Library Access to Scholarship
Open Access and Rhetorical Excess
This started out as a typical periodic roundup on OA and related areas, covering topics where I feel I can add value to the excellent work done by Peter Suber, Charles W. Bailey, Jr., Dorothea Salo, Heather Morrison and others.
It turned into a themed essay when I realized that the first topics all featured rhetorical excess of one sort or another and I needed to quote substantial portions of some items to provide reasonable context. In the end, I couldn’t even cover all the rhetorical issues and keep this at a reasonable length.
There’s nothing new about rhetorical excess in the open access battlefields. The big publishers and some of their society kin have long engaged in misleading rhetoric on open-access issues. On the OA side, rhetorical styles range from Peter Suber’s and Charles W. Bailey, Jr.’s calm analysis, through Johnny One-Note’s incessant pounding away at a single theme and repetitious phrasing, to an overheated and offensive approach taken in one recent speech.
I don’t believe the facts have changed that much. Neither have misleading statements of those opposed to open access. Some tactics have changed, generally not for the better. Two particularly interesting cases at the moment are at extremes: The “pit bull” hired by publishers to assault OA and the astonishing equation of traditional publishing with slavery.
Since I consistently urge readers who care about access to read Peter Suber, Charles W. Bailey Jr., Dorothea Salo, Heather Morrison and others, I’ll also urge you to read the first essay in Cites & Insights 6:8 (June 2006) if you haven’t already or if you’ve forgotten it. You can also get Perspective: Thinking About Libraries and Access at citesandinsights.info/v6i8a.htm. It’s short. It sums up my own rhetorical stance and beliefs, for what they’re worth.
I’m going to quote a small portion of Library Access to Scholarship from November 2004 (C&I 4:13) because it illustrates how little change there’s been in the rhetoric for and against open access:
“For the rest of this essay, I’m going to do something I should have done back in June: Provide a numbered key to the standard arguments against OA publishing (as opposed to unique arguments such as ‘it distracts attention and money from OAI archiving’), so I can simply list the numbers used in specific pieces. For this issue at least, here’s a subset of those arguments:
Ø “1. STM publishing has developed over centuries and works just great as it is.
Ø “2. $1,500 (or $500 or $525) can’t possibly pay the real costs per article; OA isn’t sustainable without charging ($3,000, $4,500, whatever).
Ø “3. OA publishing weakens or undermines peer review.
Ø “4. Research grants don’t include publication funding.
Ø “5. OA/article-fee publishing gives well-funded scientists advantages over others.
Ø “6. OA/article-fee publishing will prevent scientists in developing nations from publishing.
Ø “7. OA publishing undermines professional societies that subsidize their activities through journal profits.
“I’m qualifying 5 and 6 because not all OA publishing involves article fees; quite a bit is sponsored in some other manner.”
There are other arguments, of course—OA is socialist, OAI mandates mean the government’s trying to take over scientific publishing, an astonishing new “OA is censorship” claim and the increased pitch of internecine battle within the OA “community”—but these seven continue to dominate anti-OA discussions. They’ve all been discredited thoroughly and repeatedly, but they keep raising their ugly heads.
Who knew the Public Library of Science was so much more powerful than Elsevier, Wiley and the rest of the Association of American Publishers? (Who knew Elsevier was an American publisher, for that matter?) Those poor beleaguered publishing houses are trembling under the might of PLoS, PubMed Central and the rest of the OA behemoths.
Why else would we have this story from Nature (also a commercial publisher): “PR’s ‘pit bull’ takes on open access” by Jim Giles, published January 24, 2007 and corrected January 25, 2007 (www.nature. com/news/2007/070122/full/445347a.html). Excerpts:
The author of Nail ‘Em! Confronting High-Profile Attacks on Celebrities and Businesses is not the kind of figure normally associated with the relatively sedate world of scientific publishing. Besides writing the odd novel, Eric Dezenhall has made a name for himself helping companies and celebrities protect their reputations, working for example with Jeffrey Skilling, the former Enron chief now serving a 24-year jail term for fraud. …[H]is firm, Dezenhall Resources, was also reported by Business Week to have used money from oil giant ExxonMobil to criticize the environmental group Greenpeace. “He's the pit bull of public relations,” says Kevin McCauley, an editor at the magazine O’Dwyer’s PR Report.
Now, Nature has learned, a group of big scientific publishers has hired the pit bull to take on the free-information movement, which campaigns for scientific results to be made freely available.. From e-mails passed to Nature, it seems Dezenhall spoke to employees from Elsevier, Wiley and the American Chemical Society at a meeting arranged last July by the Association of American Publishers (AAP)…
The consultant advised them to focus on simple messages, such as “Public access equals government censorship.” He hinted that the publishers should attempt to equate traditional publishing models with peer review, and “paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles.”
Dezenhall also recommended joining forces with groups that may be ideologically opposed to government-mandated projects such as PubMed Central, including organizations that have angered scientists…
Susan Spilka, Wiley's director of corporate communications, said Dezenhall explained that publishers had acted too defensively on the free-information issue and worried too much about making precise statements. Dezenhall noted that if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn't matter if they can discredit your statements…
“We're like any firm under siege,” says Barbara Meredith, a vice-president at the organization. “It's common to hire a PR firm when you're under siege.” She says the AAP needs to counter messages from groups such as the Public Library of Science (PLoS), an open-access publisher and prominent advocate of free access to information… Minutes of a 2006 AAP meeting sent to Nature show that particular attention is being paid to PubMed Central…
Brian Crawford, a senior vice-president at the American Chemical Society and a member of the AAP executive chair…[said]: “When any government or funding agency houses and disseminates for public consumption only the work it itself funds, that constitutes a form of selection and self-promotion of that entity's interests.”
There you have it: AAP is under siege by PLoS and PubMed Central. Public access equals government censorship because government-funded research would be more accessible. And, of course, Big Lie #3. Let’s call “open access equals censorship” Big Lie #8, although #1984 might be more like it.
Dorothea Salo offered a calm, reasoned comment on this piece in “On the Association for American Publishers, Caveat lector, January 25, 2007, saying in part:
I think that’s the action of a terrified group of amoral scumbags who see the future rushing in and will do whatever they can think of to stop it. I think it’s the action of a terrified group of amoral scumbags completely bankrupt of actual insight or innovation and utterly desperate to keep their current unjustifiable profit margins. I think, in short, it’s the action of a terrified group of amoral scumbags. I am just that appalled.
If I were a scholarly publisher, I would distance myself from this fiasco far, fast, and publicly… and if my rep on the AAP had been involved in any way other than “vigorous opposition,” that rep would be fired immediately—not just from representing the publisher to the AAP, but altogether. Elsevier, Wiley, ACS, and (it would appear) others have a lot of explaining to do.
[Is it just me who hears Desi Arnaz in that last sentence? Probably. Hey, we need digressions now and then, especially when rhetoric strays as far from the truth as the AAP initiative.]
Peter Suber was all over the story in a series of Open access news posts. First he quoted most of the Nature piece and offered his first reactions (modified to reflect a 1/25 change in the Nature story, and reacting also to portions I didn’t quote above):
1. I've read this several times and still find it incredible. Why would the AAP pay $300-500k for advice on how to misrepresent the issue? The next time you see an AAP press release on OA, ask yourself this question.
2. Does the AAP even need the advice? It has been falsely identifying government archiving with government censorship, and falsely identifying threats to publisher revenue with threats to peer review, at least since the debate over the NIH policy in 2004…
3. I hope that publisher-members of the AAP will disavow these tactics and that journalists and policy-makers will understand the difference between intellectual debate and media message.
4. Kudos to Nature for uncovering and reporting this story.
Since then he’s cited and linked to reactions from all over, including many more than I’ll note here. If you follow OAN posts since January 24 you’ll find a wide range of commentary, including a slashdot thread. I’m generally citing sources that I follow anyway, plus a few that were simply too choice not to mention. Even though this may seem like a long section, it’s a small sample of many commentaries!
Christina Pikas (Christina’s LIS rant) offered a quick comment on January 24 with an addendum on January 29. On the 24th, Pikas noted:
So this plays on a couple of irrational fears 1) articles published open access will not get respect (and therefore tenure, promotion, etc) 2) articles published open access aren't any good and can't make it elsewhere—we so know this isn't true as many high impact, high quality journals have open access articles. The government censorship bit is absurd.
On January 29th, she linked to a CHM-Inf post by Brian Crawford including these comments:
I want to assure you that our purpose is to communicate important information about the added value that publishers bring to the scholarly publishing process-information not widely known or appreciated by policy makers. Scholarly publishers have been slow to recognize that the misleading soundbite messages and aggressive lobbying tactics of those who wish to influence government and public policy have been orchestrated and funded by organizations wishing to advance their own agenda. That they continue to do so without regard for the very real risk of damage to science and the public, should peer-reviewed publishing be compromised by unnecessary government intervention, needs to be countered with clear and concise messaging of our own.
An astonishing example of how misleading the accusations against publishers can be appears in today's Washington Post…where reporter Rick Weiss asserts that the AAP has “...for years waged an intellectually nuanced battle against medical associations and advocates for the ill” and also quotes a SPARC representative who accuses us of engaging in a “disinformation campaign.” Nothing could be further from the truth. AAP/PSP, acting on behalf of its member and other publishers, is actively involved in facilitating author participation in the current voluntary NIH public access policy, and has offered to assist NIH as it struggles to implement its own policy…
Regrettably, the news reports above were somehow stimulated by reporters gaining access to internal emails and background information shared within AAP/PSP and among those volunteer publisher representatives who have worked so hard to support the health and vitality of our industry by helping to improve our education and outreach. The inappropriate disclosure of this information is very disturbing to me personally, and I regret that it has led to such a gross misinterpretation of our motives and methods.
And ending with a statement from AAP/PSP that I’m quoting in full here:
Some commentators have expressed surprise that the publishing industry is making its case about an important issue that could affect the future of research and science. We believe it’s important to be clear about serious unintended consequences of government mandated open access.
Private sector non-profit and commercial publishers serve researchers and scientists by managing and funding the peer review process, disseminating authors’ work, investing in technology and preserving millions of peer-reviewed articles as part of the permanent record of science. Peer review is the complex and expensive system that provides the checks and balances necessary to ensure that what is made publicly available has been verified by experts. Peer review helps keep science independent of politics or ideology. Thanks to publishers, scientists today have more access to more peer-reviewed articles than ever before. We don’t believe there is a credible substitute that can provide the same level of contribution and support to science.
There are proposals under consideration that would mandate more government involvement and put this system at risk. Legislation that would undermine the quality, sustainability and independence of science would have consequences on all those who rely on sound science.
The AAP/PSP will continue to ensure that all sides of the debate are heard.
Pikas’ comment is that the reply “actually seems to dig them into a deeper hole and confirm they’re not behaving themselves as a non-profit society publishing to promote science.” I see the deeper hole: It was inappropriate for others to reveal that AAP/PSP is paying big bucks to a pit bull. Crawford’s message also says SPARC is lying (no amount of charitable reading can turn “nothing could be further from the truth” into anything but an accusation of lying) and asserts that AAP/PSP has been helping out NIH in its “struggles,” which I’m sure NIH finds comforting. David Goodman responded on the same list, noting that the “inappropriate disclosure” revealed “what you wished to conceal.” He has more to say, mostly undermining AAP/PSP’s arguments.
Heather Morrison’s take is “Stop fighting the inevitable—and free funds for OA!” (January 25, Imaginary journal of poetic economics.) I’m never fond of “inevitable” and don’t believe 100% OA is either inevitable or likely, but her point is an interesting one: The amount spent on pit-bull lobbying would cover the direct costs of 785 OA journals done using Open Journal Systems. That figure leaves out some real-world costs of journal publishing (e.g., human effort for editorial tasks and peer-review administration, which may not always be donated) even for nonprofit ejournals, but it’s an interesting point nonetheless.
Andrew Leonard pulled no punches in the title of a January 26, 2007 Salon story: “Science publishers get stupid.” The tease: “How’s this for doublespeak: ‘Public access equals government censorship’?” It’s a short, lively article, best read in the original—and you should also read the comments (15 single-spaced pages worth when I printed this out on January 30, 2007), which Leonard calls “extraordinarily good—much better than my own post, I have to confess—with multiple viewpoints expressed.” I must quote one blockbuster sentence from Leonard’s article, after noting that his column isn’t obliged to show the restraint of Nature’s reporter:
Which means I’m free to point out that any publisher of scientific research who even begins to entertain the notion that free access to scientific information can or should be equated with government censorship should be mocked mercilessly in every publication, online or off, free or subscription required, evanescent as a blog or solid as a hard-copy Encyclopedia Britannica, from now until they beg forgiveness from every human on this planet for their disingenuous mendacity.
Now that’s writing!
As for the comments, they range broadly. Several wondered how peer review would happen with OA or implied that it wouldn’t. One managing editor confuses the issue by focusing on print costs (as does another defender of the current system). One raises the old (and not entirely empty) claim that peer review enforces orthodoxy. One calls scientific publishers “leeches” with special scorn for Elsevier. At least one failed to understand that OA publishing is still publishing—it’s not just articles sitting on scientists’ personal websites. Mary McFadden confidently states absolute falsehoods (“Authors have to pay to submit to open access journals”) and things that are false for almost all STM journal publishing (“Publishers pay their writers”), and seems to equate OA with tobacco companies. Here’s a gem: “In the open access model a published paper, even a bad, ridiculous or dangerous one, is regarded as equal to any other.” Andrew Leonard notes a forthcoming book from Eric Denzenhall that speaks of a “frenzy of anticorporate witch-hunts” and calls for companies to bring out “the brass knuckles” against detractors.
Barbara Fister reacted to Brian Crawford’s final statement in the Nature piece, the one ending “that entity’s interests,” in a January 26, 2007 ACRLog post “Truthiness in publishing”: “What?! Dude, those are my interests. I paid for them.” Fister notes that the issue is not how illogical the arguments are: “they’re supposed to cue anxiety attacks. They seem to have forgotten that they’re dealing with fairly smart people, though.” As she notes, the “censorship” claim is a double-edged sword: Make all articles available via open repositories and it goes away. Dorothea Salo does a nice translation of the AAP/PSP posting and statement in a January 28, 2007 Caveat lector post, best read in the original.
