and subscriptions. But this
> is not a feasible model in a majority of areas of scientific research.


> JH:
>  In some cases, direct government support is adequate to sustain OA (Gold)
> journals, but, for the most part, these are journals having limited
> geographical scope, and little or no international standing.

Agreed that subsidy does not scale up to most or all of the core
journals; downsizing and redirecting institutional windfall
subscription cancellation savings, however, does, if and when it
ever happens.

> JH:
> There are
> also those that are effectively "in-house" publications supported by a
> specific university department, largely through volunteer work, without
> a paid full-time professional staff. These generally are also of rather
> limited scope and distribution, serving a somewhat narrow segment of
> the research community.

Agreed. This too does not scale.

> JH:
> 1) In most areas of research, no alternative to "author pays" or
> "subscriber pays" models currently exists that is compatible with
> maintenance of quality. There do not exist sufficient direct grants
> from government or other research funding agencies to publishers, nor
> revenues from private advertisers, to allow a majority of journals to
> become either publicly funded or self-supporting through advertising
> revenues.

Agreed that today, when potential institutional publication funds are all
still tied up in subscriptions, there is no way to cover Gold publishing
costs without directing funds from research (or from other, unspecified
sources). Hence Gold publishing is and remains premature until and unless
publishing costs are cut and institutional subscriptions are terminated
so they can be redirected to cover the institutional publication costs.

> JH:
> 2) There is a large variation across domains of research in the
> percentage that would have to be attributed from available research
> grants to cover publications costs if they were to be transferred
> mainly to the "author pays" mode. In some domains, where the scale of
> research grants is very high (e.g. experimental high energy physics
> and some domains of biomedical research), this may be only of the
> order of 1-2%.  But in others (e.g. theoretical and mathematical
> physics), where research grants are available only on a more modest
> scale, this could easily rise to 10-15% if applied to all journal
> publications. Thus, these areas would be relatively penalized by
> an order of magnitude regarding monies that must be subtracted from
> other, "direct" research purposes.

I am not sure of the amounts, but I agree that until and unless
subscription expenditures are redirected, the funds will have to be
taken from elsewhere (most likely, research).

> JH:
> 3) Those researchers who do not have substantial research grants -
> which includes those from countries that cannot afford high levels
> of research support, and individuals from countries in which a highly
> selective process of grant attribution excludes a large percentage of
> potentially active researchers from the benefits of grant support -
> would be particularly penalized by such a mode of charging.

Again, this is true now, hence Gold OA is premature and we should focus
completely on Green OA. But if and when Green OA causes subscription
collapse, there will be cost-cutting, downsizing, and redirection of the
windfall savings to cover the much-reduced cost of Gold.

> JH:
> 4) It is highly unlikely that public (or private) funding agencies
> will be willing to increase their budgets to cover such extra
> publication charges for authors, even if they express themselves in
> favour of "Open Access" and continue to allow this (as most do now)
> as a legitimate item within the budget of a supported researcher. The
> implication is that the extra costs for publication charges will
> have to be subtracted from other, current research expenditures. For
> those, e.g., in the 10-15% category, this means, effectively, a 10-15%
> cut in their "actual" research budgets.

Agreed that the costs of Gold, while the potential publication funds are
still tied up in subscriptions, are likely to be covered from research funds,
and that this is premature, over-paying (in some cases double-paying)
and unnecessary -- for OA. Self-archiving will provide (Green) OA, now.

> JH:
> 5) The notion that "Open access" will miraculously cut the costs to
> publishers, making it possible either to charge lower subscription
> rates for paper versions, or more modest page charges than have been
> applied in the past, is a fallacy. The erroneous logic behind this
> is based on the expectation that, since electronic versions are much
> cheaper to produce, reducing the volume of paper printed versions
> (or eliminating these entirely) will greatly diminish the overhead of
> the publishers, making OA "Gold" much more cost-effective. This is
> simply confused thinking.

Not confused in the least. The only confusion is in the omission of the
principal cost-cutting factor: downsizing to peer-review service provision
alone, offloading text-generation on the authors, and access-provision
and archiving on the Institutional Repositories. Nothing is left to do
then the but peer review: less than $500 per paper -- sometimes much
less. Compare that to the $1500-$3000++ being paid now, collectively,
via subscriptions for the peer review plus all the other products and
services it come bundled with. Publishers cannot and will not today
unbundle and leave only the cost of peer review. Only reaching 100%
Green OA can and will do it -- if anything can; and if not, then, by
definition, 100% green OA simply continues to co-exist with a sustainable
non-OA publishing model.

