True Duck
Neurologists Get The High Tech Tools

The Magical Thinking of Professor Harnad

One watches with awe the relentlessness of the hedgehog mind.  Would that I were as certain of anything as Professor Harnad is of his vision of the open access future.  Surely one can be sympathetic to his frustration at those who bring up irrelevant issues or divergent points of view.  To his laser-like vision they are so obviously wrong.   Again and again (and again!) he tirelessly trots out his facts – that it is only fear that keeps academics from depositing articles into local repositories and so we must have mandates which will almost instantly (because academics love mandates) result in nearly 100% OA, at which point publishers will cease publishing and convert to peer review management organizations, funded by the windfall garnered by libraries who will cancel their now unnecessary journal subscriptions.

It will be a glorious day, akin to the day when the movie studios shut their doors once most households had television sets (or was it radio that went out of business?)  Or maybe it was the day that cable put the broadcast networks out to pasture.  I forget…

But no matter.  In the meantime, we must be vigilant and focused.  We must keep the evil subscription (“toll-access”) publishers in business (for the time being) and not so much as whisper the heresy that librarians might cancel journals prior to the day of the singularity.  Is it supposed to come as a surprise to them when we suddenly drop our subscriptions?  How much time will they need to re-tool to become peer review only organizations?  So many questions…

Although the metaphor is inexact, there’ve been many times over the past year that the line whispering in my head has been, “And the revolution eats its young…”  The Finch report tore the OA community asunder.  Where previously it had seemed that gold and green might coexist and one could be friendly with both, suddenly the camps became like the true fans of the Crimson Tide versus the Auburn Tigers.  Allegiance must be paid.  Professor Harnad leads the charge, castigating “Fools Gold” and hollering even more shrilly for mandates, mandates, mandates which are easy to implement and which the researchers desperately want in order to alleviate their fears and make those deposits that they are so eager to do.  It is inevitable and it is almost here.

In this taking of sides, Gold OA must be opposed at all costs, so former heroes of the movement, like PLoS or Biomed Central, conveniently drop off the radar screen.  Immediate open access to the version of record is now perceived as a danger, vastly inferior to scattered deposits of the author’s manuscript version.  The OA goal has been turned on its head.

One of the ironies for me in all of this is that I would actually love to see much of the future that Professor Harnad envisions come to pass.  Indeed, many years ago, at a meeting of librarians and publishers organized by Marty Frank and Mike Keller, I said that I could see a future in which an organization like APS acted strictly as a peer review organization, putting their stamp of approval on papers that could then be deposited in any of a variety of repositories.  Marty laughed (as he tends to at what he perceives as my more outlandish ideas).  I still think it’s a nifty concept.  But anyone who has studied diffusion of innovation theory and history knows that the path forward as outlined in the voluminous Harnadian corpus is a fantasy. 

In the real world, change happens in fits and starts, is messy and incomplete, results inevitably in a series of unintended consequences and is a matter of balancing pros and cons.  It is never as neat as Professor Harnad wants it to be.  For my part, I view the desirability of immediate open access to the permanent, curated version of record to be well worth the continued involvement of the commercial publishers.  I'm skeptical that the repository movement advances us very far.  But I'm not dogmatic about it.  

In a recent exchange, when asked by Jeroen Bosman what the reasons are for his speculations, he says, “Speculation, but grounded in the pragmatics, logic and evidence of what it actually going on today.”  In the magical thinking of Professor Harnad it is obvious and inevitable.  How frustrating it must be for him that so many of us fail to see it.




Stevan Harnad


I like Scott's article. We share a vision...

If you're interested in some of the objective evidence on the adoption rate (still too slow) and the effectiveness (quite remarkable, though depending on mandate-type) of OA self-archiving mandates, have a look at ROARMAP and the references below. (You might also have heard of the US OSTP, EU Horizon2020 and UK HEFCE/REF mandates, soon to come.)

