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Another Poynder Eye-Opener on Open Access Stevan Harnad 14 Mar 2011 20:43 UTC

Poynder, Richard (2011) PLoS ONE, Open Access, and the Future of
Scholarly Publishing. Open and Shut. 7 March 2011.
ABSTRACT: Open Access (OA) advocates argue that PLoS ONE is now the
largest scholarly journal in the world. Its parent organisation —
Public Library of Science (PLoS) — was co-founded in 2001 by Nobel
Laureate Harold Varmus. What does the history of PLoS tell us about
the development of PLoS ONE? What does the success of PLoS ONE tell us
about OA? And what does the current rush by other publishers to clone
PLoS ONE tell us about the future of scholarly communication?


Richard Poynder has written another timely and important eye-opener
about Open Access. Although (as usual!) I disagree with some of the
points Richard makes in his paper, I think it is again a welcome
cautionary piece from this astute observer and chronicler of OA
developments across the years.

(1) Richard is probably right that PLOS ONE is over-charging and
under-reviewing (and over-hyping).

(2) It is not at all clear, however, that the solution is to deposit
everything instead as unrefereed preprints in an IR and then wait for
the better stuff to be picked up by an "overlay journal". (I actually
think that's utter nonsense.)

(3) The frequently mooted notion (of Richard Smith and many others) of
postpublication "peer review" is not much better, but it is like a
kind of "evolutionarily unstable strategy" that could be dipped into
experimentally to test what scholarly quality, sustainability, and
scaleability it would yield -- until (as I would predict) the
consequences become evident enough to induce everyone to draw back.

(4) Although there is no doubt that Harold Varmus's stature and
advocacy have had an enormous positive influence on the growth of OA,
in my opinion Richard's is attributing far too much prescience to
Harold's original 1999 E-biomed proposal. [See my 1999 criticisms.
Although I was still foolishly flirting with central deposit at the
time (and had not yet realized that mandates would be required to get
authors to deposit at all), I think I picked out the points that
eventually led to incoherence; and, no, PLOS was not on the horizon at
that time (even BMC didn't exist).]

(5) Also, of course, I think Richard gives the Scholarly Scullery way
too much weight (though Richard does rightly state that he has no
illusions about those chefs' motivation -- just as he stresses that he
has no doubts about PLOS's sincerity).

(6) Richard's article may do a little short-term harm to OA, but not a
lot. It is more likely to do some good.

(7) I wish, of course, that Richard had mentioned the alternative that
I think is the optimal one (and that I think will still prevail),
namely, that self-archiving the refereed final draft of all journal
articles (green OA) will be mandated by all universities and funders,
eventually causing subscription cancellations, driving down costs to
just those of peer review, and forcing journals to convert to
institutional payment for individual outgoing paper publication
instead of for incoming bulk subscription. The protection against the
temptation to "dumb down" peer review to make more money is also
simple and obvious: no-fault refereeing charges.

(8) Richard replied that the reason he did not dwell on Green OA,
which he too favors, is that he thinks Green OA progress is still too
slow (I agree!) and that it's important to point out that the fault in
the system is at the publisher end -- whether non-OA publisher or OA.
I continue to think the fault is at the researcher end, and will be
remedied by Green OA self-archiving by researchers, and Green OA
self-archiving mandates by research institutions and funders

Harnad, S. (2010) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of
Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16

Harnad, S. (2009) The PostGutenberg Open Access Journal. In: Cope, B.
& Phillips, A (Eds.) The Future of the Academic Journal. Chandos.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum