[OAI-eprints] RE: Open Letter about OA to the Royal Society by Fellows of the Royal Society

Stevan Harnad harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Fri Dec 9 11:39:46 EST 2005

On Fri, 9 Dec 2005, Ward, Bob wrote:

> Dear Stevan,
> If this was "a rather disinterested contribution of BMC toward OA", why
> was its involvement not openly declared in the letter, or in the
> prominent piece that BioMed Central devoted to the letter on the home
> page of its website? My understanding is that some of the signatories
> did not even know about BMC's involvement when they signed.

Dear Bob,

For the very same reason that my own (minor) efforts to inform Fellows of
the Royal Society about the Royal Society Statement and its implications
were not openly declared: Because neither my efforts, nor those of Peter
Suber, nor those of BMC, nor those of PLoS are of any consequence or
relevance in this fundamental matter. (And they are already well-known.)

What is at stake is access to scientific research. We are not competing
for revenues. There are no commercial interests involved. The only
pertinent interests we are all representing are the interests of research,
researchers, their institutions, their funders, and the tax-paying public
that funds the funders and in whose ultimate interest research itself
is being done.

And those interests are prominently declared in every word we say on
behalf of Open Access -- which, to repeat, is not a competing economic
model, serving commercial interests (as I am beginning to think that the
publishing wing of the Royal Society might truly and innocently believe
it to be!): Those interests are genuinely and solely in "the widest
possible dissemination of research outputs" -- as you yourself put it,
in describing the position of the Royal Society.

So I actually think the shoe is on the other foot. It is not BMC whose
efforts on behalf of the RCUK proposal need to be openly declared. The
RCUK proposes to require its fundees to self-archive their published
research articles in their own institutional repositories for "the widest
possible dissemination of research outputs" (by making them OA). That
RCUK self-archiving policy is not in fact in BMC's commercial interest:
If anything, it is contrary to it, for, as I noted in my posting, the
incentive for publishing papers in an OA rather than a non-OA journal (and
paying to do so) is that the journal provides OA: Yet the self-archiving
of articles published in non-OA journals provides the very same benefit.

So the disinterested efforts of BMC and others on behalf of OA speak for
themselves. What require a franker and more open declaration and examination
are the interests and efforts of those in the Royal Society who influenced
the drafting of the Royal Society statement on OA and the RCUK policy. For
those interests are not only *not* those of the RS Fellowship as a whole
(as the still growing number of FRS signatories to the Open Letter dissenting
from the RS statement declares quite openly), but apparently the FRSs were
not informed or consulted about the RS statement at all, or not nearly 


In sum, there is indeed a conflict of interest here. But it is not
a conflict between the commercial interests of BMC and the competing
financial interests of the publishing operations of the Royal Society. It
is a conflict between what is in the best actual interests of research
and what is in the best perceived interests of research publishers. The
Royal Society needs to do some open soul-searching in order to sort out
and declare openly where it stands.

> I think it would be best for contributors to the debate on open access
> to openly declare their interests. The Royal Society has openly
> acknowledged that, as a registered charity, it uses its surplus from the
> publication of its journals to fund meetings, lectures and other
> activities for the benefit of the science, engineering and technology
> communities, and for the public.

And now the four questions that the Royal Society needs to face equally
openly are these:

(1) Why is the RS trying to further delay the application of 15
years' worth of positive experimental results on the benefits of OA
self-archiving to research and researchers in the absence of any
evidence of negative effects on publishers and publishing? and to
delay the application of those experimental results, and the further
extension of this successful experiment, in the name of seeking still
further "experimental results"? What further experiments? Experiments
on what? And why?

(2) Why does the RS keep treating the RCUK proposal to require OA
self-archiving of non-OA journal articles as if it were a proposal to
require OA publishing? All evidence to date is that OA self-archiving
leads neither to OA publishing nor to non-OA journal cancellations. Is the
RS's advocacy of delaying the RCUK for further experimental evidence
itself based on experimental evidence, or is it a delay based on
speculation, and giving greater weight to imaginable risk to publishing
revenues than to demonstrable and demonstrated benefits to research
impact and progress?

And now the hardest and most soul-searching question of all:

(3) Even if the imaginable risks were eventually to prove to be real,
and self-archiving were to lead to cancellations and a transition to the
OA publishing model, would *that* be grounds for renouncing the
demonstrated benefits to research impact and progress?

To put (3) still more graphically: 

(4) Are the benefits currently funded by the RS's "surplus from the
publication of its journals" -- i.e., "meetings, lectures and other
activities for the benefit of the science, engineering and technology
communities, and for the public" -- are those benefits to continue to be
subsidised, at all costs, by researchers' lost impact and progress? Is
there no other, more direct way to fund "meetings, lectures, and other
activities for the benefit of the science, engineering and technology
communities, and for the public" than at the cost of lost research access
and impact? Are research reports a commodity whose main purpose is to
subsidise something else through its sales revenue? Or is research an
end in itself for the Royal Society?

