Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large
ISSN 1534-0937
Libraries · Policy · Technology · Media

Selection from Cites & Insights 8, Number 11: November 2008

Library Access to Scholarship

OA Controversies

As we were bluntly reminded by the House Judiciary Committee, there’s a gap between what we’d like to focus on regarding access to scholarship—and what we’re forced to pay attention to. I’ll suggest we should be focusing on these issues, among others (and note that some folks are doing a fine job of focusing on them):

·         Success stories in institutional repositories and finding ways to make such repositories effective and sustainable.

·         Investigating actual visibility and effectiveness of “green OA” through different means—that is, the comparative improvements in article impact through availability through institutional repositories as compared to subject repositories such as arXiv and PubMed, and what we can do to make the two comparably effective (if they’re not now).

·         Investigating and demonstrating real costs for gold OA and the range of such costs under different scenarios.

·         A bunch of other issues, a number of them noted in “Open access issues” on the PALINET Leadership Network ( php/Open_access_issues)

Have I mentioned lately that the PALINET Leadership Network, my “day job,” has a fine collection of articles on open access designed to help leaders get up to speed? The article noted above will guide you to the others—eight in all as of this writing.

I’d like to summarize progress in some of these areas. It’s fun to write about wonderful new developments. Unfortunately, we also need to stay aware of the direct threats to open access and its advances. Here’s a key truth:

·         The enemies of open access have large budgets, are well organized, and have shown little reluctance to bend the truth or repeat discredited statements. And they don’t give up.

Enemies? Isn’t that a strong word? Well, what else would you call PRISM, to take one example? And what else would you call the forces behind September’s House hearings on the NIH policy?

There are billions of dollars a year at stake—small potatoes in the world economy, but big numbers for academic libraries and scholarly publishing. If open access really works, it’s going to shift some of those dollars. I’ve long held the possibly-naïve hope that some of that shift could improve the ability of academic libraries to maintain strong monographic collections and to conserve and preserve their collections and services. That’s mostly why I still write about library access to scholarship.

The companies and associations now taking the lion’s share of those billions don’t want to give them up. The extreme cases—a small group of mostly-European for-profit STM publishers with very high profit margins—make noises about supporting open access, but seem intent on doing so only in ways that will assure that their revenues and profits continue to grow. They’re joined by a fair number of associations that have grown to rely too heavily on journal profits to fund other association activities, forcing libraries and their institutions to subsidize the associations. Some of those associations are clearly unwilling to reduce or abandon those subsidies—and their spokespeople are in some cases willing to attack OA even more sharply than the companies making the bulk of the profits. I won’t call these people useful fools; I assume they know what they’re doing.

I’d accumulated some items over the past two years dealing with opposition and extremes. The second part of this essay will note and comment on some of those items. But first, there’s the immediate case—attempts by publishers to get Congress to undo the NIH archiving policy that Congress mandated, weak though that policy is.

The NIH Mandate

It’s a shame the National Institutes of Health could just spring this radical mandate to seize control over research while nobody was watching. Which is to say:

·         In July 2004, the House Appropriations Committee adopted a set of recommendations including one instructing NIH to develop a policy requiring free online access to articles based on NIH-funded research, no later than six months after publication of those articles in peer-reviewed journals. Note the date: July 2004, more than four years ago.

·         In September 2004, NIH released a draft policy for a 60-day comment period.

With full awareness of Congress, NIH released a final version of the policy to take effect in May 2005—more than three years ago. These policies allowed up to a one-year embargo and constituted a request, not a requirement. Compliance was very low—below 4% as of January 2006.

·         As Peter Suber put it in early 2006, “Congress asked for a strong policy and NIH delivered a weak one.” NIH also noted that 100% compliance—all NIH-funded papers being deposited in PubMed in a timely fashion—would cost $15 million, a tiny portion of NIH’s $28 billion budget.

·         Slowly, ever so slowly, Congress and the NIH started moving from the ineffectual request for deposit to a requirement, a mandate.

·         That mandate was finally achieved, in an omnibus spending bill signed in late December 2007—still with up to a year’s embargo, but with a requirement for PubMed deposit. Initial indications are that the mandate is working: A much higher percentage of NIH-funded papers are showing up in PubMed, sooner or later.

There were ever so many different attacks during that 3.5-year period. I suspect PRISM and the DC Coalition both have more to do with NIH than anything else. Still, after a very long period, a very modest mandate (that the public should eventually be able to see the results of the research it has paid for) became real.

So the publishers started using different tactics.

NIH’s acid test (and Surprise!)

Two posts by Dorothea Salo on Caveat lector on July 15 and 16, 2008 respectively (, with additional material from July 15, 2008 and July 19, 2008 posts at Open access news. The story involves the NIH mandate and the American Psychological Association—and a more direct publisher pushback than most of us had seen previously.

Here’s what Salo excerpts from the APA policy statement as of July 15 (NOT-OD-08-033 is the NIH deposit policy):

Authors publishing in APA or EPF journals should NOT deposit, personally and directly, Word documents of APA-accepted manuscripts or APA-published articles in PubMed Central (PMC) or any other depository. As the copyright holder, APA will make necessary deposits after formal acceptance by the journal editor and APA….

In compliance with NOT-OD-08-033, APA will deposit the final peer-reviewed manuscript of NIH-funded research to PMC upon acceptance for publication. The deposit fee of $2,500 per manuscript for 2008 will be billed to the author’s university per NIH policy. Deposit fees are an authorized grant expense. The article will also be available via PsycARTICLES.

Salo’s summary:

If you want to comply with the law demanding deposit in PubMed Central for an article we’re publishing, you pay us $2500. Do not complain, do not pass go, do not deposit the article yourself (which is free).

She calls this the acid test for NIH, and says that unless NIH acts, other publishers will set similar fees. “There’s no risk in it for them until you create one.” Peter Suber came down hard on the APA decision, saying, among other things:

No author or author-sponsor should ever have to pay a fee to deposit an article in an OA repository… [The NIH] certainly doesn't require publishers to charge fees. The APA is simply being dishonest when it says that it will bill its fee to universities “per NIH policy”… The foulness of this policy wouldn't matter if NIH-funded authors simply steered clear of APA journals…

And here’s where it gets interesting. One day later, the APA statement was gone. In its place:

A new document deposit policy of the American Psychological Association (APA) requiring a publication fee to deposit manuscripts in PubMed Central based on research funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is currently being re-examined and will not be implemented at this time. This policy had recently been announced on APA’s Web site. APA will soon be releasing more detailed information about the complex issues involved in the implementation of the new NIH Public Access Policy.

APA will continue to deposit NIH-funded manuscripts on behalf of authors in compliance with the NIH Public Access Policy.

Salo’s comment:

I hear through the grapevine that librarians were going to faculty who edit APA journals and asking whether they liked what they saw. If that worked, which is admittedly still to be determined, it suggests that such outreach should be standard procedure in cases like this. Find the editors on your campus, lay out what’s going on, ask whether it’s all right by them.

A few days later, Suber discussed the “new interim policy”—which is spelled out in a little more detail on the current site. To wit, APA will deposit the final peer-reviewed Word document (not the published article) for NIH-funded research “at the appropriate time,” presumably after a year—but will deposit the published article immediately for research funded by Wellcome Trust…but then, Wellcome is paying $4,000 per article for that immediate access.

It’s unfortunate (but predictable) that Stevan Harnad saw this as another excuse to attack the NIH mandate because it uses PubMed rather than institutional repositories—as always, Harnad sees One True Way and does his best to strike down any heresy, no matter the damage to open access as a whole. (Harnad appears to defend APA’s action—and accepts APA’s assurance that it didn’t say what it explicitly said in the July 15 statement, withdrawing its former “green OA” policy for NIH-funded articles.)

This was a sideshow—an instructive sideshow and one that might show the power of concerted action by scholars, but a sideshow nonetheless. This year’s main event came in September 2008…

All the notes that follow come from a series of posts at Peter Suber’s Open access news for September 5, 2008 through September 16, 2008 (www.earlham. edu/~peters/fos/), although some of those posts cite other sources. The full series of posts and other linked items tell the story in far more detail than I’ll offer here.

Publishers go to Congress to undo the NIH policy

Suber quotes extensively from a September 5 story by Andrew Albanese at Library Journal. Excerpts:

In less than a week…the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and Intellectual Property of the House of Representatives' Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on what sources tell LJ is a legislative attempt to redress publishers' concerns that public access policies —namely the recently enacted policy at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)— conflict with copyright and intellectual property laws…

The legislative hearing comes after publishers succeeded in adding a key phrase to the NIH public access mandate just before the bill’s passage in December, 2007—that the NIH policy be implemented “in a manner consistent with copyright law.” As LJ reported then, that simple phrase appeared to position publishers for a possible legal or legislative challenge to the policy.

In recent months, the possibility of a legal or legislative challenge began to seem almost certain…

Anticipating such a challenge, officials at SPARC and the Association of Research Libraries, however, have strongly denied that the NIH public access policy conflicts with copyright, last year preparing a memo of their own…

Suber links to a current SPARC analysis of the NIH policy and copyright law ( nihpolicy_copyright_july2008.pdf). He notes careful wording in one of the anti-NIH complaints—not that the policy actually infringes copyright (it doesn’t) but that it infringes a right publishers don’t have for NIH-funded research. Here’s part of Suber’s rewording of publisher complaints:

“OK, the policy doesn't violate the letter of copyright law, but it violates the spirit, which is that our ability to profit from research we didn't conduct, write up, or fund should not be put at risk just so that publicly-funded research can be made more useful, by reaching everyone who can make use of it, or just so that taxpayers don't have to pay twice for access… [T]he spirit of copyright law is that [authors] should transfer all of their rights to publishers. We've grown to depend on it… The government should protect us from risks created by new new and better ways of doing things. It violates the spirit of copyright law for a government agency like the NIH to put the taxpayers' interests ahead of our private interests as an industry.”

The bill and the hearing

The Fair Copyright in Research Works Act (HR 6845) was introduced on September 9 and the subcommittee held a hearing on September 11. Briefly, the bill would prevent any mandate similar to the NIH policy for any “extrinsic work”—which appears to mean not only any research funded in any part by anybody other than the Federal government, but also any research where there’s “meaningful added value” from anybody other than Federal agencies. It’s not just NIH; it’s any Federal agency—and it pretty much eliminates those agencies’ rights to require access licenses.

Suber’s initial take is that the bill didn’t seem likely to be passed this year, given elections and all—but it’s a “stalling tactic” that diverts OA energy and could “change the narrative” so that media and policymakers talk about “changes in copyright” rather than increases in access.

One blogger (Karen Rustad) may have gotten it in one as to why this bill even earned a hearing, given that the NIH mandate involves contract law and doesn’t at all affect copyright:

The only reason this has even made it to public comment (I think) is a bunch of representatives feeling slighted because a bill passed Congress without going through their committee (the Subcommittee on Courts, the Internet, and IP–the measure was part of an Appropriations bill, so it went through that committee). The grumbling at the opening of the session about how important their committee is, prestige of the Appropriations committee be damned, rah rah rah, I think bears this out. So the representatives have been receptive to the patently ridiculous argument that the NIH mandate changed copyright law and, thus, should have fallen under their purview.

The subcommittee involved includes “Hollywood Howard” Berman, who I’ve mentioned in various copyright-related contexts, and Rep. Conyers (who introduced the bill and is also fairly consistently in favor of increasing the reach of copyright under all circumstances). No party issues here: extreme copyright advocates are on both sides of that line.

Later that day, another OAN post notes statements from our friends the DC Principles Coalition and AAP’s PSP division and from the Copyright Alliance. An excerpt from the DCPC/PSP letter:

A recent congressional mandate at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) forces publishers to surrender their copyrighted scientific journal articles for free public access twelve months after publication and sets a dangerous precedent. This mandate in effect reduces copyright protection for this important class of works to only one year…

It does no such thing, to be sure, but that’s never bothered these groups. The letter from Patrick Ross of the Copyright Alliance is worse:

The mere fact that a scientist accepts as part of her funding a federal grant should not enable the federal government to commandeer the resulting research paper and treat it as a public domain work....[T]aking the scientist’s copyrighted interpretation of the data is not fair to other funders, and it is certainly not fair to the publisher. A publisher improves the work through a rigorous peer review process and develops it for publication. Authors and publishers don’t need the feds playing Rumpelstiltskin by returning after a year to take their children away.

That publisher has earned the right as a copyright owner to pursue a return on his investment, a pursuit made more difficult when its copyright term is essentially reduced to one year.

As Suber notes, “surrender” is a dishonest description, and indeed the NIH policy has no effect on the published version. Suber traces “surrender” back to PRISM and its “dishonest advocacy.” But Suber also notes “commandeer” as an escalation of rhetorical excess (noting “It would be at least as accurate to say that the traditional publishing model commandeers publicly-funded research, and holds it for ransom”) and the deceptive use of “public domain.”

Still later on September 11, Suber posted excerpts from stories on the hearing in Library Journal Academic Newswire, quoting some interesting notes from statements. Allan Adler (AAP) says “government does not fund peer-reviewed journal articles—publishers do.” That’s wonderful sophistry, since what publishers fund is the copy-editing and markup (most peer review is done for free), not either the research that led to the articles or the writing of the articles themselves. When a SPARC representative noted that peer review is done for free, with the main cost to publishers being “sending some emails,” Martin Frank of the American Physiological Society made a rather astonishing statement. He said APS spent $13 million a year to publish 14 journals (I wonder whether that’s expenses or revenues, but never mind) and that “sending those emails” accounts for about 20% of the publishing costs—or $2.6 million a year. Man, that’s a lot of email, or a lot of something. In his statement, he also said “The NIH has become a publisher.”

The copyright office came in on the side of the publishers. Ralph Oman said that in his opinion the NIH mandate would “destroy the market” for commercial scientific journals (which should be entirely out of his domain) and cause a “dilution” of copyright. He even referred to “the hairy snout” of government, saying it should be kept out of science publishing—but, oddly, nobody seems to think that NIH should keep its “hairy snout” out of research itself, which costs many times as much as the publishing (NIH figures $300,000 per article). A SPARC representative and the head of NIH both defended the mandate—and the SPARC executive director offered a personal anecdote, noting that her five-year-old son was diagnosed with diabetes and she was able to access worthwhile information thanks to NIH’s policy.

Stuff from September 12

There was a lot of activity the day after the hearing—OAN has seven posts throughout the day, some of them citing multiple sources. A few highlights, if that’s the right word:

·         A Chronicle of Higher Education report uses dramatic terms: “A life-and-death battle is going on over public access to federally financed research—life for taxpayers and many scientists, and death for publishers. Or so each side claims....” The writer notes who’s missing from the hearing: Scientists—but 33 Nobel Prize winners submitted an open letter calling the publishers’ move “wrong” and NIH’s policy “enlightened.” Martin Frank is quoted saying “Articles should not be taken from those of us responsible for their creation”—which is an interesting way to put it, since naïve citizens might assume that researchers create the articles, not journals. (Suber calls Frank’s claim “breathtakingly one-sided.”)

·         The American Chemical Society explicitly supported what was now being called the “Conyers bill.” The writeup on this story makes it clear that all peer-reviewed articles would be “extrinsic work” even if the research is wholly funded by Federal agencies—because the peer review and publication process represents nongovernment funding. Neat.

·         Science Magazine covered the hearing, noting that NIH says compliance has risen to 56%. The report includes a statement from Jonathan Band (representing ALA) noting the bill’s sweeping provisions as a fatal flaw—and this startling pair of sentences: “Representative John Conyers (D–MI)...questioned the need for the policy when the public can already obtain the papers through a subscription or at a library. Moreover, most journals make their content free after 12 months.” If the second sentence is true, there is no plausible reason for journals to object to the NIH mandate; the first is the kind of “let them eat cake” argument you wouldn’t expect from a Michigan Democrat, and ignores the fact that “a library” really only means some larger university libraries in all too many cases.

·         The American Association of University Presses, AAUP, sent a letter favoring the Conyers bill. The letter’s heavy on the phony “diminishing copyright” claim and, frankly, brings nothing new to the table. Later, the executive director of Rockefeller University Press wrote to disagree with AAUP’s stance and say the press “strongly opposes your efforts to overturn the NIH mandate.”

·         A piece in Government Executive clarifies the turf warfare at play—Conyers’ outrage that the House Appropriations Committee didn’t consult with his subcommittee before “pushing through” the mandate (after a mere three years of discussion and feedback). That piece says Howard Berman did not publicly endorse the bill—and a sidebar suggests that he might actually oppose it. (Suber notes that, since the NIH mandate has nothing to do with copyright, there was no reason for the Appropriations Committee to consult Conyers’ group. You think?)

·         Apparently, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) has an interesting idea: NIH should only post unreviewed articles to PubMed Central with a disclaimer. I didn’t say it was a good idea—and this was a case where Martin Frank and NIH’s Zerhouni actually agreed the move would be unfortunate (“disastrous” was Frank’s term), given the high rate of rejections in scientific journals.

·         A post by Michael Carroll notes that the Conyers bill would do more than reverse the NIH mandate: It would implicitly amend existing law and repeal longstanding contractual provisions for Federal contracts. He notes that a group of 47 law professors, all copyright specialists, sent the committee a letter noting that there’s no basis for the claim that NIH’s mandate is inconsistent with copyright. The letter notes that the NIH mandate is part of its funding contracts, not a copyright issue—and that the author chooses to accept NIH funding (and the contract) long before a publisher can enter the picture, so it’s not possible for the mandate to take intellectual property away from the publisher.

The close—for now

By September 16, it was fairly clear that the Conyers bill wasn’t going anywhere for now. A Library Journal Academic Newswire report quotes Howard Berman saying the bill would be held “until at least next year.”

Over the following days, some of the letters to the House panel and other reactions popped up. A group of mostly library folks (AALL, ALA, ACRL, ARL, Public Knowledge, SLA, SPARC and others) noted the worth of the NIH policy and clarified that it did not affect copyright law (enclosing the SPARC policy brief noted earlier).

Ars Technica had its usual lively (and frequently dead-on) reporting, including Howard Berman’s apparent shock when Elias Zerhouni informed him that NIH “hands out $100 million a year to grant recipients specifically to cover the cost of publishing their results” (remember: a higher percentage of toll-access journals charge author-side fees than do open access journals), supposed “surprise…that authors were not paid by publishers for the transfer of copyright,” and this:

If anyone was thinking that policies related to publicly funded scientific research were free of politicking and rampant self-interest so frequently involved in the copyright and intellectual property battles, the hearings would have erased them....

Paul Courant compared the Conyers bill to the Clear Skies Act, “an odious piece of corporate welfare wrapped up in a friendly layer of doublespeak,” noting:

It would make it illegal for U.S. government agencies to seek any rights at all in the research that they fund. This is anything but fair. Indeed, it is manifestly unfair to the taxpayers who ultimately pay for the research, and on whose behalf the research is conducted…

The people of the United States pay good money to learn about the world. It would be a travesty if Congress decided that the interests of a few publishers were more important than the research investments of the American public, and that’s exactly what this bill would do.

There was lots more—almost all of it decrying the Conyers bill. But it’s never really over. The Alliance for Taxpayer Action called on citizens to contact their Representatives and Senators to make sure HR6845—and the provisions in the bill—are defeated. The call (quoted at OAN on September 18, 2008) spells out what’s wrong with the Conyers bill. A comment notes that the language of the bill could still be inserted into other legislation.

Other Opposition

Let’s look at some other opposition to open access (or commentaries on opposition) over the last year or so.

Death knell for peer review?

Richard Poynder published “Open access: death knell for peer review?” on October 15, 2006 on his blog, Open and shut? ( It is, as with most of Poynder’s solid journalism, a carefully done, thoughtful and fairly long piece. (Well, not C&I long, but long for a blog post.)

He notes the argument made by publishers that OA threatens peer review. He considers the two forms of OA: “green” OA, where the published paper is in a traditional journal with traditional peer review—and “gold” OA, where the paper is in an OA journal…with traditional peer review.