The AAP/PSP move and its repercussions were discussed well beyond the library community. As you’d expect, comments and reactions included a lot of issues that can serve to cloud the access situation. One post at Savage minds seems ready to throw all media operations out as pointless intermediaries (seemingly ignoring the difference between STM journals, where content is contributed or subsidized, and most other media, where at least creators are paid for their contributions). One response appears ready to toss out peer review as well, apparently feeling link analysis will do just fine—another voice for the idea that the truth is determined by popularity. (“Creation scientists” should love this idea, since they’d be such strong tenure candidates.) This particular commenter also seems to say internet-based systems are a “largely unknown world to the people in their forties, fifties and sixties,” tossing a remarkable chunk of gen-gen into the discussion. (Didn’t think you were already a washed-up old technophobe at 41? Now you know: Welcome to the Luddite Society.) As you’d expect (since part of the post was about one association’s involvement with AAP/PSP), one commenter objected that people might not join the association if free access to the journals wasn’t there as an incentive—and later raised the free-rider issue.
I added one parenthetical comment in the preceding paragraph because the popularity of creationism in the U.S. has always seemed like a good argument against “peer review by link count” as a reasonable methodology. As I’m looking through notes, I see “Open access, toll access, and intelligent design” on OAN (January 28, 2007), where an ID “scientist” asserts that being against OA favors “Darwinists” while ID proponents are “systematically excluded.” Suber notes that the OA movement has no interest in removing peer review and other forms of quality control—and suggests OA might “undermine support for intelligent design by spreading knowledge of science beyond the narrow sphere reached by high-priced subscription journals.” That sounds good, but I think it’s a little too optimistic. Any daily newspaper with a good science reporter should be handling these issues well. Scientific American costs $25 per year; Discover $20, Popular Science $12—and, for that matter, the primary weeklies aren’t that costly for enthusiastic individuals (Science and AAAS membership is typically $110 to $140, Nature $200 or $338 for two years, New Scientist $64). There’s plenty of free scientific literature online, including websites for most of these journals. OA may do a lot of things, but I don’t believe it will improve general scientific literacy among the general population. Willingness to read and think counts a lot more than high subscription prices in these areas.
The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) weighed in with an undated issue brief, “AAP PR campaign against open access and public access to federally funded research,” (apparently issued February 1, 2007, based on the creation date in the HTML version). A background summary closes with these comments on Brian Crawford’s followup statement:
Statements such as these are puzzling and raise questions concerning the actual role of publishers in the scholarly communication process. They present opportunities to engage in conversation with faculty, researchers and staff about the changing nature of scholarly communication and the contributions various communities make to the communication process. For example:
• the library community, not the publishing community, has been responsible for the preservation of the record of science.
• peer review is accomplished by members of the Academy.
The brief offers four of the “simple messages” and clear commentary on each one. The four:
Equating public access to federally funded research and/or open access with the destruction of the peer review system.
Publishers are “preserving millions of peer-reviewed articles as part of the permanent record of science.”
Public access equals government censorship.
The government is seeking to nationalize science and be a publisher.
The first is our old friend Big Lie #3; the response notes “Publishers’ own studies have found that open access journals are peer reviewed as frequently as comparable subscription journals.” Regarding the second, ARL notes “the library community, not the publishing community, has historically played the role of steward in preserving the permanent record of science”—and that when JSTOR began digitizing backfiles, they discovered that “publishers rarely had complete sets of their own journals.” Oops. Fortunately, libraries used to have those complete sets. Some still do.
I love the first sentence of ARL’s response to Big Lie #8: “The logic of this claim is perhaps impossible to parse.” ARL then explains what’s really happening with NIH and PubMed Central, but it’s hard to top that “Wha?” reaction. Then there’s the fourth, which I’d call Big Lie #9—but it’s so outlandish it’s hard to believe anyone could take it seriously. The government is a publisher, of course, and has been for a very long time—and if “nationalizing science” is a big concern, PSP should be calling for an end to NIH and other Federal funding for science. Oddly, I have heard no such call.
Ben Goldacre writes a “bad science” column in The Guardian, available at www.badscience.net. His February 10, 2007 column, “The price is wrong,” calls OA “so self-evidently right and good that it’s hard to imagine how anyone could disagree” and discusses PLoS, Biomed Central and the Dezenhall hiring. It’s a short column. Goldacre offers an interesting sidenote:
And these closed journals are hardly the kind of people whose pockets you’d want to line. Reed-Elsevier, for example, is one of the largest academic journal publishers in the world—they even own the Lancet—and they are the same company that runs the DSEI international arms fair in London, selling vile weapons to murderous regimes for cash profit extracted from very real suffering and pain, in countries that you will never visit on holiday.
Whew. Loads of comments—54 as of February 12, adding 25 pages to the less-than-two of the column. Notes on OA in physics, one that offers #5, 6, and 7, one that assumes “general taxation” will have to pay for OA. One from a marine biologist pointing out that he writes for free, he does peer review for free, but there’s institutional inertia against publishing in OA journals. Knowledgeable comments pointing out real issues of funding. Claims that Biomed Central is lowering standards to make more money. One commenter tells people to “go to the British Library” as a solution (for Brits) to access issues.