    Berners-Lee, T., De Roure, D., Harnad, S. and Shadbolt, N. (2005)
    Journal publishing and author self-archiving: Peaceful Co-Existence
    and Fruitful Collaboration.

> JH:
> Although there is certainly a diminution
> of costs to be expected due to the increasing emphasis on electronic
> publishing, this will be the case because of ongoing developments in
> technology, and habits, not due to "Open Access" or any other mode
> of cost-revenue balancing. If the journal is reliant entirely on
> its electronic version, which is free, it has to generate revenue
> somehow. The loss of income from subscriptions for OA "Gold"
> publishers will be the overwhelming factor, pressuring them to
> transfer costs to the authors. However, if this becomes the main
> source of revenue for publishers, the rate for page charges can only
> become even higher than in the earlier days of mainly paper printed
> versions of journals.

The only service, and the only cost, will be peer review. That is not
"electronic publishing": that is OA publishing, when the OA is provided
by the Green self-archiving, and the journal only provides the peer
review service.

> JH:
> 6) The notion that money that would be saved by libraries will be
> made available to the researchers who will henceforth have to cover
> the costs for producing journals from their research budgets is also,
> in most academic settings, erroneous. There is no mechanism for such
> a transfer. In most academic settings, the sources and methods of
> distribution of funds for these two purposes are completely distinct,
> and it is nothing but wishful thinking to imagine that there will
> be an automatic adjustment that balances a major transfer of the
> financial burden from one to the other. The high costs, if they
> remain high, will simply be transferred from library budgets to
> researchers budgets, without any adequate compensatory mechanism to
> offset the change.

There is no redirection mechanism now because there are no cancellation
savings to redirect, and no need to redirect. Necessity is the Mother of
Invention: If and when subscriptions are ever cancelled under pressure
from Green OA, publishers will cut costs and downsize and institutions
will redirect their windfall cancellations savings to cover their newfound
publication costs. It is only hard to imagine now because there is no
precedent, no opportunity, and no need.

> JH:
> 7) The quality of scientific journals would be negatively affected by
> transferring the burden of costs from subscribers to researchers. This
> mechanism is not likely to ever be applied universally to all journals
> in a given field, and those journals which do not rely on hefty
> page charges for their operation will, as in the past, tend to be
> the more prestigious ones, where an author must provide an article
> that is of sufficiently high calibre to justify its publication,
> whereas the page-charge journals, being reliant on this income for
> their sustenance, will tend to accept lower calibre contributions,
> provided the author is willing to pay.

There is and always was a hierarchy of journal quality and peer review
rigour. There is no reason at all why this should change with a change in
cost-recovery model. (The peers continue to review, for free, the editor
continues to select the reviewers and adjudicate the reviews, and the
$500 per paper is to cover the costs of that.)

The premise is that the conversion to Gold will be induced by subscription
cancellations, themselves induced by 100% Green OA. To maintain their
quality, journals will have to continue maintaining their selectivity,
refereeing standards and rejection rates, *exactly as they do now*. (It
might, however, be useful to also levy a [lower] submission fee, credited
towards the publication fee if the paper is accepted, in order to deter
nuisance submissions and submissions to multiple journals that would
raise the publication fee for accepted articles if rejected article costs
were instead wrapped into the costs of accepted articles.  This too is
a minor implementational detail, however, as is the coverage of the fees
for indigent authors.)

> JH:
> For the immediate future, taking into account the variations in
> sources and levels of support available for funding scientific
> publishing across different domains, a "hybrid" model with adequate
> choices and flexibility would best serve the community. In some
> areas, either because of the availability of advertising revenues,
> or very high levels of research grant support, perhaps an OA "Gold"
> policy can be sustained.  But in a large part of the scientific
> research community, such a model would entail an unjustified and
> unwise transfer of the burden of support for scientific publication
> costs to the researchers and their existing resources.