Since both methods still require that papers are peer reviewed, OA advocates point out, publisher claims that making research OA necessitates foregoing the peer review process is factually inaccurate.

I’m not really an OA advocate—at least not a strong one—and I have never been able to find any truth in assertions that OA would weaken peer review.

There is, however, a second strand to publishers' claims that OA threatens peer review. If OA is forced on them, they say, they will not be able to survive financially, either because they will discover that there is no stable long-term business model for OA publishing, or because the increasing number of papers researchers post in institutional repositories will cause academic institutions to cancel their journal subscriptions. This poses a threat to peer review, they add, since if publishers exit the market there will be no one left to manage the process.

However, these claims are also rejected by OA advocates, who argue that most publishers have already accommodated themselves to self-archiving. Indeed, they add, there is no indication at all that self-archiving negatively impacts journal subscriptions. Nor is there any reason, they say, to believe that a sustainable OA business model cannot be found.

In a way, this could settle it: There is simply no objective basis for the claim that OA would weaken peer review. But Poynder takes it one step further:

But supposing publishers are right, and OA does eventually cause peer review to be abandoned? Would it matter?

He notes objections to the conservatism of peer review and even publisher statements calling the process flawed.

In fact, it seems that the most that can be said of peer review is that we have failed to come up with anything better. Following the decision by Science to retract papers it had published by Dr Hwang Woo-suk — after it was discovered that he had faked claims that he had obtained stem cells from cloned human embryos — for instance, publications consultant Liz Wager said of peer review “it's a lousy system but it's the best one we have.”

Poynder then notes moves by some publishers to “open review,” where the names of the reviewers would be known to authors, and the “more radical approach” of PLoS ONE, where papers undergo a less rigorous peer review and are subject to post-publication review on the web.

PLoS ONE referees are asked to answer a simpler question than that asked by traditional peer review. That question is: “Has the science in this paper been done well enough to warrant it being entered into the scientific literature as a whole?”

But you can be even more radical—as in Philica:

Philica has no editors, and papers are published immediately on submission—without even a cursory review process. Instead, the entire evaluation process takes place after publication, with reviews displayed at the end of each paper.

As such, the aim of the review process is not to decide whether or not to publish a paper, but to provide potential readers with guidance on its importance and quality, and so enabling particularly popular or unpopular works to be easily identified.

Importantly, argues Philica, its approach means that reviewers cannot suppress ideas if they disagree with them.

The evaluation process involved “recursively weighted reviews.” Unlike PLoS ONE, there are no author-side fees, since overhead is nominal. (Philica uses a filter: Only academics are allowed to submit reviews.)

There’s a lot more to Poynder’s 4,200-word post. Worth reading.

Hearing from IASTM

The International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers ( represents the biggest STM journal publishers and some others. Last October, it published a position paper on why publishers seek copyright transfer: “to ensure proper administration & enforcement of author rights.”

That’s right: It’s not for the publisher, it’s for the author. Bullets point out that authors “are rarely in a position to defend themselves against infringers, plagiarists, pirates and free-riders” and that everyone benefits from the broadest possible dissemination (which, IASTM claims, is facilitated by “the publisher”). There are other possible benefits, some probably legitimate (although some, such as subsidiary rights management, simply do not require turning over the copyright—I say as the author of several books and many articles where I did not turn over copyright but did authorize the publisher to handle subsidiary rights).

I suspect most scholars who write journal articles aren’t too worried about copyright infringements, “pirates” or “free riders”—they’re not getting paid for the articles anyway. They want dissemination, impact and credit: Plagiarism is indeed a concern. Has IASTM or any publisher ever provided proof that they’ve acted to prevent plagiarism? If so, this claim might be more meaningful. As for broadest possible dissemination—well, it simply beggars belief to claim that a closed arrangement (turning over copyright) results in broader dissemination than, say, a typical freelance writer’s contract (for which the writer is paid) or true OA. I can post all of my paid magazine columns, for free, a year after they’re published—because I hold copyright and assigned typical freelance rights to the publisher.

In April 2008, the organization published An Overview of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishing and the Value it adds to Research Outputs, a 16-page treatise. You can download it from IASTM’s website.

It’s an interesting piece of work. I’m surprised to see publishers suddenly claiming they provide preservation services; that’s not something STM publishers have traditionally seen as their purview. Nonetheless, the benefits section seems good. Then we get to “There is no publishing ‘for free’” and some tricky commentary. Somehow, the full costs of “editorial office management systems” become assigned to peer review management and we’re told that editorial work within universities is typically charged back to publishers.

Then there’s “STM Publishers and the Goal of Open Access.” Right off the bat, OA is called a “visionary goal” and IASTM asserts a rigid set of required characteristics for any new business models—some of which essentially says “we have to make our money, no matter what.” They throw out fairly high numbers for the costs of IRs—and when there’s a firm statement, as from NIH, they undermine it with something like “it is widely believed that their estimates of current and projected costs may be a considerable underestimate and do not include important elements such as staff time.” The source? “It is widely believed.” They headline the ARL Spec Kit that found one startup cost estimate as high as $1.8 million—the extreme end of a range gets the featured number.

The piece goes on to argue against systematic or interlinked self-archiving—in other words, green OA is fine as long as it’s wholly ineffectual. We’re also informed that embargo limits are unacceptable because they don’t fully secure subscription revenues (while, in a nicely ironic touch, also not fully realizing the OA goal of immediate availability).

Maybe I’m misinterpreting. Maybe this is an objective overview of the topic—not a nicely done case of special pleading against any effective form of OA and for assured profits. I just find it hard to read that way.

The science and the say-so

I’ve generally avoided commenting on Joseph Esposito’s writing. I slipped twice—once in September 2004, discussing a First Monday article, and again in Spring 2006 only because his article was part of the return of Journal of Electronic Publishing. His articles consistently make me so angry, because of the writing and ideas, that I’m never sure I can comment on them in a reasonable fashion—so I’ve learned to not read them, even if they’re in journals I otherwise respect (like JEP, for example).

Alma Swan doesn’t have that privilege, particularly since Esposito mentions her work in some of his writing. She wrote this post on December 21, 2007 in OptimalScholarship (, responding in part to a post on Esposito’s blog.

In one case, Esposito states that OA proponents imply that librarians are stupid—because some proponents say libraries won’t necessarily cancel subscriptions to journals whose contents are available via OA.

But that misses the point: we say that cancellations won’t necessarily occur because that is what we observe, in real life. It is true that it is somewhat perplexing and seems to fly in the face of logic. Why would you, in these days of straitened circumstances for libraries, continue to pay for a journal whose articles are available for nothing?

I’ll admit I also find this perplexing—and don’t believe it to be likely for the long run. Still, the example is clear enough: arXiv has contained the contents of many journals in some fields of physics for 15 years, and the journals haven’t seen mass cancellations. (Swan points out that arXiv isn’t just preprints: More than half of the articles are postprints.)

There are a number of straightforward reasons…for preferring to continue to subscribe to journals–journals are more than just articles and contain other types of content that people want to read; they contain the final polished-up versions of articles whereas OA versions are simply the author’s final product; there is no guarantee that every article from a journal will be made OA by its author. Some of these may not hold up forever. We will start to see which journals have true added value–that is, something that customers will pay for–and which are just a collection of articles: the marketplace will reveal that. There are also other reasons, ones not so straightforward and certainly not so easy to describe. They are to do with allegiances to certain publishers, particularly specific society publishers who are viewed as ‘the good guys’ and thus worthy of loyalty; they are to do, partly, with the sorts of deals that publishers are prepared to offer in every individual case; and then they are very much to do with the views of faculty, without which no librarian makes a final decision on what to cut and what to reprieve. And faculty have very strong views on these things, not all of them based on logic or evidence. Even high-energy physicists have feelings.

Then there’s a statistic, one Esposito belittles. It came from a 2003 study commissioned by JISC and included a “What would you do…” question of the sort Swan prefers not to ask. The question was what respondents would do if their employer or funder required them to make their work open access, and there were three options: Comply willingly, comply reluctantly or not comply.

Here’s Esposito’s comment:

It was found that 81% of researchers say that they would comply with mandates. Now, what does this prove exactly? More than 81% of Americans comply for the most part with the U.S. Tax Code, but that is hardly indicative of support for the current administration or the way tax monies are spent. What it does reveal is a healthy respect for the punitive powers of The Man. In OA circles, however, a forecast compliance with a mandate is viewed as the equivalent of democratic support.

But, as Swan points out, one rule when using the work of others is to be accurate in citing that work. In fact, the results were that 81% said they would comply willingly. Another 14% said they would comply reluctantly. (Five percent said they would not comply.) So Esposito’s comment only makes sense if he uses 95%, not 81%.

Swan agrees that the survey only provides a starting point. Where’s the testing? Turns out that’s been done too, by Arthur Sale, measuring the amount of material being deposited in Australian university repositories under different conditions. The results were as predicted.

There’s another long section having to do with the “open access advantage”—the likelihood that OA will enhance visibility, access and citations—but you’ll have to go read Swan’s post (and Esposito’s) to see what’s going on there.

The American Chemical Society and Open Access

That’s the title of a Viewpoint by Bob Michaelson (Northwestern) in the Winter 2008 Issues in Science and Technology Librarianship, one of ALA’s first gold OA publications ( It’s short and clear, and well worth reading. Michaelson isn’t a hot-blooded OA supporter; he even says “it is not yet clear how Open Access (OA) publishing may find a business model.” But he recognizes its importance and says, “We must therefore sustain a serious conversation among all players--researchers, funding agencies, libraries, and publishers--about potential implications, both beneficial and detrimental, of various sorts of OA.”

Unfortunately, serious conversation is ill-served by some publishers’ strategies, including, regrettably, those pursued by the American Chemical Society.

Editorials in Chemical & Engineering News as far back as 2004 denounced OA as “socialized science”--whatever that is supposed to mean. In 2005 Nobel Laureate Richard J. Roberts published an open letter announcing his resignation from ACS out of disgust at the Society's opposition to OA.