I find it hard to even type those three words, so extreme is this particular case. Here’s part of how it was reported in the PLoS publishing blog (February 18, 2007, thanks to Peter Suber for the link):
In a characteristically provocative talk last week, Richard Smith, who is on the Board of Directors of PLoS, accused traditional subscription-based publishers of acting like slave owners. And he compared open access advocates to abolitionists.
Richard was speaking at the BioMed Central Open Access Colloquium, alongside other “abolitionists,” including my colleague Ginny Barbour, Senior Editor at PLoS Medicine. The talks have all been archived on the colloquium website.
In his slavery analogy, Richard recalled the famous George Yard meeting. On 22nd May 1787, 12 men met in a printing shop at 2 George Yard in the City of London determined to end slavery. At that time, said Richard, more people were slaves than were free and the British economy depended on slavery. Yet by March 1807 slave trading was abolished in the British Empire.
Today's traditional publishers, he argued, are the slave traders. The research articles and many of the academics who write them are the slaves. "And the shock troops of open access—Paul Ginsparg, Harold Varmus, Vitek Tracz, Pat Brown, Mike Eisen, Stevan Harnad—are the abolitionists," he said.
At the end of this report, Gavin Yamey (who wrote it) signals agreement:
For the sake of global scientific progress, human development, and poverty alleviation, it is surely time to end the slavery of traditional publishing.
While I’m no friend of Stevan Harnad (after the things he’s called me, such friendship would be difficult), he deserves credit for this fast, forthright response in the post’s comments:
The slavery/abolition analogy is tasteless and totally unjustified. If OA proponents wish to help OA, let them promote OA rather than vilifying publishers.
Even though Harnad’s one note is OAI, which doesn’t inherently disturb the current publishing regime, he’s right on the money here. The analogy falls into the same category as Holocaust/Nazi analogies—it benefits nobody and tends to stop rational discussion, while trivializing one of history’s great tragedies. It’s also nonsense. Elsevier and Wiley do not place scientists into indentured servitude. There are alternative journals—and if there aren’t, it’s not that hard to start one. Unlike Harnad, I’m perfectly willing to vilify publishers—but within the bounds of reason.
I admit to considerable surprise at Peter Suber’s commentary on the Yamey post and the Smith analogy: There is none, or at least none I could immediately find. Some participants at Liblicense rightly condemned the analogy (“repulsive” was one term used), but I haven’t seen an outpouring of outrage that even approximates the justifiable unhappiness with AAP/PSP’s extreme.
If OA advocates fail to react as strongly to outrageous assertions on one side as they do to outrageous acts on the other side, that serves to trivialize the movement (as another commenter on Yamey’s post noted). The effect on Tom Scott seems clear. His February 20, 2007 post is entitled “Sinking to a new low” and says he’s “kind of had it up to here with the whole thing.” I disagree with Scott’s equation of AAP/PSP’s PR situation (where the person hired seems to be telling them to lie, lie and lie again) with the OA working group’s lobbying efforts (unless Scott can cite an example of lies on the part of OAWG or the lobbyist).
But I can see where Scott’s coming from. If I was actively involved in pushing OA, the report on Smith’s speech (and the relatively muted responses) would hit me like a punch to the gut. Maybe it’s because, like Scott, I don’t see OA as either a moral imperative or the most important issue in scholarly publishing (although it’s right up there). Maybe it’s because these two extremes (and a couple more to come, see below) make his final paragraph somewhat plausible:
And some publishers and some open access advocates will remain locked in a deathstruggle of rhetorical spin, relying on their lobbyists and their public relations flaks to help them craft their soundbites, convinced that it's those bastards on the other side who have absolutely crossed the line, while they themselves are managing to stay just barely on the side of truth and justice. And if they have to push that line a little hard sometimes, well, it's all in the service of a good cause—whether that be eliminating the slavery of traditional publishing or preventing the complete collapse of scholarly communication as we know it. It is, after all, the most important issue of our time.
I do consider Dorothea Salo a friend but her comment on Scott’s post left me lukewarm:
Um, the identity of the AAP's PR guy didn't bother you? Or the particular tactics he was endorsing?
I wasn't thrilled by Smith's presentation either, I may say; it was at the very least unacceptably racist. But a thoroughly tasteless analogy is still a bit less than an open lie like "OA = government censorship" in my book.
“Wasn’t thrilled” is a little short of the flat denunciation Smith’s presentation calls for. The lesser of two evils is still evil.
