Why the UK Should Not Heed the Finch Report

The UK?s universities and research funders have been leading the rest of the world in the movement toward Open Access (OA) to research with ?Green? OA mandates requiring researchers to self-archive their journal articles on the web, free for all. A report has emerged from the Finch committee that looks superficially as if it were supporting OA, but is strongly biased in favor of the interests of the publishing industry over the interests of UK research. Instead of recommending building on the UK?s lead in cost-free Green OA, the committee has recommended spending a great deal of extra money to pay publishers for ?Gold? OA publishing. If the Finch committee were heeded, the UK would lose both its lead in OA and a great deal of public money — and worldwide OA would be set back at least a decade.

Open Access means online access to peer-reviewed research, free for all. (Some OA advocates want more than this, but all want at least this.) Subscriptions restrict research access to users at institutions that can afford to subscribe to the journal in which the research was published. OA makes it accessible to all would-be users. This maximizes research uptake, usage, applications and progress, to the benefit of the tax-paying public that funds it.

There are two ways for authors to make their research OA. One way is to publish it in an OA journal, which makes it free online. This is called ?Gold OA.? There are currently about 25,000 peer-reviewed journals, across all disciplines, worldwide. Most of them (about 90%) are not Gold. Some Gold OA journals (mostly overseas national journals) cover their publication costs from subscriptions or subsidies, but the international Gold OA journals charge the author an often sizeable fee (£1000 or more).

The other way for authors to make their research OA is to publish it in the suitable journal of their choice, but to self-archive their peer-reviewed final draft in their institutional OA repository to make it free online for those who lack subscription access to the publisher?s version of record. This is called ?Green OA.?

The UK is the country that first began mandating (i.e., requiring) that its researchers provide Green OA. Only Green OA can be mandated, because Gold OA costs extra money and restricts authors? journal choice. But Gold OA can be recommended, where suitable, and funds can be offered to pay for it, if available.

The first Green OA mandate in the world was designed and adopted in the UK (University of Southampton School of Electronics and Computer Science, 2003) and the UK was the first nation in which all RCUK research funding councils have mandated Green OA. The UK already has 26 institutional mandates and 14 funder mandates, more than any other country except the US, which has 39 institutional mandates and 4 funder mandates — but the UK is far ahead of the US relative to its size (although the US and EU are catching up, following the UK?s lead).

To date, the world has a total of 185 institutional mandates and 52 funder mandates. This is still only a tiny fraction of the world?s total number of universities, research institutes and research funders. Universities and research institutions are the universal providers of all peer-reviewed research, funded and unfunded, across all disciplines, but even in the UK, far fewer than half of the universities have as yet mandated OA, and only a few of the UK?s OA mandates are designed to be optimally effective. Nevertheless, the current annual Green OA rate for the UK (40%) is twice the worldwide baseline rate (20%).

What is clearly needed now in the UK (and worldwide) is to increase the number of Green OA mandates by institutions and funders to 100% and to upgrade the sub-optimal mandates to ensure 100% compliance. This increase and upgrade is purely a matter of policy; it does not cost any extra money.

What is the situation for Gold OA? The latest estimate for worldwide Gold OA is 12%, but this includes the overseas national journals for which there is less international demand. Among the 10,000 journals indexed by Thomson-Reuters, about 8% are Gold. The percentage of Gold OA in the UK is half as high (4%) as in the rest of the world, almost certainly because of the cost and choice constraint of Gold OA and the fact that the UK?s 40% cost-free Green OA rate is double the global 20% baseline, because of the UK?s mandates.

Now we come to the heart of the matter. Publishers lobby against Green OA and Green OA mandates on the basis of two premises: (#1) that Green OA is inadequate for users? needs and (#2) that Green OA is parasitic, and will destroy both journal publishing and peer review if allowed to grow: If researchers, their funders and their institutions want OA, let them pay instead for Gold OA.

Both these arguments have been accepted, uncritically, by the Finch Committee, which, instead of recommending the cost-free increasing and upgrading of the UK?s Green OA mandates has instead recommended increasing public spending by £50-60 million yearly to pay for more Gold OA.

Let me close by looking at the logic and economics underlying this recommendation that publishers have welcomed so warmly: What seems to be overlooked is the fact that worldwide institutional subscriptions are currently paying the cost of journal publishing, including peer review, in full (and handsomely) for the 90% of journals that are non-OA today. Hence the publication costs of the Green OA that authors are providing today are fully paid for by the institutions worldwide that can afford to subscribe.

If publisher premise #1 — that Green OA is inadequate for users? needs — is correct, then when Green OA is scaled up to 100% it will continue to be inadequate, and the institutions that can afford to subscribe will continue to cover the cost of publication, and premise #2 is refuted: Green OA will not destroy publication or peer review.

Now suppose that premise #1 is wrong: Green OA (the author?s peer-reviewed final draft) proves adequate for all users? needs, so once the availability of Green OA approaches 100% for their users, institutions cancel their journals, making subscriptions no longer sustainable as the means of covering the costs of peer-reviewed journal publication.