Michaelson’s particular scorn is reserved for the Dezenhall episode—AAP/PSP’s hiring of the aggressive PR man, his advice that they focus on slogans (regardless of truth), the founding of PRISM and the disavowal of PRISM by several leading university presses.

If the ACS regrets its association with PRISM's misstatements, they don’t show it. After a long legislative fight, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was able to secure passage of a mandate on open access for NIH-funded research within a year of publication… But as reported in LJ Academic Newswire, the ACS threatens a legal battle. Executive Director Madeleine Jacobs makes the claim, according to Chemistry World, that “the policy would result in conflicts with copyright law and intellectual property rights,” resurrecting the claim that it could “interfere with scientific peer review” and adding that it would “adversely affect the sustainability of scientific journals.” It seems to me that all of these claims are nonsense. LJ Academic Newswire notes that the library community refuted ACS's copyright claim in July 2007. As Peter Suber has repeatedly discussed, peer review is entirely compatible with open access.

If the ACS is to be a party to discussions of OA, they must stop getting their policy advice from PR flacks and start making rational contributions to the discourse. Otherwise they will continue to poison the waters, and deservedly will be accorded no credence.

An excellent commentary. Will ACS pay attention? That seems unlikely, based on a long track record.

Difficulties and Extremes

I’ll close with a few other items on difficulties and extremes, with the hope that the next episode of Library Access to Scholarship can focus more on the positives—such as considerable growth in OA publishing.

Open access fundamentalism

Another one from Alma Swan’s OptimalScholarship, this time posted May 7, 2007. (She doesn’t post that often—so far, 11 posts in 2007 and three in 2008—but when she does, she has something worthwhile to say.) This post was the very first post on the blog, and is far more than an “I’m here!” announcement.

Basically, Swan says she’s arrived because an Outsell person has called her “a fundamentalist” and “shrill.” “And what they say is that if people who disagree with you start calling you names, then they are taking you seriously.” (I’ll have to remember that.)

Now first, let me say that I really like the 'fundamentalist' bit. I have always strived to avoid the superficial, speculative and emotional end of the spectrum and to base the views that I hold on facts, so far as I am able. So yes, I do fundamentalism. The 'shrill' label sits less easily, though.

That’s an interesting reading of “fundamentalist,” and I rather like it. She notes that the Outsell person, David Worlock, was critiquing an invited essay Swan wrote for American Scientist on how OA can advance science. What made her essay shrill?

I was asked in my essay to define the ways in which Open Access advances science and there I was, thinking that I'd done so in moderated terms, supporting each point I was making with good data and reasoned argument. I detailed four ways in which science is advanced by Open Access: it enables greater visibility and, as a result, impact; it moves science along more quickly; it enables new 'Web 2.0' semantic technologies to work on scientific output, generating new knowledge by data-mining and text-mining scientific output in the vast single information space that Open Access provides ; and it enables new tools that can measure impact and effectiveness in brand new ways, a boon to research managers and funders across the world.

Apparently Worlock claims publishers will do OA better: “As publishers move to contain, embrace and even capitalise on the access and availability issues, they are doing so in ways that save time and energy for researchers whose concentration is upon the science involved, and its communication to small, close-knit communities of fellow workers whom they reach at conferences and via e-mail links.” Of course, OA is about far more than those close-knit communities; emailed preprint copies can pretty much handle them. OA is about open access, not just access for the inner circle.

Swan portrays Worlock as suggesting that gold OA is nearly stagnant, which is certainly not true. She also notes a cute finish to Worlock’s article, where he says you can obtain Swan’s article for $12 if you’re not a member of the society. Which is true—but omits the fact that the article is also available in HTML form for free (and always has been), that it’s available on her institution’s IR, that it’s on her consultancy’s website…all for free. “Must have just slipped his memory.”

So, of course, I had to go read Swan’s article to test for signs of shrillness. You could read it also:

Whether I read charitably, closely, or with intent to do damage—I will be damned if I can find anything shrill, unreasonable or even particularly opinionated in the article. It’s rife with proof for claims and has a remarkable amount of data for such a short piece. But shrill? I’m sorry, but I just don’t see it.

“open access” is not good enough

That’s how Peter Murray-Rust titled a June 10, 2007 post at petermr’s blog ( Excerpts:

I have ranted at regular intervals about the use of “Open Access” or often “open access” as a term implying more than it delivers. My current concern is that although there are are tens of thousands of theses described as “open access” I have only discovered 3 (and possibly another 15 today) that actually comply with the BOAI definition of Open Access. The key point is is that unless a thesis (or any publication) explicitly carries a license (or possibly a site meta-license) actually stating that it is BOAI compliant, then I cannot re-use it. I shall use “OpenAccess” to denote BOAI-compliant in this post and “open access” to mean some undefined access which may only allow humans to read but not re-use the information I do not wish to disparage the important efforts to making scholarly information more widely available, and I applaud the general direction and achievement of the groups below. I appreciate that the copyright of historical content normally is held by the student author and it’s certainly very valuable to have “access” to it. But it is not OpenAccess. And unless specific policies are put in place to add specific BOAI-compliant licenses then future theses will also be non-compliant…