Here’s another declaration from a bunch of publishers—this time, the International Association of Scientific, Technical & Medical Publishers. Peter Suber ran it unabridged (except for signatures) on February 13, 2007 at Open access news, and I’m doing the same in the interests of fair play:
Many declarations have been made about the need for particular business models in the STM information community. STM publishers have largely remained silent on these matters as the majority are agnostic about business models: what works, works. However, despite very significant investment and a massive rise in access to scientific information, our community continues to be beset by propositions and manifestos on the practice of scholarly publishing. Unfortunately the measures proposed have largely not been investigated or tested in any evidence-based manner that would pass rigorous peer review. In the light of this, and based on over ten years experience in the economics of online publishing and our longstanding collaboration with researchers and librarians, we have decided to publish a declaration of principles which we believe to be self-evident.
1. The mission of publishers is to maximise the dissemination of knowledge through economically self-sustaining business models. We are committed to change and innovation that will make science more effective. We support academic freedom: authors should be free to choose where they publish in a healthy, undistorted free market
2. Publishers organise, manage and financially support the peer review processes of STM journals. The imprimatur that peer-reviewed journals give to accepted articles (registration, certification, dissemination and editorial improvement) is irreplaceable and fundamental to scholarship
3. Publishers launch, sustain, promote and develop journals for the benefit of the scholarly community
4. Current publisher licensing models are delivering massive rises in scholarly access to research outputs. Publishers have invested heavily to meet the challenges of digitisation and the annual 3% volume growth of the international scholarly literature, yet less than 1% of total R&D is spent on journals
5. Copyright protects the investment of both authors and publishers. Respect for copyright encourages the flow of information and rewards creators and entrepreneurs
6. Publishers support the creation of rights-protected archives that preserve scholarship in perpetuity
7. Raw research data should be made freely available to all researchers. Publishers encourage the public posting of the raw data outputs of research. Sets or sub-sets of data that are submitted with a paper to a journal should wherever possible be made freely accessible to other scholars
8. Publishing in all media has associated costs. Electronic publishing has costs not found in print publishing. The costs to deliver both are higher than print or electronic only. Publishing costs are the same whether funded by supply-side or demand-side models. If readers or their agents (libraries) don't fund publishing, then someone else (e.g. funding bodies, government) must
9. Open deposit of accepted manuscripts risks destabilising subscription revenues and undermining peer review. Articles have economic value for a considerable time after publication which embargo periods must reflect. At 12 months, on average, electronic articles still have 40-50% of their lifetime downloads to come. Free availability of significant proportions of a journal’s content may result in its cancellation and therefore destroy the peer review system upon which researchers and society depend
10. “One size fits all” solutions will not work. Download profiles of individual journals vary significantly across subject areas, and from journal to journal.
I find the second sentence suspicious, unless IASTMP is claiming that no STM publishers are part of the DC Principles group or AAP/PSP or, for that matter, Elsevier, ACS and others who have been far from silent. I suppose “largely” could be the key—no doubt there are many smaller STM publishers who have, in fact, remained silent. Then there’s that “agnostic” word “beset” to describe the “propositions and manifestos.”
Some of Suber’s reactions:
Is it odd to criticize evidence-free proposals in the same document in which one declares 10 principles to be self-evident?
There are dozens of empirical studies supporting OA…
Publishers who call for evidence have to live by evidence. For example, that means not asserting without evidence that OA archiving will undermine subscriptions and peer review (see Principle 9). It means acknowledging the evidence that OA journals perform peer review. It means acknowledging the evidence that in physics, the field with the highest levels and longest history of OA archiving, the Institute of Physics and the American Physical Society have found no cancellations attributable to OA archiving….
The only reason why authors of scholarly articles need copyright is to assure proper attribution and the integrity of their work. In every other way copyright is an access barrier that limits their audience and impact. Could the publishers be confusing authors of journal articles with authors who earn royalties from their writing?,,,
Principle #5 is a red herring, as far as I can tell, since very few OA advocates call for abolition of copyright—and especially since most publishers seize STM article copyright from the creators, something they couldn’t do in mainstream publishing. #6 is tricky: “rights-protected” is the key phrase, and there’s no indication that publishers will act to preserve (which hasn’t typically been their duty). #8 is also a red herring, since nobody’s arguing otherwise—but note the omitted case here: Electronic publishing may indeed have costs not found in print publishing, but it should eliminate much larger costs directly associated with print publishing. And, of course, despite the public-service claims of #1, we’re talking about price rather than cost—and some STM publishers are extremely profitable by any measure.
#9 is remarkable. These publishers are so “agnostic” they’re now claiming that even a 12-month embargo is insufficient—and, of course, if a journal is cancelled, that somehow destroys the whole peer review system, since apparently nobody except established publishers is capable of doing peer review. (“Peer review” appears four times in this set of “self-evident” principles, with not the slightest admission that there’s nothing magical about the process preventing OA publishers and new publishers from carrying it out.)
