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Peter Suber

Berkman Fellow,Harvard University

Senior Researcher, SPARC

Co-founder, OAD


Will OA progress lead to Pyrrhic victory?

Richard Poynder, Open Access: Whom would you back?  Open and Shut? March 10, 2009.  This is a long article making a sustained argument.  I can’t excerpt enough of it to show the full argument without trespassing too far on Richard’s good will.  So I’ll start with a short excerpt setting the stage and then in my comments quote individual sentences to which I’d like to respond.  Excerpt:

…[A]s the OA movement has developed an interesting question has arisen: should Green and Gold OA be viewed as concurrent or consecutive activities?

This is not an issue of intellectual curiosity alone: it has important strategic implications for the OA movement. It requires, for instance, that the movement decides whether to treat Green and Gold OA as complementary or competitive activities; and if they are competitive, then where the OA movement should focus its main efforts.

Speaking to me in 2007,…Peter Suber took a characteristic "big tent" approach: The two forms of OA, he said are complementary, and should be developed in tandem.

In this way, Suber believes, the OA movement will maximise its chances of success, and achieve OA more quickly. As he put it, "OA archiving and OA journals are complementary and need to proceed simultaneously, much as an organism develops its nervous system and digestive system simultaneously and cannot do one first and the other second."

By contrast, OA advocate and self-styled archivangelist Stevan Harnad views the two roads as competitive. Moreover, he says, Green OA must prevail before the movement puts any significant effort into Gold OA.

This is important, he argues, not only because Green OA can be achieved much more quickly and easily than Gold OA, but because it will force publishers to downsize, and so squeeze unnecessary costs out of the current system of scholarly communication….


  • "[I]t seems that Gold OA could marginalise, and eventually overtake, Green OA."  I didn’t see the argument for this conclusion.  Richard gives us a wealth of detail on the rise of gold OA, but I didn’t see him tie it back to this thesis and show that those developments are setbacks for green OA. 
  • "Hybrid OA was set to become…a tool that would enable publishers to infiltrate the movement, and appropriate Gold OA. And today it looks as though it could defang the OA movement at large."  I saw no evidence for this statement either.  Again, Richard documents the spread of hybrid OA.  But I didn’t see him argue that hybrid OA was harming green OA or non-hybrid gold OA. 
  • "[W]hile most subscription publishers had by now agreed to sanction author self-archiving (for political reasons alone), they invariably insisted on an embargo period, from six to twelve months, sometimes longer."  I believe this is untrue.  Publishers who insist on an embargo for green OA are still a small minority of publishers who allow green OA.  We shouldn’t confuse publisher permission policies, which generally do not use embargoes, with funder OA policies, which generally do use embargoes. 
  • Richard identifies two stages in the "publishers’ strategy to ambush the OA movement".  Note that he’s talking about OA publishers here (full or hybrid OA), not TA publishers.  Stage one is the advent of institutional memberships.  Stage two is the sort of deal Springer struck with the Max Planck Society and the U of California to build publication fees for affiliated authors into the cost of subscriptions.  Richard shows that some membership fees have been high enough that some institutions dropped them, though of course other institutions retained theirs.  He also shows that the Max Planck model (actually, first used by Springer with a Dutch library consortium and the U of Goettingen) allows Springer to continue charging for subscriptions.  But both strategies have their advantages, for OA and not just for Springer –primarily in paying for gold OA without making authors pay out of pocket.  These advantages may coexist with disadvantages, but I didn’t see an argument that they net out as an "ambush [of] the OA movement". 
  • Richard seems to assume that Max Planck is paying significantly more for subscriptions, now that author-side publication fees are built in, than it paid before.  But I don’t know whether that’s true and would like to see some evidence, either from Max Planck or from the other institutions where Springer has struck a similar deal (Universiteitsbibliotheken en de Koninklijke Bibliotheek, U of Goettingen, or U of California).  I’m not criticizing Richard for omitting this evidence.  It may be unavailable.  But if the new model covers reader-side and author-side access at the same time, and does so without a significant increase, then it might be closer to a bargain than an ambush.
  • "The upshot is that publishers now appear to be well positioned to migrate to an OA environment, without any significant impact on their profits, and without having demonstrated that their prices are justified."  It’s one thing to worry about whether gold OA prices are justified.  But it’s another to worry that gold OA publishers might be making profits.  The goal of the OA movement –to me– is to provide OA to a larger and larger body of research literature, not to put publishers out of business.  (As I put it in my OA overview, "The consequences may or may not overlap –this is contingent– but the purposes do not overlap.")  We should worry about excessive prices for gold OA, but we should also worry about the inverse problem of insufficient revenues.  Part of the solution is to show that gold OA can be profitable –which has now been done by Hindawi, Medknow, the Optical Society of America, BMC, and PLoS ONE.  We will never develop gold OA across all disciplines and countries without harnessing self-interest. 
  • While we explore the many gold OA business models, and look for ways to make the revenues high enough to cover expenses without excluding authors, it’s critical to remember one thing.  Green OA doesn’t face these problems, can be achieved faster and at lower cost than gold OA, and is not undermined by the progress of gold OA.
  • Richard seems to agree on the urgency, speed, and efficiency of green OA, but he seems not to agree that it’s under no threat from gold OA.  Indeed, like Stevan Harnad, Richard may think the virtues of green OA make it unnecessary to pursue gold OA at all, or unnecessary to pursue gold OA until green is further along.  But that’s where we diverge.  We should pursue both at once, and I still haven’t seen a good reason not to.  For a short version of the argument, see Richard’s interview with me from 2007:

    [p. 51] PS:…I do know, from talking to policy-makers, that OA journals do help the case for OA archiving. Everyone wants to be reassured that OA peer-review providers exist before they put toll-access peer-review providers at risk….Green is not sufficient. It hasn’t caused journal cancellations in physics but it might cause journal cancellations in other fields, eventually, as OA archiving rates approach 100%. If so, then we’ll need OA peer-review providers to replace the TA peer-review providers overthrown by OA archiving. By the way, Stevan acknowledges this too, and it’s perfectly consistent for him to do so.

    [p. 50] RP: As we also discussed, Harnad’s argument is that we need to prioritise self-archiving because it is a much quicker way of achieving open access. Is he right?

    PS: He’s right that it’s quicker, and that’s a good reason to pursue it. But it doesn’t stand alone, and that’s a good reason not to pursue it alone.

  • Richard points out that institutional memberships shield researchers from the costs of publishing, just as subscriptions do, and in that sense do not change the situation in which "the scholarly journal market…[has] little or no mechanism for restraining prices."  I agree with the first half but not the second.  As more OA journals charge publication fees or institutional memberships, there’s a good reason to think that competition will keep prices within bounds.  I say this even though I know that we’ve never seen serious price competition among subscription journals.  Subscription journals don’t compete on price because they don’t compete for readers.  They don’t compete for readers because they are not fungible.  This is a fact about all journals, not just TA journals.  Because different journals publish different papers, you must gain access to the ones you need even if they are expensive and even if there are free or affordable journals in the same field.  But journals in the same field do compete for authors, even if they don’t compete for readers.  Again, this is a fact about all journals, not just TA journals.  When OA journals charge publication fees or institutional memberships, the prices function as barriers to authors, not to readers.  As soon as we shift costs from the reader side to the author side, then, we create market pressure to keep them low enough to attract rather than deter authors.  This may look like a technical detail.  But I think it goes to the heart of Richard’s argument.  If he’s right that the transition from TA journals to OA journals will not reduce prices, then he’s right that it could eventually exclude authors and be a Pyrrhic victory.   But precisely because high prices in an OA world would exclude authors, and not merely readers, there is a natural, market-based check on excessive prices.  BTW, I’m not saying that these market forces will keep prices within reach of all authors (as opposed to a sufficient set of authors), or that they are already at work; we may need to see many more OA journals in the same fields before price competition emerges. 
  • It’s relevant to point out here that most OA journals charge no publication fees or institutional memberships at all.  I’ve argued that even fee-based gold OA is not the threat that Richard seems to think.  But even if I’m entirely wrong about that:  fee-based gold OA is a minority of gold OA, and no-fee gold OA doesn’t pose any of the threats that Richard describes.
  • "This suggests that it may be time to push for a more radical revolution than currently envisaged by OA advocates; one focused more broadly than the issue of access alone. Perhaps it is time to re-engineer the entire scholarly communication process? If peer review has become a hostage to fortune, for instance, is it not time to try and wrest the task of managing it back from publishers?"  Two quick responses:  (1) Peer review is only a hostage to fortune at very expensive journals.  Hence, it matters whether OA journals will compete on price in their effort to compete for authors, and it’s relevant that most OA journals charge no publication fees.  (2) Many OA advocates, for example, Stevan Harnad and myself, envision and even recommend the decoupling of peer review from distribution.  Research literature would still be peer-reviewed, but not by "publishers" so much as editorial boards which may be entirely unaffiliated with publishers.  Distribution could take place through any of several OA channels, including institutional repositories.  Some OA advocates recommend this decoupling independently of their interest in OA; some recommend it as a condition of further OA progress; and some merely predict it as an effect of further OA progress.  It is emerging, perhaps slowly, as a natural consequence of the internet; the rapid drop in the cost of online distribution means that editorial boards can perform their essential function without working with publishers.  We can accelerate this decoupling at any time.  But in the meantime, it’s important to keep our eyes on the prize:  OA itself.  Many OA advocates are deeply concerned to reform scholarly communication in ways that go far beyond the removal of access barriers.  But there are reasons to make these efforts secondary rather than primary, or parallel rather than unified:  to avoid giving the impression that OA depends on peer-review reform, to assemble a coalition of stakeholders who agree on the need for OA even if they disagree on other reforms, and simply to accelerate progress –because nearly all of the most exciting reforms depend on OA itself.
  • One general point in conclusion:  I never saw the need to distance the access problem from the affordability problem.  It’s true that they are separate problems in the sense that we could solve the access problem without solving the affordability problem (e.g. with expensive OA journals).  That is the prospect which alarms Richard.  But the urgency of solving the affordability problem has given the OA movement some of its most stalwart allies and most enduring incentives.  If Richard is saying that we should address both problems at once, I fully agree, though we may differ in some of our reasons.  We should address both at once in part to avoid the Pyrrhic victory Richard describes, in part to recruit and retain indispensable allies, and above all to apply a very elegant solution (complementary green and gold OA) to a very serious problem.

Impact factors and journal prices: no apparent correlation

Bill Hooker has used Elsevier data to show that there is "no apparent correlation between IF [impact factor] and price."  Excerpt:

…Interesting, no? If the primary measure of a journal’s value is its impact — pretty layouts and a good Employment section and so on being presumably secondary — and if the Impact Factor is a measure of impact, and if publishers are making a good faith effort to offer value for money — then why is there no apparent relationship between IF and journal prices? After all, publishers tout the Impact Factors of their offerings whenever they’re asked to justify their prices or the latest round of increases in same.

There’s even some evidence from the same dataset that Impact Factors do influence journal pricing, at least in a "we can charge more if we have one" kinda way. Comparing the prices of journals with or without IFs indicates that, within this Elsevier/Life Sciences set, journals with IFs are higher priced and less variable in price….

Comment.  Also see White and Creaser 2007, which showed little correlation between price and impact factor.  Bergstrom and Bergstrom 2004 showed that journal prices are either unrelated to citation impact or inversely related to it:

[L]ibraries typically must pay 4 to 6 times as much per page for journals owned by commercial publishers as for journals owned by non-profit societies. These differences in price do not reflect differences in the quality of the journals [as measured by citations]. In fact the commercial journals are on average less cited than the non-profits and the average cost per citation of commercial journals ranges from 5 to 15 times as high as that of their non-profit counterparts.

Document summarizing software harnessing Wikipedia

Krishnan Ramanathan and three co-authors, Document summarization using Wikipedia, a technical report from HP Labs, February 21, 2009.  (Thanks to ResourceShelf.)

Abstract:   Although most of the developing world is likely to first access the Internet through mobile phones, mobile devices are constrained by screen space, bandwidth and limited attention span. Single document summarization techniques have the potential to simplify information consumption on mobile phones by presenting only the most relevant information contained in the document. In this paper we present a language independent single-document summarization method. We map document sentences to semantic concepts in Wikipedia and select sentences for the summary based on the frequency of the mapped-to concepts. Our evaluation on English documents using the ROUGE package indicates our summarization method is competitive with the state of the art in single document summarization.

Comment.  I’ve written a few times about document summarizing software, and how useful it will be when there is more OA literature to sic it on.  But this is the first time I’ve seen any sign that the software could actually use OA literature to guide and improve the summaries, the way statistical machine translation software uses OA literature to guide and improve translations.  Neat. 

There’s a nice positive feedback loop here:  The more OA literature we have, the better this software will work, and the better it works, the more it supports what I call the software strategy for OA by creating new incentives to make even more work OA.

Nearly 24,000 “free e-journals” listed at Nottingham Trent U

The e-journal database at Nottingham Trent University lists 23,971 "free e-journals".  (Thanks to J.W. Fletcher.)


  • That’s more than six times the number (3,914) listed today in the DOAJ.  But the DOAJ is limited to peer-reviewed journals, and it seems unlikely that the Nottingham-Trent list shares that limitation.  It’s also five times the number (4,793) listed today in Open J-Gate, and and Open J-Gate includes more than 2,100 non-peer-reviewed journals.  The Nottingham-Trent collection is even larger than EZB, which today lists 21,101 free e-journals and is not limited to peer-reviewed journals.  If anyone can shed light on the criteria defining the Nottingham-Trent list, please drop me a line or post a note to SOAF.
  • If you look closely at the Nottingham-Trent list and wonder what SFX is, the MIT Libraries have some good background.

Publishers push back against Houghton report

Peter Williams, Publishers denounce JISC open access report, Information World Review, March 9, 2009.  Excerpt:

Professor John Houghton of Victoria University in Melbourne and Professor Charles Oppenheim of Loughborough University led the research.

Three models were examined: subscription or toll access (reader charges and use restrictions), OA publishing (where publication is author-funded), and OA self-archiving (where academic authors post their work in free online repositories).

The study estimated that core scholarly publishing in total cost the UK higher education sector just under £5bn in 2007, and that the three models could save the sector hundreds of millions of pounds.

Houghton said greater accessibility to research could result in £172m worth of benefits a year to UK plc from government and higher education sector research alone.

In a joint statement, publishing associations PA, ALPSP and STM said: “OA publishing in all its variants is the subject of a series of experiments already running with our membership. Claims that if adopted universally an exclusively OA business model would generate large savings in the system costs for scholarly communication in the UK in our view remain unproven.�

JISC said it wanted to stimulate debate and would meet publishers shortly.

PS:  Also see my post on the Houghton report, which includes longer excerpts from its findings.

Mike Eisen’s response to Rep. Conyers

Michael Eisen, John Conyers Tries [and Fails] to Explain His Position, It is NOT Junk, March 7, 2009.  Excerpt:

Lawrence Lessig and I have been writing about the link between publisher contributions to members of the House Judiciary committee and their support for H.R. 801 – a bill that would end the newly implemented NIH public access policy that makes all works published as part of NIH funded research freely available to the public online. On Friday, House Judiciary chairman John Conyers (D-MI) – lead sponsor of the bill – responded in a letter on Huffington Post.

The first several paragraphs of Conyersâ??  letter contain an outline of his record as a progressive politician.  Representative Conyers is a smart man who has worked hard defending the publicâ??s interest on a large number of issues. But no record, no matter how distinguished, can provide an excuse for introducing an atrocious piece of legislation that sacrifices the public interest to those of a select group of publishing companies who just happen – coincidentally Iâ??m sure – to contribute to Representative Conyers and the other backers of the bill….

Although he says at several times he is trying to get to the bottom of a complex issue, he ignored evidence presented to his committee during hearings last year and has shown no interest in learning about how scientific publishing actually works.

Conyers offers two main justifications for his support of H.R. 801. First, seems incensed that the bill mandating the policy originated in the Appropriations Committee and not his Judiciary Committee. Judiciary was the appropriate venue, he argues, because the bill alters copyright. As I will show below, this is incorrect. Second, Conyers trots out the publishersâ?? favorite trope that the NIH policy will bankrupt publishers and thereby destroy science. Since this is the more substantive claim, I will deal with it first….

The notion that the NIH policy will lead to massive subscription cancelations is not supported by empirical data or by publisher actions.

The NIH policy require that works be available within 12 months of publication – not immediately. This delay of free public access was put in place precisely because it would allow publishers to recoup their investment in publishing by charging for access to the freshest material. Science moves far too fast for active researchers to afford a yearâ??s delay before reading papers in their field. Thus universities and other research institutions have to maintain subscriptions to a wide range of journals. Many journals, realizing that their revenue comes primarily from new material, already make their contents freely available online after a year or less. And these journals have not reported a wave of canceled subscriptions – or any appreciable loss of revenue.

Indeed, most publishers have no problem with the NIH policy….Many even help their authors by sending copies of their articles directly to the NLM.  It is a small minority of narrow-minded and venal publishers who want this policy reversed.

Second, publishers do not pay for peer review. Peer review is carried out by members of the research community, who receive no remuneration for this important contribution to the scientific process and the integrity of the scientific literature. Indeed, since the salaries of most American scientists are paid directly or indirectly by the US government, the peer review process can be viewed as a massive Federal subsidy to publishers. That some publishers – who not only get their most important source of skilled labor paid for by taxpayers but are also publishing research that is the product of tens of billions of annual taxpayer dollars – are unwilling to provide the taxpayers with a copy of the papers they paid to produce and review is unconscionable.

And while Representative Conyersâ?? publishing friends may have convinced him that there are severe unintended consequences that will arise from the NIH public access policy, the scientific community – who has been debating this issue for over a decade – strongly disagrees….

Now, letâ??s return to the issues of process and copyright, which seem to so infuriate Conyers….As someone who has been involved with this issue and has closely followed the development of the NIH public access policy, I can say that Conyersâ?? history of this policy is grossly inaccurate. The NIH policy was developed over the course of several years, during which time there was extensive back and forth between Congress and the NIH as they worked to craft a policy that would ensure public access to taxpayer-funded research.

I am no expert of Congressional protocol, but it seems perfectly sensible to me that the Appropriations Committee, whose job it is to make sure that taxpayersâ?? money is spent wisely and efficiently, would be the relevant committee for setting the terms under which scientists could receive federal dollars. Once developed, the policy was opened up to public comment. Everyone in the scientific research and publishing communities knew about the policy long before it was implemented, and then NIH Director Elias Zerhouni met with all stakeholders to make sure their views and issues were considered. This is hardly a bill snuck in by special interests and rammed through in the middle night with no public comment, as Conyers would have us believe.

Conyersâ?? argument that the bill should have gone to his Judiciary committee rests on the dubious notion that NIH policy modifies copyright. But the policy in question does not alter copyright in any way….This is [merely] a modification of the contract made between grantees and the NIH every time a new grant is awarded….