OA's immediate, urgent and reachable goal is not publishing reform
but access-provision -- in order to maximize usage and impact. And
that is 100% attainable, now, via OA self-archiving (and especially OA
self-archiving mandates). Let Gold OA experiments continue, but meanwhile
let us not count on them or wait for them in order to provide the 100%
OA that is already 100% within reach.

> JH:
> Given the currently available resources, a large-scale switch to
> "Gold"  Open Access is neither beneficial to the quality of scientific
> publishing, nor in the interests of most researchers. This does
> not imply that the "ideal" of Open Access (i.e. cost free access to
> the scientific community) is not desirable or achievable. A large
> part of it can, however, be achieved without transferring the cost
> burden to authors' research grants, simply by relying mainly on
> freely accessible data bases

I.e., self-archiving, Green OA: agreed.

> JH:
> Naturally, such data bases do not provide the "value-added"
> or guarantee of quality that the peer-review refereeing system
> does, and hence cannot substitute for it

There is no need for IRs to provide peer review, nor to substitute for
peer review: Peer review is currently being provided by the journals,
and the journals' costs are currently being covered by subscriptions!
Green OA is a *supplement* to the current (non-OA) publishing system,
not a *substitute* for it. (If and when Green OA ever does cause
cancellations, cost-cutting and downsizing to peer review alone, *then*
will be the time to convert to Gold.)

> JH:
> the parallel existence of the two does both, provided
> the peer reviewed, referee-based publishing journals continue to
> accept the co-existence of such no-cost access to essentially the
> same body of published papers, divested perhaps only of the luxury
> of standardized formatting. It is up to the publishing authors -
> and in their interests - to see to it that they do so.

As long as there is the institutional demand for journals' current
subscription-based products and services, their peer review costs are
covered. If and when the demand falls to unsustainable levels:
cost-cutting, downsizing and redirection of institutional subscription

In summary: I agree that OA Gold is premature, but I do not agree that
it will not be feasible eventually, if/when necessary; nor that it will
require taking a single penny away from research (eventually, as opposed
to right now): I do agree, however, that OA Gold would take money away
from research right now.  Hence that's another reason to accelerate and
mandate Green now, rather than focussing, counting, or waiting on Gold.

The gist of our difference is two points:

    (1) It is certainly not "wishful thinking" that institutional
    subscription savings can and will be redirected to pay for
    institutional Gold OA publication costs if and when 100% Green
    self-archiving should ever force subscription cancellation.

    (2) The amount that OA publishing will cost then (not now: then,
    i.e., after distributed, institutional OA self-archiving has
    reached 100% and takes over all of the functions of text generation,
    access provision, and archiving) will be less that $500 per paper:
    the cost of implementing peer review alone. The cost per paper via
    subscriptions today is $1500-$3000++. Hence there will be enough
    institutional savings on incoming subscriptions to pay for outgoing
    publication more than three times over (which will balance out any
    institutional disparities in net input/output).

Stevan Harnad

Pertinent Prior AmSci Subject Threads:

    "Savings from Converting to On-Line-Only: 30%- or 70%+ ?"
     (Started Aug 27 1998)

    "The Urgent Need to Plan a Stable Transition" (Started Sep 1998!)

    "The Logic of Page Charges to Free the Journal Literature"
    (Started April 29 1999)

    "2.0K vs. 0.2K" (Started May 7 1999)

    "Online Self-Archiving: Distinguishing the Optimal from the
    Optional" (Started May 11 1999)

    "The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review)"
    (Started July 5 1999)

    "Separating Quality-Control Service-Providing from
    Document-Providing" (Started November 30 1999)

    "Distinguishing the Essentials from the Optional Add-Ons"
    (Started July 2001)

    "Author Publication Charge Debate" (Started June 28 2001)

    "JHEP will convert from toll-free-access to toll-based access"
    (Started January 5 2002)

    "The True Cost of the Essentials" (Started April 2 2002)

   "The True Cost of the Essentials (Implementing Peer Review - NOT!)"
    (Started April 1 2002)

    "Journal expenses and publication costs" (Started January 10 2003)

   "Scientific publishing is not just about administering peer-review"
    (Started  October 15 2003)

    "The Economics of Open Access Journal Publishing"
    (Started November 3 2003)

    "The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition"
    (Started January 7 2004)