Heather Morrison takes particular issue with the first sentence in #1 in a series of Imaginary journal of poetic economics posts on February 13, 2007. She calls it “extremely misleading” to call this “the mission” since many publishers clearly have other key goals such as profits. She quotes from the strategy and vision statement of Elsevier: “a goal of achieving higher levels of revenues and earning growth”—with nary a word about “maximum dissemination of knowledge.” Wiley’s About page says nothing about dissemination of knowledge, but does talk about investing. McGraw-Hill’s mission statement mentions “provid[ing] essential information and insight that helps individuals, markets and societies to perform to their potential” but mostly talks about growth, financial performance and shareholder return. I imagine Morrison could carry this on for a while. The primary mission of any stockholder company is to make money (unfortunately—it gets in the way of long-term planning). There’s nothing wrong with profit, to be sure.
Charles W. Bailey, Jr. discusses the Brussels Declaration in a February 15, 2007 post at DigitalKoans. He boils it down to “the scholarly publishing system ain’t broke, so don’t try to fix it,” and notes that it makes even less of an effort than the DC Principles to offer any strategies for eventual free content (other than datasets). Here’s much of the rest of his comment:
Sadly, it suggests that the “Brussels Declaration” publishers fail to fully understand that the decades-old serials crisis has deeply alienated several generations of librarians, who are their primary customers. Publishers count on libraries being captive customers because scholarly publishing is monopolistic in nature (e.g., one journal article does not substitute for another article) and, consequently, demand is relatively inelastic, regardless of price. However, it is a rare business that thrives by alienating its customers…
Driven by endless library serials cuts for journals in their disciplines, a growing belief that scholarly literature needs to be freely available for global scholarship to flourish, and excitement over the new potentials of digital publishing, scholars increasingly want to change the system as well. As has often been noted, the open access movement is not anti-publisher, but it is publisher-neutral, meaning that, as long as certain critical functions (such as peer review) are adequately performed, it does not matter how freely available scholarly works are published.
In my view, publishers add significant value to scholarly journals and other works. Some of these value-added functions are currently difficult to replicate; however, given technological advances in open-source digital publishing software, the number of these functions has been dwindling. A key question is: How long will it be before the most difficult production-oriented functions can be easily replicated, leaving non-technical functions, such as branding and prestige, to be dealt with?...
The clock is ticking…
As William Walsh (cited by Peter Suber) notes (in a Georgia State University Library blog):
Number of times peer review is mentioned in the press release 3
Number of times peer review is mentioned in the declaration 5
High-priced advice given to publishers by Eric Dezenhall: “[A]ttempt to equate traditional publishing models with peer review.”
Number of OA models incompatible with peer review 0
That group of nonprofit publishers still opposes any action that would actually improve OA. Peter Suber excerpts a February 20, 2007 press release opposing FRPAA (I’ve excerpted his excerpts):
A coalition of 75 nonprofit publishers opposes any legislation that would abruptly end a publishing system that has nurtured independent scientific inquiry for generations. One such measure, the Federal Research Public Access Act, introduced in the 109th Congress, would have required all federally funded research to be deposited in an accessible database within six months of acceptance in a scientific journal….
In essence, such legislation would impose government-mandated access policies and establish government-controlled repositories for federally funded research published in scientific journals....
“The long tradition of methodical scientific inquiry and information sharing through publication in scholarly journals has helped advance medicine to where it is today,” said Martin Frank of the American Physiological Society and coordinator of the coalition. “We as independent publishers must determine when it is appropriate to make content freely available, and we believe strongly it should not be determined by government mandate.”…
The Coalition expressed concern that a mandatory timetable for free access to all federally funded research could harm journals, scientists, and ultimately the public. Subscriptions to journals with a high percentage of federally funded research would decline rapidly….
Undermining subscriptions would shift the cost of publication from the publisher who receives subscription revenue to the researcher who receives grants. Such a shift could:
Divert scarce dollars from research… Result in only well-funded scientists being able to publish their work… Reduce the ability of journals to fund peer review… Harm those scientific societies that rely on income from journals to fund the professional development of scientists…
“By establishing government repositories for federally funded research, taxpayers would be paying for systems that duplicate the online archives already maintained by independent publishers,” Case noted. “The implications of the U.S. government becoming the world’s largest publisher of scientific articles have not been addressed,” she added…
I see Big Lies 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 (#7 isn’t a lie, it’s just a bad argument against OA) and the “archiving equals publishing” nonsense that could be Big Lie #9. Peter Suber offers extensive notes in a same-day post, noting that “there’s nothing new here” and the major arguments have been answered repeatedly. But, you know, keep OA advocates on the defensive and the truth doesn’t matter.
This one surprised me: AAUP Statement on Open Access, dated February 2007. The full statement (6-page PDF) is at www.aaupnet.org/aboutup/issues/oa/statement.pdf. Much of it appears to call for broader exploration of OA beyond articles to scholarly monographs. There’s this gotcha in the summary:
Bypassing this laboratory stage of experimentation and development and plunging straight into pure open access, as attractive as it may sound in theory, runs the serious risk of destabilizing scholarly communication in ways that would disrupt the progress of scholarship and the advancement of knowledge.
