Wednesday, April 06, 2011

An attempt to capture the OA debate between Alma Swan and Steve Hall

In the red corner: Alma Swan's vision for the future of scholarly communication, and how we might get there: researchers and others can have immediate, fully-linked, reusable, repurposable, no charge, no barriers access to the corpus. Researchers and others wishing to access research outputs (datasets, grey lit as well as journals etc) should be able to roam freely through, picking and choosing what they read and use. Technologies should be able to do the same thing, to help advance research. OA is the answer because: 1, access gaps for researchers will widen as library budgets are further straitened and big deals are cancelled; 2, professional, practitioner, educational communities and private citizens also have an interest and need for this material; PubMed Central's stats show that 40% of usage comes from (what they call) "citizens". Immediate access is important - we must not delay the dissemination of knowledge.

In the blue corner: Steve Hall (IOP) says publishers provide services to authors, editors, readers and librarians but above all to authors - registering, validating, disseminating research. Authors don't pay for these services, libraries do - through subscriptions / licences to journals. This has become a problem as research output has grown (partic in e.g. China), but library budgets have decreased. The big deal still has a role, but multiple business models will be needed to maintain existing level of access in academia, and to extend access elsewhere. Open access is 2 different solutions (green and gold) that can't co-exist. Green OA seeks to make research papers freely available without contributing to their costs. Embargoes allow publishers to recoup their investment but don't widen access; ditching embargoes is unsustainable. Gold OA does contribute to costs of publishing, and makes content immediately and widely available, but funding is haphazard at the moment - we need a collaborative community response. It's still not clear whether OA will deliver savings (Hall dismisses Houghton's study and points to a more "real world" RIN one). IOP is going hybrid and will take fees from gold OA into account when setting budgets and pricing.

Alma agrees with Steve on the issue of scaleability (research output is growing, we need a per-article model) but argues that green is not "unfunded" given the hidden costs covered by academic contribution. Steve responds that publishers charge for the management of the peer review process, not for the piece that is delivered by academia, and cites examples of journals that have seen their subscriptions cannibalised by green OA or delayed access. He argues that depositing manuscripts in a repository is not comparable to publishing, since these manuscripts don't have e.g. reference linking.

Alma says stats show that mandates very quickly achieve 60% deposit, whereas voluntary deposit is about 30%. In 5 years, with more policies, we will be approaching an acceptable level of OA. Several journals have made content freely available online but have seen subscriptions rise, because of broader international visibility. Physics publishers have co-existed for years with ArXiv - what impact has that had on subscriptions in the last 20 years?

Steven cites Harvard's mandate as having achieved only 20% deposit. Policies need to be global and for example China is unlikely to adopt. Publishers are quietly ready to engage with gold OA. Over half of Elsevier's journals are already hybrid. What gets in the way is the continuing fight over short embargo green access. If funders keep pushing it, and publishers keep resisting, the stand off does no-one any good. Better to bring a collection of stakeholders together to review how to facilitate gold OA more quickly. Re. ArXiv, these are pre-prints (not peer reviewed - original author manuscript) and very few journals are comprehensively covered. It is more difficult to make new sales of a journal if a librarian knows most of it is freely available elsewhere.

Alma says that there are several other universities to cite that counter the Harvard example. If mandates aren't working, why are publishers so keen to lobby against them? We cannot ask for gold mandates (no university will do it, not many funders will countenance) so need to pursue policies for green. Publishers will incur costs in transitioning to a per article cost system - each publisher has to decide whether that future is viable.

Unfortunately, not enough time was left for questions from the floor - I bet there were plenty :(

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Blogger andypowe11 said...

Thanks for the summary...

Interesting that this debate doesn't seem to have acknowledged that the web potentially disrupts the 'peer review' process itself, as well as disrupting the mechanisms by which the resulting publications are managed, made available and shared?

I think that Cameron Neylon touched on this in his talk on Monday afternoon.

Was there any discussion on that point or is it generally perceived to be too left field (for publishers, funders, institutions and researchers alike!)?

4:02 pm  
Blogger Charlie Rapple said...

Hi Andy - I don't think they did get onto this topic - probably because there just wasn't enough time (something we might try to address by allowing a longer debate slot next year). Did you see any of the reports on the ALPSP conference last year? The role of the web in disrupting peer review was the subject of a debate there between Tracey Brown from Sense About Science and Richard Smith, erstwhile BMJ editor. It was reported in Research Information ( and recorded by River Valley ( My summary would be that it's not so much that the issue is perceived as too leftfield, more that the tenure system needs to change before disruption elsewhere can have real impact. While academic credibility / careers are still based on peer-reviewed publication, peer review - even with all its flaws - will continue to thrive despite emerging alternatives.

11:17 am  

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