Throughout his response Conyers repeatedly cites the need to discuss the complex issues around scientific publishing….Unfortunately, Representative Conyers actions do not reflect his words. This bill was introduced in the last Congress. The Judiciary Committee then held hearings on the bill, in which even the publishersâ?? own witnesses pointed out flaws in its logic and approach. In particular, a previous Registrar of Copyrights, clearly sympathetic to the publishersâ?? cause, acknowledged that the NIH Policy was in perfect accord with US copyright law and practice. If Conyers were so interested in dealing with a complex issue in a fair and reasonable way, why then did he completely ignore the results of this hearing and reintroduce the exact same bill – one that clearly reflects the opinions of only one side in this debate? …

PS:  Also see my own response to Conyers’ defense of his bill.

Another intro to OA

Cian Oâ??Donnell, The Price of Knowledge, EUSci, January 2009.  Scroll to p. 12.  (Thanks to Neuronism.)  An introduction to OA.

…Academics themselves can also do a lot to promote open access. The obvious first step is to simply publish new research in open access journals, or in journals that offer a paid open access choice. This can be to the authorâ??s benefit, as studies have suggested that freely available articles may have a higher impact than closed ones…

Another straightforward option is to publicly archive all published work. Apart from a few restrictions, this is completely allowed by a surprising number of journals – including Science and Nature – and actually mandated by many funding bodies. The SHERPA organisation maintains an excellent website, which details individual publisher and funding body open access policies.

Many academics simply archive their work on personal websites, but other options exist. Some disciplines already have popular public archives, such as the physics repository, www.arXiv.org. Most papers in this field are posted on â??the archiveâ?? well before being accepted in a journal, with no apparent detriment to the publishers. Many academic institutions also maintain their own archiving facilities. Here at the University of Edinburgh, staff and students can archive their own work in the Edinburgh Research Archive. The technophobic can also get library staff to deposit work on their behalf….

[A] small, but growing, fraction of scholarly work is now freely available to anyone with a connection to the web. In the age of Wikipedia we have no shortage of instantly accessible information but, sadly, facts and figures are not always backed by expert opinion. The open access movement aims to remedy this by making scholarly knowledge available and accessible – to all who wish to find it.

Stevan Harnad’s response to Rep. Conyers

Stevan Harnad, Rep. John Conyers Explains his Bill H.R. 801 in the Huffington Post, Open Access Archivangelism, March 7, 2009.  Excerpt:

Reply to: Conyers, John (2009) A Reply to Larry Lessig. The Huffington Post. March 6, 2009.

Congressman John Conyers (D. Mich) is probably sincere when he says that his motivation for his Bill is not to reward contributions from the publishers’ anti-OA lobby: He pretty much says up front that his motivation is jurisdictional.

Here are the (familiar, and oft-rebutted) arguments Rep Conyers refloats, but I think he is raising them less out of conviction that they are right than as a counterweight against the jurisdictional outcome he contests….(By the way, the original Bill was anything but secret as it made its way through the House Appropriations Committee, then the House, then the Senate, as Peter Suber’s many OA News postings archived along the way will attest.)

Rep. John Conyers:
"[O]pponents [of mandating Open Access to publicly funded research] argue that, in reality, it reverses a long-standing and highly successful copyright policy for federally-funded work and sets a precedent that will have significant negative consequences for scientific research." …

(3) Evidence of Positive Consequences: The actual consequences of self-archiving to date have all been positive ones, for research progress: enhanced visibility, access, uptake, usage, applications and impact for research findings.

(4) No Evidence of Negative Consequences: The "significant negative consequences" to which Mr. Conyers alludes (on the prompting of the publishing lobby) are the hypothetical possibility — for which there so far exists no actual evidence whatsoever — that OA self-archiving will cause subscriptions (largely institutional) to be cancelled catastrophically, making them unsustainable as the means of covering the costs of peer review….

Rep. John Conyers:
"These opponents argue that scientific journals expend their own, non-federal resources to manage the peer review process, where experts review academic publications. This process is critical….Journal publishers organize and pay for peer review with the proceeds they receive from the sale of subscriptions to their journals, thereby adding considerable value to the original manuscripts of research scientists."

All true. But no argument at all against Open Access self-archiving mandates! As long as subscriptions remain sustainable to cover the peer review costs…things continue exactly as they do now (and as they have done for over a decade in the few fields, such as high energy physics, where OA self-archiving has been going on spontaneously at close to 100% levels already with no detectable effect on subscriptions).

And if ever subscriptions fail, peer review will be paid on the OA publication-fee model that some OA journals such as PLoS and BMC already use today — but paid for out of the universal windfall cancellation savings, instead of out of extra funds, poached from somewhere else (often scarce research funds themselves!), as now.

In other words, the ominous talk about a threat to peer review is patent nonsense….

To try instead to keep holding back OA, now…despite its demonstrated direct benefits to research, just in order to insure publishers’ current subscription revenues and modus operandi from hypothetical risk is rather like trying to keep coal-fed steam engines or horse-drawn carriages in service in order to insure the revenues of stokers and the hay industry — except it’s more like trying to do that with hospital ambulances….