By contrast let’s look at “Open Source” which applies to software and has been highly successful in liberating the field. It’s very widely used in academia and elsewhere…

In general the term “Open Source” is completely self-explanatory within a large community. I can describe my software as OS and everyone understands what I mean. There are some licenses (e.g. GPL) which require additional freedoms but they don’t invalidate the above. By contrast if someone describes something as “open access” it simply means that I may--as a human--and at some arbitrary time in human history--read the document. It does not guarantee that I can save my own copy, that it will be available next week, that it will be unaltered in the future or that versions will be tracked,  that I can create derivative works, that I can use machines to text- or data-mine it

So I believe that “open access” should be recast as “toll-free”--i.e. you do not have to pay for it but there are no other guarantees. We should restrict the use of “Open Access” to documents which explicitly carry licenses compliant with BOAI.

Peter Suber responded in some detail, and the recent suggestion of “gratis” and “libre” may relate to this confusion. The problem here is attempting to narrow OA to include only completely reusable material. For the purposes most often touted by OA supporters—universal access to research papers, greater impact, etc.—open readability is the key. Data mining is a much different issue—and, interestingly, Stevan Harnad (who commented basically saying that Murray-Rust should go ahead and do some of the things he believes to be ruled out) rejects derivative works as part of OA.

Murray-Rust is “arguing that the level of emphasis throughout the community should be higher.” That’s fine, but it raises the question of whether the best, in this case, is the enemy of the good. Insisting on the right to datamine and to create derivative works, and the insistence others have added that commercial reuse shouldn’t be limited, leaves only attribution between OA and the public domain—and with datamining, I have to wonder about attribution.

The proposed distinction between gratis OA and libre OA (discussed in C&I 8:8, August 2008) may not quite achieve Murray-Rust’s aims—but it avoids the considerable harm to OA as a movement that could come from saying you can’t call it Open Access unless all permission barriers are removed.

Open, online journals PDF ?

To some extent, this is a related item—Andy Powell’s August 6, 2007 post at eFoundations ( Since Powell’s blog has an explicit CC “BY” license and it’s a concise post, I’m quoting the entire post:

I note that Volume 2, Number 1 of the International Journal of Digital Curation (IJDC) has been announced with a healthy looking list of peer-reviewed articles. Good stuff.

I mention this partly because I helped set up the technical infrastructure for the journal using the Open Journal System, an open source journal management and publishing system developed by the Public Knowledge Project, while I was still at UKOLN--so I have a certain fondness for it.

Odd though, for a journal that is only ever (as far as I know) intended to be published online, to offer the articles using PDF rather than HTML. Doing so prevents any use of lightweight 'semantic' markup within the articles, such as microformats, and tends to make re-use of the content less easy.

In short, choosing to use PDF rather than HTML tends to make the content less open than it otherwise could be. That feels wrong to me, especially for an open access journal! One could just about justify this approach for a journal destined to be published both on paper and online (though even in that case I think it would be wrong) but surely not for an online-only 'open' publication?

I use PDF for Cites & Insights to preserve typographic and layout integrity. I suspect journal publishers may do the same—and that, as with Cites & Insights, their layout and work flow may yield perfect PDFs readily, where workable HTML/XML might take quite a bit more effort. Indeed, the first comment (from Dorothea Salo) suggests that point: “Go find ‘em a workflow that produces good HTML as well as PDF, and I’m sure they’ll sign right on.”

BioMed Central notes that they use both PDF and HTML—and that more than 90% of accesses to full-text articles are for the PDF versions. Cornelius Puschmann offers a long comment coming to PDF’s defense for several good reasons: e.g., HTML’s interpreted nature “gives you a virtual guarantee that it will render incorrectly in somebody’s browser,” printing HTML is still horribly inconsistent, PDF is arguably more portable for complex documents, insisting that online journals should shun PDFs “means giving readers less reliability when it comes to printing and file mobility”—and there are lighter-weight PDF readers than Adobe. (My feeling is that Reader 8 is much less demanding than earlier versions.) Others come to PDF’s defense as well—including an OA journal editor who notes the extra time required to convert manuscripts to HTML. That editor notes that most readers appear to want PDFs.

I must admit that it pains me to see the number of times the rare full-issue essays in Cites & Insights are downloaded in HTML rather than PDF, because I suspect they’re getting printed—and they use at least 50% more print space in HTML form. I’m still of two minds about providing HTML versions of essays, particularly since I can’t afford the time to make them as good-looking and readable as the PDF versions. Word2007’s filtered HTML is better than Word2000’s, and that was good enough for my purposes. I admire Tom Wilson’s ejournal—but I reject the idea that C&I is stone age or that my issues damage the Internet. Of course, I don’t claim full (libre) Open Access, and it’s somewhat irrelevant because these aren’t scholarly research articles.

Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large, Volume 8, Number 11, Whole Issue 108, ISSN 1534-0937, a journal of libraries, policy, technology and media, is written and produced by Walt Crawford, Director and Managing Editor of the PALINET Leadership Network.

Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services,

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