Scott is certainly right that my thinking has been magical:

In 1994: I thought it would be enough to just just say "self-archive" and next day all researchers on the planet would do it. (Next day came, and nothing happened.)

It was magical thinking also to create CogPrints in 1997, in case researchers in my field didn't have a central place to self-archive (no success).

Magical thought too, that creating EPrints in 2000 (from which DSpace too emerged) -- so that all institutions could create their own OA repositories -- would do the trick (no dice).

A series of studies inspired by Lawrence 2001, demonstrating that OA increases citations made no noticeable difference either.

But then in 2003, things began to pick up, with the adoption of the very first Green OA mandate (Southampton), followed by several more (notably QUT in Australia and Minho in Portugal). ROARMAP launched, but adoptions were still just a trickle.

Then in 2004 the UK Select Committee recommended that all UK institutions and funders mandate Green OA. And the trickle became a trend -- but still a very sluggish one. And most of the mandates were weak, ineffective ones. It would have taken magic to make them work.

So in 2006, Peter Suber and I independently proposed the immediate-deposit/optional-access mandate (ID/OA) (Peter called it the "dual-deposit-release") mandate, Southampton designed the automated request-a-copy Button for EPrints and Eloy Rodrigues designed its counterpart for DSpace. (Perhaps it was still magical thinking to imagine they would work -- or would even be adopted.)

But then in 2007, Bernard Rentier, rector of the University of Liège, became the first to adopt the ID/OA mandate and the Button.

We then waited a few years to see whether it would work.

And by 2009 it became evident that ID/OA + Button was working, and generating over 80% OA compared to about 30% for the weaker mandates and even less without mandates. And no magic was needed.

Meanwhile, Gold OA had been making some headway too, but even more slowly than Green, because it required authors to switch journals and because it cost them extra money; and in 2013 economist John Houghton(with publishing consultant Alma Swan) described exactly why Green needed to come first.

Is it magical to think the adoption of ID/OA + Button will become universal in the next few years? Perhaps. But let's be empirical, and wait for the evidence.

(Meanwhile, I -- and many others -- will keep "tirelessly trotting out the facts" rather than just waiting passively…)

Gargouri, Y., Larivière, V., & Harnad, S. (2013) Ten-year Analysis of University of Minho Green OA Self-Archiving Mandate (in E Rodrigues, Ed. title to come)

Gargouri, Y, Lariviere, V, Gingras, Y, Brody, T, Carr, L and Harnad, S (2012b) Testing the Finch Hypothesis on Green OA Mandate Ineffectiveness. In Open Access Week 2012

Hitchcock, S. (2013) The effect of open access and downloads ('hits') on citation impact: a bibliography of studies.

Houghton, J. & Swan, A. (2013) Planting the Green Seeds for a Golden Harvest: Comments and Clarifications on "Going for Gold". D-Lib Magazine 19 (1/2).

Rentier, B., & Thirion, P. (2011). The Liège ORBi model: Mandatory policy without rights retention but linked to assessment processes.

Sale, A., Couture, M., Rodrigues, E., Carr, L. & Harnad, S. (2012) Open Access Mandates and the "Fair Dealing" Button. In: Dynamic Fair Dealing: Creating Canadian Culture Online (Rosemary J. Coombe & Darren Wershler, Eds.)

Stevan Harnad

Scott, my posted response doesn't seem to get past your spam filter, with or without URLS.

Stevan Harnad

So I've posted it on my own blog:

T Scott

Yes, the filter caught it (nothing personal!). Let me see if I can release it.

Jean-Claude Guédon

I would simply add that the Finch report did not create the rifts among OA advocates that Scott mentions in his funny posting (very well written, by the way).

That the world should move in a messy way has been known for a long time, has it not... However, these fits and starts cannot happen without some clear thinking behind them. Distinguishing between how to think about change and how change actually happens is of the essence.

The comments to this entry are closed.