PS:  Also see my own response to Conyers’ defense of his bill.

Rep. Conyers defends his bill

Rep. John Conyers, A Reply to Larry Lessig, Huffington Post, March 6, 2009.  Excerpt:

Congress is not perfect, and I respect Professor Larry Lessig’s vigorous effort to change and improve it. Furthermore, as readers of the Huffington Post well know, I am firmly committed to tough oversight and great transparency in government, and I don’t mind taking it as well as dishing it out. But Professor Lessig’s recent comments on the the scientific publishing issue and my sponsorship of a bill on the subject simply cross the line….

To hear Professor Lessig tell it, I introduced a bill that is utterly without merit and entirely the product of shady special interest dealing….

Professor Lessig may or may not know that, last year, the publishing industry supported a version of the "Orphan Works" legislation passed by the Senate that dealt with the use of copyrighted materials whose authors are difficult to locate. This may well be the industry’s highest legislative priority within my Committee’s jurisdiction. I refused to consent to move that bill through the House, however, because I did not think there had been adequate opportunity for all views to be heard. Would a craven shill for "Big Paper" do such a thing? …

First, there is a serious process issue at stake here. My bill would restore longstanding federal copyright policy in this area. It reverses a provision slipped into an appropriations bill in the middle of the night, with no consultation with the Committee which is actually supposed to write the law in this area, the Judiciary Committee, which I chair. Thus, Professor Lessig simply ignores that this so-called "open access" policy was not subject to open hearings, open debate or open amendment in Congress and itself represents the sort of process-compromised special interest provision that he generally rails against. Now the special interests here may be highly worthy, but an openness hawk such as Professor Lessig ought not countenance procedural gimmicks just because they yielded a favored result.

My bill lays down a marker indicating that issues this complex, with important values and convincing arguments on both sides, should not be decided by a few lawmakers without relevant jurisdictional expertise in the dark of night with no meaningful public scrutiny or input. Unlike the measure my bill would repeal, my bill is fully available to the public and has my name attached to it. If it moves through my Committee, which it has not yet, it will be subject to full public hearings – and open to criticism and improvement from all sides.

Second, on the narrow merits of the issue, Professor Lessig and proponents of "open access" make a credible argument that requiring open publishing of government-funded research information furthers scientific inquiry. They speak out for important values and I respect their position.

While this approach appears to further and enhance access to scientific works, opponents argue that, in reality, it reverses a long-standing and highly successful copyright policy for federally-funded work and sets a precedent that will have significant negative consequences for scientific research.

These opponents argue that scientific journals expend their own, non-federal resources to manage the peer review process, where experts review academic publications. This process is critical because it provides the quality check against incorrect, reckless, and fraudulent science and furthers the overall quality and vigor of modern scientific debate. Journal publishers organize and pay for peer review with the proceeds they receive from the sale of subscriptions to their journals, thereby adding considerable value to the original manuscripts of research scientists.

The policy Professor Lessig supports, they argue, would limit publishers’ ability to charge for subscriptions since the same articles will soon be publicly available for free. If journals begin closing their doors or curtailing peer review, or foist peer review costs on academic authors (who are already pay from their limited budgets printing costs in some cases), the ultimate harm will be to open inquiry and scientific progress may be severe. And the journals most likely to be affected may be non-profit, scientific society based journals. Once again, a policy change slipped through the appropriations process in the dark of night may enhance open access to information, but it may have unintended consequences that are severe. This only emphasizes the need for proper consideration of these issues in open session.
I acknowledge that these are complex issues and that there are important values, strong arguments, and passionate supporters on both sides. And I look forward to the coming debate. But I hope as the discussion moves forward, we can focus on the merits. No one is well served by ad hominem attacks, baseless smears, or a distorted presentation of the facts.

Comment.  I posted a response at the Huffington Post.  But it’s limited to 250 words and does not support links.  Here’s the unabridged version with live links.

I thank Rep. Conyers for making a public defense of his bill in a forum which offers the public a chance to respond.  I also respect his record on other issues, including civil rights and bankruptcy, and his current efforts to compel the testimony of Karl Rove and Harriet Miers. On research publications, however, he’s backing the wrong horse, and his arguments for siding with publishers against scientists and taxpayers are not strong.

(1) Rep. Conyers insists that the House Judiciary Committee should have been consulted on the original proposal for an openaccess policy at the NIH. However, William Patry, former copyright counsel to the House Judiciary Committee (and now chief copyright counsel at Google), believes that "the claim that the NIH policy raises copyright issues is absurd," and that the Judiciary Committee did not need to be in the loop.  I understand that the House Rules Committee came to a similar decision when formally asked.

Clearly Rep. Conyers disagrees with these views. But they should suffice to show that bypassing the Judiciary Committee was not itself a corrupt maneuver.

If it’s important to revisit the question, I hope Rep. Conyers can do it without backing a bill from a special interest lobby that would reduce taxpayer access to taxpayer-funded research. A turf war is not a good excuse for bad policy. On the merits, see points 2 and 3 below.