That may be true, and to the extent that there have been calls for all scholarly publishing—monograph and article alike—to go OA immediately, it’s a point worth discussing. I haven’t heard many such calls, but the full statement suggests that an American Council of Learned Societies report does make such a call. I glanced through the 51-page ACLS report (you can download the PDF or request a free print copy from www.acls.org/cyberinfrastructure/), and I don’t see a call for “plunging straight into pure open access,” but I didn’t read it word-for-word.
AAUP’s statement is interesting and worth reading. It notes that National Academies Press is doing very well with its “read books online for free, pay for PDFs or print” model. Two pages of the statement offer “points to be kept in mind” when discussing “the more radical approaches that abandon the market as a viable basis for the recovery of costs in scholarly publishing and instead try to implement a model that has come to be known as the ‘gift economy’ or the ‘subsidy economy.’”: “BOAI-type” open access will require large contributions from authors or other sources (and drops in the humanities equivalent of #5); overall costs won’t change all that much but mostly shift (a comment that notes that 17% to 20% of the “publishing costs” of monographs relate to manufacturing); required full OA article publishing “will undermine existing well-regarded services like Project MUSE”; university presses cover 90% of their operating costs from sales—and only 15% to 20% of those sales are to libraries; and the fifth—a tricky one that seems primarily to oppose open access in general:
5) If commercial publishers should decide to stop publishing research under the constrained circumstances envisioned by advocates of free-to-user open access, what happens to the journals abandoned by these publishers? How many of them could universities afford to subsidize through faculty grants? How much could universities with presses increase the output of their presses to accommodate the monographs now published commercially? The answer so these questions could involve significant new capital investments. In addition, the case of scholarly societies under BOAI-style open access is particularly worrying. As non-profit organizations committed to supporting effective scholarly communications and professional standards in their fields, these societies provide a wide range of services to scholars and scholarship, including annual conferences, professional development opportunities, recognition of scholarly excellence, and statistical information on such matters as enrollment and employment in their fields, as well as respected publishing programs. Whether a given society’s publishing activities underwrite other services or must be supported by other revenues, funding for essential professional and scholarly activities would be jeopardized by a mandated shift to free-to-user open access, increasing the financial burdens on individual scholars as both authors and professionals.
There’s old friend #7 in all its glory, and my response is the same as ever: It is unreasonable to expect libraries to underwrite the activities of professional associations (other than library associations), no matter how beneficial those activities may be. If they need underwriting from academia, that underwriting should come from the appropriate departments.
Otherwise, assuming that “abandoned journals” would move immediately to e-publishing, I believe the answers to the first two questions can be straightforward (the second may be better answered by university-published OA journals than by faculty grants). As much as I want to see STM journal subscription costs move partly to enable libraries to maintain better monographic collections, there would be significant capital available for new investments—which would not need to cover the high profit margins of the commercial publishers or their high overheads.
This statement deserves more discussion. I haven’t seen all that much so far. I’d want to poke at some details in the first point, specifically the claim that a 250 page monograph with no illustrations involves publishing costs of “close to $20,000 to $25,000” even if no printing is done. Assuming scholars prepare monographs using word processing, that is one heck of a lot of copyediting and markup!
If ACLS is calling for an end to print monographs sold for fair prices, I think they’re going too far, but I didn’t see that call in their report. If anyone’s saying we should immediately shut down conventional publishing and move to all-OA, all-the-time, right now, for all scholarly communication, I’m on AAUP’s side. I believe the truth lies somewhere in between—and note that most of the AAUP statement is not full of rhetorical excess. Maybe the AAUP statement serves as a slightly calmer end to the set of heated items covered here.
I had to omit a bunch of fascinating stuff I lump under “internecine warfare,” with green OA advocates harrumphing against gold OA, gold OA pushers (particularly those striving to maintain existing revenues through other means) demeaning green OA, green-OA purists opposing broader use of institutional repositories or assuming preservation roles for repositories, and back-and-forth about the real issues and costs of publishing and peer review. There are also some longer pieces I’d love to comment on.
Not this time. I suspect most of you lack the patience to read 10,000 to 15,000 words on library access to scholarship in one issue of C&I, even if they came to some satisfactory conclusions). I know I lack the patience to write that much on this topic in one or even two issue cycles. OA is neither going away nor suddenly becoming all consuming. We’ll discuss more of this later. Meanwhile, as always, if you care a lot about OA, pay attention to the people who cover these issues full time.
Cites & Insights is sponsored by YBP Library Services, http://www.ybp.com.
Opinions herein may not represent those of OCLC or YBP Library Services.
Comments should be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Comments specifically intended for publication should go to email@example.com. Cites & Insights: Crawford at Large is copyright © 2007 by Walt Crawford: Some rights reserved.
All original material in this work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial License. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/1.0 or send a letter to Creative Commons, 559 Nathan Abbott Way, Stanford, California 94305, USA.