[OAI-eprints] Lord Sainsbury on the RCUK OA Proposal: Drubbing Peter to Pox Paul

Stevan Harnad harnad at ecs.soton.ac.uk
Fri Oct 28 12:54:22 EDT 2005

BioMed Central (BMC) has written a very good reply to Lord Sainsbury's
recent remarks about the RCUK policy proposal:


BMC's point that it is untrue that there is a decline of interest
in open access publishing is quite correct. Interest continues to rise.

Minor point: Rather than cite over-reliance on Journal Citation Impact Factors
(though there *is* over-reliance on Journal Citation Impact Factors)
as a "level playing field" matter, disadvantaging new OA journal start-ups,
my strategy would have been to stress the overwhelming evidence of the OA
Citation Advantage at the author/article level, as demonstrated by the
within-journal comparisons between what has and has not been made OA through


BMC's passage about ignoring the UK Select Committee's impartial advice
on Open Access Self-Archiving is also very helpful and spot-on (though
I rather wish -- again a very minor point -- that Matt had called it
"Self-Archiving" rather than just "Archiving," which always makes it sound
ambiguous as between OA provision itself and mere preservation-archiving).

It might also have been helpful to point out to Lord S that 93% of the
journals in the Romeo index have already given their green light to
self-archiving, whereas it is Lord S who appears to be ambivalent about
RCUK's proposal to mandate it. Lord S wrote:

    Lord S: "what [RCUK] said effectively is we want you to publish it as soon
    as you can, subject to reaching agreement with the publishers as
    to when that would be. That seems to me to put researchers in an
    impossible position, ie, every individual researcher has got to
    start negotiating with the publisher as to what that means."

I would say that the one nearer an impossible position is not the
researcher, but Lord S, who has not understood the RCUK proposal; he has
(yet again) conflated OA publishing (which is not what RCUK is proposing
to mandate) with OA self-archiving (of *published* articles), which is
what RCUK is proposing to mandate. Lord S is (yet again) drubbing Peter
(OA self-archiving, green) to pox Paul (OA publishing, gold), as he did
with the Select Committee proposal, which he also misunderstood:

    "Drubbing Peter to pox Paul"
    Thursday December 2, 2004 
    Guardian Education

With about 93% of journals already green on OA self-archiving, Lord S is being
more royalist than the sovereign, more catholic than the pope...


The following (*extremely* hirsute) passage from Lord S alas does not attest
to a clear grasp of what is at issue, even when he endeavours to consider
OA self-archiving separately:

    Lord S: "The question of institutional repositories is a slightly
    different one because I think there is a role for institutional
    repositories [SH: So far so good], but in rather specific
    circumstances, which is there is a whole series of fields of research
    where the people like publishing their papers and what they are doing
    before they send them to the journals, and this is a very good way
    of communication between research communities. The question here
    is what is the requirement or the desire for people to publish
    them alongside publishing them in the actual journals? [SH: Lord S
    seems here both to be conflating (1a) publishing with (1b) providing
    access to the publication and (2a) pre-peer-review preprints with
    (2b) post-peer-review postprints] I think that is for individual
    universities to decide for themselves as to whether that is a cost
    [SH: Cost? Cost of what? Cost to whom?] that they think is justified
    subject to whatever agreement is reached with the publishers on what
    is the proper thing to do." 

Agreement? 93% of journals have already given their blessing to author
self-archiving. But so preoccupied is Lord S with the costs to and
of the journal trade that he seems to be missing entirely the fact
that the RCUK self-archiving mandate is meant to recover a needless
ongoing cost to the British tax-payer, who funds RCUK research, namely,
the loss of at least 50% (i.e., about £1.5 billion's-worth) of citation
impact on the RCUK's annual £3.5 billion investment in research, a loss
that occurs because currently the only researchers who can access a UK
research finding are those whose institutions can afford access to the
journal in which that finding happens to be published. Access denied to
all the rest of its would-be users.


The RCUK self-archiving mandate is intended to make RCUK-funded research
output accessible also to those would-be users who cannot afford
the journal in which it happens to be published, so as to remedy the
needlessly lost usage and impact of UK research findings, to maximise
their uptake, usage, and applications, and thereby to maximise the
benefits to British tax-payers resulting from the research that they
have paid for.

Where do journal-costs and publishing-models figure at all in this
equation? The transaction seems to be primarily one between the British
tax-payer and the British research community that it funds to produce
research, research which is in turn intended to be used and applied for
the benefit of the British tax-payer, not to serve as a product to be
sold, as in a supermarket, for the benefit of some other party. Publishers
certainly add value (and earn revenue) from this transaction too, but
their retail side-trade surely is not what it is all about!

Surely Lord S is not just our trade minister, but our science minister
as well. As such, he should stop conflating trade matters with research
matters, especially when it otherwise entails the tail wagging the dog.

Stevan Harnad

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