For more independent views that the NIH policy does not raise copyright issues, see the open letter to the Judiciary Committee from 46 lawyers and law professors specializing in copyright.

(2) Rep. Conyers accepts the publisher argument that the NIH policy will defund peer review by causing journal cancellations. The short answer to that objection is that (a) much higher levels of openaccess archiving, of the kind the NIH now requires, have not caused journal cancellations in physics, the one field in which we already have evidence; (b) subscription-based journals are not the only peer-reviewed journals; and (c) if the NIH policy does eventually cause journal cancellations, then libraries would experience huge savings which they could redirect to peer-reviewed OA journals, whose business models do not bet against the internet, public access, or the NIH policy.

For a detailed analysis of the objection that government-mandated open access archiving will undermine peer review, and a point-by-point rebuttal, see my article in the SPARC Open Access Newsletter from September 2007.

(3) Rep. Conyers writes that the NIH policy "reverses a long-standing and highly successful copyright policy for federally-funded work and sets a precedent that will have significant negative consequences for scientific research." It’s true that the policy reverses a long-standing copyright policy.  But the previous policy was unsuccessful and perverse, and had the effect of steering publicly-funded research into journals accessible only to subscribers, and whose subscription prices have been rising faster than inflation for three decades. Both houses of Congress and the President agreed to reverse that policy in order to allow the NIH to provide free online access to the authors’ peer-reviewed manuscripts (not the published editions) 12 months after publication (not immediately). This was good for researchers, good for physicians and other medical practitioners, good for patients and their families, and good for taxpayers. It was necessary to make NIH research accessible to everyone who could use it and necessary to increase the return on our large national investment in research. It was necessary from simple fairness, to give taxpayers –professional researchers and lay readers alike– access to the research they funded.

On the "significant negative consequences for scientific research":  should we believe publishers who want to sell access to publicly-funded research, or the research community itself, as represented by 33 US Nobel laureates in science, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Research Libraries, and a host of patient advocacy groups?


Peter Suber

Publisher money behind the Conyers bill

Lawrence Lessig and Michael Eisen, Is John Conyers Shilling for Special Interests?  Huffington Post, March 2, 2009.  Excerpt:

You may have heard of Big Oil, but have you heard of "Big Paper"? We know, it sounds absurd, but check this out.

Right now, there’s a proposal in Congress to forbid the government from requiring scientists who receive taxpayer funds for medical research to publish their findings openly on the Internet.

This ban on "open access publishing" (which is currently required) would result in a lot of government-funded research being published exclusively in for-profit journals — inaccessible to the general public.

Why on earth would anyone propose this? A new report by transparency group MAPLight.org shows that sponsors of this bill — led by Rep. John Conyers — received twice as much money from the publishing industry as those on the relevant committee who are not sponsors.

This is exactly the kind of money-for-influence scheme that constantly happens behind our backs and erodes the public’s trust in government.

Can you join us in fighting back? The first step is to join Change Congress’s "donor strike" today — pledging to fight the underlying cause of this corruption by not giving a penny more to politicians who don’t support reforming our campaign finance system. Click here to take action now.

When you sign, we’ll email a phone number where you can call your members of Congress to ask them to oppose H.R. 801 — the corrupt publishing industry bill. We’ll also send John Conyers’ number….

Who’s against the corrupt publishing bill? 33 U.S. Nobel laureates in science, 46 law professors, the American Library Association, the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, and open access advocates….

The MAPLight report on the Conyers bill shows how much money each member of the House Judiciary Committee received from "periodical publishing interests" during the 2008 election cycle (January 2007 – December 2008).  The co-sponsors of the Conyers bill received an average of $5,150 each, and the non-sponsors of the bill received an average of $2,506 each.

More on the groundswell for OA

Jennifer Howard, A New Push to Unlock University-Based Research, Chronicle of Higher Education, March 6, 2009 (accessible only to subscribers).  Excerpt:

…The [NIH] policy, which went into effect in April 2008, came under assault last year when Rep. John Conyers Jr., Democrat of Michigan, introduced the Fair Copyright in Research Works Act, which would have overturned it. Many publishers strongly supported the legislation; openaccess advocates opposed it with equal fervor. The bill was shelved.

But this month Mr. Conyers reintroduced it, and both sides are gearing up for what promises to be a hot legislative battle this spring.

Mr. Conyers may discover he is fighting a rear-guard action. Away from the high drama centered on Capitol Hill and the NIH, the concept of public access has been gaining traction at individual institutions and in calls to action from professional and scholarly groups. For example, the University of Tennessee recently created an Open Publishing Support Fund to help faculty members publish in openaccess journals.