Research is certainly an end in itself for RCUK. And what the RCUK is
proposing to require is not a change in publishing model or practices
at all. It is proposing to maximise the usage and impact of the research
that it funds, for the benefit of the public that funds the research -- by
self-archiving it.

RCUK is not requiring the RS or any publisher to become an OA
publisher. RCUK is not requiring RCUK fundees to publish in OA journals
(such as BMC's or PLoS's). RCUK is only requiring RCUK fundees to
self-archive their own RCUK-funded research, for the sake of "the widest
possible dissemination of research outputs" -- an objective to which
the RS too declares itself to be dedicated.

Where is the concrete evidence of that abstract dedication in the RS's
unflagging efforts to filibuster the RCUK policy?

> So how about everybody else declaring their interests? After all, it is
> now standard practice for authors to declare any potential conflicts of
> interest when they submit papers to journals. So perhaps you could start
> a trend, Stevan, by declaring your interests.

I think there is not much mystery about mine, but I am happy to
declare them: They are the very same as the RS's: "the widest possible
dissemination of research outputs."

Best wishes, Stevan

Stevan Harnad                     
Professor of Cognitive Science    
Department of Electronics and Computer Science     
University of Southampton         
Highfield, Southampton            
SO17 1BJ UNITED KINGDOM           
phone: +44 23-80 592-388
fax:   +44 23-80 592-865
harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk

> Bob Ward
> Senior Manager
> Policy Communication
> Royal Society
> 6-9 Carlton House Terrace
> London
> SW1Y 5AG
> Tel: +44 (0) 20 7451 2516
> Fax: +44 (0) 20 7451 2615
> Mobile: +44 (0) 7811 320346
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Stevan Harnad [mailto:harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk] 
> Sent: Thursday, December 08, 2005 21:28
> To: AmSci Forum
> Subject: Re: Open Letter about OA to the Royal Society by Fellows of the
> Royal Society
>      Re: "Science academy defends open access policy"
>      Donald MacLeod, Guardian: Education
>      Thursday December 8, 2005 
> http://education.guardian.co.uk/elearning/story/0,10577,1662988,00.html
> On Thu, 8 Dec 2005 donald.macleod at guardian.co.uk wrote:
> > Dear Stevan
> >     Royal Society response to my website piece 
> >
> http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/research/story/0,9865,1661107,00.
> html
> >     is this true?
> > best wishes Donald
> Dear Donald,
> You ask whether BMC coordinated the Open Letter from Fellows of the
> Royal Society dissenting from the Royal Society statement. The answer is
> yes, in part (and PLoS too). 
> My understanding is that the negative reaction to the Royal Society
> statement occurred, in part, among FRSs who were either editors or on
> the editorial board of some BMC (and probably PLoS) journals. This
> formed a point of focus for a collective action, which BMC helped
> coordinate -- which is a very good thing, because otherwise it may have
> taken longer to reach critical mass. (It would almost certainly have
> happened anyway.)
> But before you make too much of the spin that the RS's publicist, Bob
> Ward, is trying to put on it ("potential vested commercial interest"),
> please note the following two facts:
>     (1) There are far more signatories than the small initial
>     seed-population of BMC Editors
> and
>    (2) This was a rather disinterested contribution of BMC toward OA,
>    because it is not OA publishing that the RCUK is proposing to
> require,
>    but OA self-archiving -- of articles published in *non-OA* journals.
> This means that BMC (and PLoS) helped for the sake of OA, not for the
> sake of BMC journals, which, from the financial point of view, are
> actually in a kind of *competition* with OA self-archiving. For BMC's
> and PLoS's primary appeal to authors is that they should publish in BMC
> or PLoS in order to make their research OA. But the RCUK mandate will
> make all RCUK-funded articles OA through self-archiving, making it
> *unnecessary* to publish in an OA journal in order to make an article
> OA.
> So Bob Ward sees a "potential vested commercial interest" only because
> he and the RS continue to see this all (rather jadedly) as a competition
> for money (in this case: money via subscription-charges vs. BMC's money
> via author-charges). In reality, it is not about money or competition at
> all: it is about OA.
> I will be responding publicly to the "RS"'s response (I have not yet
> read
> it) and particularly to whatever they imply publicly about BMC's very
> welcome and commendable help in rousing the growing FRS response. I
> myself am drawing it to the attention of FRSs I know too, including Tim
> Berners-Lee, who (I still hope) might agree to sign Friday. 
> You might also note that BMC (unlike those who drafted the Royal Society
> statement, which looks to have been largely the RS's publishing wing) at
> least had the courtesy to actually inform and contact the FRSs about
> what is going on! (This rather nullifies Bob Ward's plaint that the
> signers of the Open Letter "did not offer the Society a chance to
> respond." This sort of clumsy self-servingness will not wash well in
> public. And I'll bet this is not really the voice of the RS at all: It's
> just the pub-ops tail wagging the regal pooch...)
> Cheers, Stevan

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