I Blew A Fuse

Not FASTR Enough

While the publishing industry continues to explore numerous avenues for providing full Open Access to the stewarded versions-of-record of the scientific literature, SPARC once again offers up the hope that the US Congress will save us from the evil paywalls.  Is  this really the best they can do?

Springer is now the largest commercial OA publisher in the world.  The publishers on the Highwire platform make over 2 million articles freely available within twelve months or less.  CrossRef is playing an increasingly important role in this space, most notably with the FundRef initiative.  NPG, AIP, and others are launching mega-journals built on the PLoS One model.  Wiley announced just today that they are moving two of their established journals to open access.  Even stodgy conservative Elsevier now publishes a couple dozen fully OA journals.

SPARC has changed the name of  their bill.  Yay!  Let's write our congresspeople!

There was a remarkable scene at the STM Annual Meeting in Frankfurt last October.  I was moderating the closing session, a discussion of the value of emerging models of scholarly publishing with Kent Anderson as the main speaker.  Always eager  to be provocative, Kent was being sharply critical of eLife, BioMed Central, PLoS One and the notion of open access in general (this will come as no surprise to readers of his pieces in the Scholarly Kitchen).  What resulted was significant pushback from many in the audience, who argued that not only were the various OA models financially viable, but that moving to OA was the  right thing  to do -- that it represented the values that had brought so many of  those people into publishing in the first place.  Imagine that -- 300 STM publishing executives in a conference room with a significant portion of them (and seasoned professionals at that) vociferously defending open access.

Alas.  I think I was the only librarian in the room.

The tide towards open access is inexorable.  Many in  the publishing industry recognize that and are actively engaged in making things happen.  Wouldn't it be nice if librarians were a part of that?  But SPARC, as the librarians' advocate for OA, would have us sit on our hands (well, one hand, I guess -- we're supposed  to use the other to write to Congress) and hope for a legislative solution.

The previous FRPAA versions of FASTR haven't even been able to get a decent congressional hearing.  It's easy enough for a congressperson to sign on as a co-sponsor, but  there doesn't really seem to be much legislative muscle behind it.  And even if it were, somehow, to get through Congress in the current session, think of  the time and money that will be wasted on building the infrastructure necessary for each agency to comply.  All for the sake of "freeing" manuscript versions of articles, many of which publishers are already making available.

I suppose you can't blame librarians too much.  If all they know about publishing is what they read in SPARC press releases it's natural to think that publishers are evil demons bent on hoarding knowledge to the detriment of civilization as we know it.  The slogans about publishers getting everything for free and making the taxpayers pay twice are compelling if you don't look at them too closely.

I'll agree with SPARC on one thing -- we've got no time to waste in moving the open access future forward.  Too bad that while publishing professionals of all stripes are working to make that happen librarians seem content to sit on the sidelines waving cardboard sabers.



Mike Taylor

I don't understand what you think SPARC should be doing instead, or as well, a supporting FASTR.



Plans by universities and research funders to pay the costs of Open Access Publishing ("Gold OA") are premature.

Funds are short.

Eighty percent of journals (including virtually all the top journals) are still subscription-based, tying up the potential funds to pay for Gold OA, and making all Gold OA payment double-payment (subscriptions + Gold OA fees).

The asking price for Gold OA is still far too high.

And there is concern that paying to publish may inflate acceptance rates and lower quality standards.

What is needed now is for universities and funders to mandate OA self-archiving (of authors' final peer-reviewed drafts, immediately upon acceptance for publication) ("Green OA") -- which is exactly what FASTR and SPARC have proposed to do (and what 55 funders and 200 institutions worldwide have already done: see ROARMAP).

Universal Green OA mandates will provide universal OA.

Then, if and when universal Green OA should go on to make subscriptions unsustainable (because users are satisfied with just the Green OA versions), that will in turn induce journals to cut costs (no more print edition, no more online edition, all access-provision and archiving offloaded onto the worldwide network of institutional Green OA repositories), downsize to just providing the service of peer review, and convert to the Post-Green Gold OA cost-recovery model.

Meanwhile, the subscription cancellations will have released the funds to pay these residual service costs.

The natural way to charge for the service of peer review then will be on a "no-fault basis," with the author's institution or funder paying for each round of refereeing, regardless of outcome (acceptance, revision/re-refereeing, or rejection). This will minimize cost while protecting against inflated acceptance rates and decline in quality standards.

Harnad, S. (2010) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16 (7/8). http://www.dlib.org/dlib/july10/harnad/07harnad.html

Bill Walsh

Hi Scott.

"I suppose you can't blame librarians too much. If all they know about publishing is what they read in SPARC press releases it's natural to think that publishers are evil demons bent on hoarding knowledge to the detriment of civilization as we know it."

This sort of straw man argument is what I'd normally expect you to debunk.

T Scott

Bill -- I'm not sure I follow you. Is this a case of sarcasm not playing well on the internet?

Mike -- I wish that SPARC would drop the adversarial stance and try to work with publishers to build on what they're currently doing in order to try to shape things in a direction that works for all of the stakeholders. I don't expect that to happen.

Professor Harnad -- your views are well known. Does cutting and pasting the abstract of a 3-year old article into a comment constitute spam?

Stevan Harnad

TSP: "Does cutting and pasting the abstract of a 3-year old article into a comment constitute spam?"

No, actually it constitutes relevant, substantive comment on the points you raised, spelling out why the Green OA that FASTR proposes to mandate -- and that SPARC and librarians support -- needs to come before a conversion to Gold OA publishing: in order to ensure that peer-reviewed journal publishing downsizes to an affordable and sustainable service and price rather than continuing with its current bundle of obsolescent products and services at a bloated and unaffordable price.



A good piece, as usual. I do want to clarify the section about the Frankfurt STM meeting, and my comments. I am critical of specific manifestations of OA pointedly -- I think megajournals do a poor job of putting the research in front of the right readers; I think BMC is doing a poor job managing conflicts of interest they've created in their corporate sponsorship program; I think eLife is problematic at its base from a conflict of interest perspective and have demonstrated they are willing to break rules to get their way; and I don't believe that OA will change the constellation of publishers much, result in cost savings, or improve quality.

I don't recall there being as much pushback during the STM meeting as you portray. There were certainly defensive people from BMC and otherwise, but from my vantage point, I made eye contact with many publishers nodding and agreeing that there are still things to work out, to improve, and refine.

I think this is the point of your essay, actually. That if we simply throw down the sledge of legislation and think this will do it, we're wrong. What has to happen is engagement, refinement, and implementation of high standards that can include access but can't be limited to access.

Part of engaging means holding every publisher to high standards of behavior. I'll continue to write when I think standards are slipping or missing. That's not anti-OA. That's anti-apathy. So, in that regard, I love this essay. If librarians were to truly engage, they might realize exactly what OA might mean for them, how they need to get into the discussion, and how they need to change to survive and thrive.

T Scott

Kent -- thanks for chiming in. I think what was most significant about the STM session was simply the range of opinions and approaches reflected in the publishing community. If librarians would spend more time engaging with publishers they would realize that there are, in fact, many people in that community that we can work with effectively.

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