At a symposium on the future of scholarly communication held in mid-February at Texas A&M University at College Station â?? in another sign of the changing times, such gatherings have become more common â?? Charles Backus, director of the university’s press, in a news release, summed up the general movement of late as seeking "the path toward a freer and more timely flow of information across disciplines, across campuses. and to a wide variety of institutions." Two recent developments â?? a call to universities to take charge in making scholarship widely available, and the creation of an openaccess repository at Boston University â?? suggest the gathering strength of that flow.

A ‘Call to Action’: Last month, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Research Libraries, the Coalition for Networked Information, and the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges put out a statement that urged universities to seize the day and becomes leaders in spreading research and scholarship. The document is worth a read in part because it brings together several influential groups that, together, represent (and influence policy at) a cross-section of academic institutions.

"This is the moment to take action," the statement said….

All of that puts pressure on universities, deeply invested in scholarship, to step in….[T]hey…need to recognize that "the efforts of researchers and scholars are wasted" if few people get to see the results. The statement also stresses the need for institutions to hold on to some rights to scholarly content to make sure it remains "as usable and broadly accessible as possible." (Don’t sign it away to publishers or other outside parties, in other words.) …

The statement also mostly stays away from the phrase "open access," which to some ears carries the unwelcome sound of revolution….

Nasulgc, for its part, "is more behind the term ‘public access,’" David E. Shulenburger, the group’s vice president for academic affairs, told The Chronicle in an interview. He defines it as "access with some delay" â?? as required by the NIH policy, for instance â?? which gives publishers a chance to sell subscriptions but doesn’t require the world to wait forever to see research. Mr. Shulenburger said that most academic officers now find the idea of public access "a fairly comfortable position."

"Research universities have always expected faculty members to publish their research, but we’ve been less concerned about ensuring that it was available to the public and other scholars," he said. "That’s what’s changing now."

Free for All: At Boston University, the push for free and widespread access comes straight from the faculty, according to Wendy K. Mariner, professor of health law, bioethics, and human rights and chair of the Faculty Council, and Robert E. Hudson, the university librarian. Both are centrally involved with the university’s newly announced openaccess repository….

Unlike another repository set up by Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences, the Boston University archive covers the entire institution, and it does not require researchers to opt out. "They’re certainly being encouraged" to opt in, Ms. Mariner said, "but nobody’s arm is being twisted," Ms. Mariner said….

"We recognize that publishers have their costs and that neither the university nor the publishers should ram things down each other’s throats," Ms. Mariner said. "There should be some concern for what can realistically happen. But we do think that, over time, things are moving toward open access for everyone."

PS:  All good news.  But for the record, nobody’s arm is being twisted at Harvard.  Nor is Harvard even trying to ram things down publisher’s throats.

Notes on open education from the ALA midwinter meeting

Paula J. Hane, Open Educational Resources (OER) and Libraries, Information Today, March 2, 2009.  Excerpt:

…Another open trend that is growing quickly is the adoption of open source textbooks….But, the more broadly named movement has come to be known as open educational resources (OER). OER focus not only on textbooks, but also on full courses, course materials, modules, journals, streaming videos, tests, software, and any other tools, materials, or techniques that are critical in the learning environment.

At the ALA Midwinter meeting in Denver, I attended a forum sponsored by SPARC (the Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) and the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL)….Speakers argued that OER are a logical extension of what the library community supports in the Open Access movement, and underscored the need for the larger playing field on which scholarly communication takes place to be made more equitable.

Richard Baraniuk, an architect of the Cape Town Open Education Declaration, which aims to accelerate efforts to promote open resources, technology, and teaching practices in education, is founder of Connexions, an environment for collaboratively developing, freely sharing, and rapidly publishing scholarly content on the Web. Heâ??s also professor of electrical & computer engineering at Rice University. He cautioned that publishers are in fact pricing themselves out of business â??our current model is unsustainable. He says that OER results in better, faster, stronger education and a more collaborative faculty environment. OER provides outreach to the world and brings welcome "inreach," or give-back from others….

David Wiley, also a leader of the Cape Town Declaration, is "Chief Openness Officer" for Flat World Knowledge (FWK), a new approach to college textbooks that offers rigorously reviewed textbooks online free of cost to students.  He is also associate professor of instructional psychology & technology at Brigham Young University. He explained that the OER movement involves 4 types of permissions… â??the "4Rs," which are Reuse, Redistribute, Revise, and Remix….

CRKN interested in SCOAP3

The Canadian Research Knowledge Network has agreed to an "expression of interest" in the CERN SCOAP3 project.  Quoting the report from Research Money, February 27, 2009:

Canadaâ??s organization in charge of licensing journals for  university libraries will consider the global high-energy physics (HEP) communityâ??s bold proposal to establish a new model of open access for journals, even though it is drawing mixed reactions within the library and broader academic communities. The Canadian Research Knowledge Network (CRKN) agreed at its board meeting in January to proceed with an â??expression of interestâ? to gauge support for becoming the Canadian focal point for SCOAP3.

(Thanks to Research Money, via CARL-ABRC, via Jim Till.)

PS:  Also see our past posts on CRKN.