What will journals do, as their subscription revenues shrink? They will do what all businesses do under those conditions: They will cut unnecessary costs. If the Green OA version is adequate for users, that means both the print edition and the online edition of the journal (and their costs) can be phased out, as there is no longer a market for them. Nor do journals have to do the access-provision or archiving of peer-reviewed drafts: that?s offloaded onto the distributed global network of Green OA institutional repositories. What?s left for peer-reviewed journals to do?

Peer review itself is done for publishers for free by researchers, just as their papers are provided to publishers for free by researchers. The journals manage the peer review, with qualified editors who select the peer reviewers and adjudicate the reviews. That costs money, but not nearly as much money as is bundled into journal publication costs, and hence subscription prices, today.

But if and when global Green OA ?destroys? the subscription base for journals as they are published today, forcing journals to cut obsolete costs and downsize to just peer-review service provision alone, Green OA will by the same token also have released the institutional subscription funds to pay the downsized journals? sole remaining publication cost ? peer review ? as a Gold OA publication fee, out of a fraction of the institutional windfall subscription savings. (And the editorial boards and authorships of those journal titles whose publishers are not interested in staying in the scaled down post-Green-OA publishing business will simply migrate to Gold OA publishers who are.)

So, far from leading to the destruction of journal publishing and peer review, scaling up Green OA mandates globally will generate, first, the 100% OA that research so much needs — and eventually also a transition to sustainable post-Green-OA Gold OA publishing.

But not if the Finch Report is heeded and the UK heads in the direction of squandering more scarce public money on funding pre-emptive Gold OA instead of extending and upgrading cost-free Green OA mandates.

Wiley Creates New Role to Lead Open Access

Wiley have created a new role to lead open access. Rachel Burley has been appointed to the position of Vice President and Director, Open Access. In this new role Rachel will lead all aspects of the growth and development of open access publishing at Wiley. Working with colleagues, societies, funders, and academic institutions, she will facilitate the identification of open access opportunities and lead the development of products, policy, technology, processes, sales, and marketing initiatives necessary to provide first class support to authors.

Over the past 18 months, Wiley has expanded the range of options available to authors seeking to publish their research findings in open access journals. OnlineOpen, Wiley’s hybrid open access option, has steadily expanded and Wiley Open Access, a series of fully open access journals, launched in early 2011. The Wiley Open Access portfolio includes eleven journals, with additional journals scheduled to launch later in the year.

These initiatives are enjoying significant uptake by authors, enabling Wiley to attract high quality research and develop new revenue streams to support publication. In addition, there is increasing interest among society partners, institutions, and funders who wish to investigate and support sustainable publishing options.

Rachel joined Wiley in 2007 as VP & Publisher for Current Protocols and subsequently assumed responsibility for a portfolio of life sciences journals. Prior to that, Rachel spent seven years with Nature Publishing Group in publishing and business development roles.

“Wiley is committed to expanding the open access options available to our authors and society partners in a sustainable manner that serves the scientific community,” said Rachel. “I am looking forward to working with our authors, partners, and colleagues to develop and deliver open access products which provide exceptional author service and high visibility of the published research.”

“As open access becomes increasingly important to authors and funders, we are exploring and developing options which will offer a wide range of sustainable publishing routes to suit all needs. Rachel’s new role will allow us to strengthen and grow our progress in this area,” said Steve Miron, Senior Vice President & Managing Director, Scientific, Technical, Medical, and Scholarly, Wiley.

How Can we Help you and your OA Week Events?

So we know people are gearing up for their events this year. Please take a look at our resources and downloads available and let us know if you see anything missing or needing any particular updates. Do you need help with marketing materials? Advice on getting speakers? Do you have no clue how to start or are just overwhelmed? Get in touch with Michael Morris (mmorris [at] plus [dot] org) or Donna Okubo  (dokubo [at] plus [dot] org) at PLoS!

We are gearing up for another webcast soon, and will post those details as we get them.

Let’s get those OA Week plans in the works!

PLoS ONE launches the NeuroMapping & Therapeutics Collection

The following blog is by Babak Kateb, curator of the PLoS ONE NeuroMapping & Therapeutics Collection

One of the great challenges of the 21st century is how to translate scientific advancements from physical sciences into medicine. This gap of knowledge is also clearly visible amongst multiple disciplines within medicine (i.e. neurosurgery and radiology, neurology and neurosurgery, psychiatry and radiology and radiology and neurology). In this spirit, the Society for Brain Mapping and Therapeutics (SBMT) has been successfully addressing this educational gap by bringing together physicians, surgeons, scientists and engineers from multiple disciplines to promote cross-disciplinary research and publication.

To foster increased dialogue between these communities, PLoS ONE has launched a special collection entitled SBMT NeuroMapping & Therapeutics. The SBMT encourages its members to publish their research in PLoS ONE. These articles will then be brought together into an ongoing Collection that will highlight this content.

The aim of the SBMT NeuroMapping & Therapeutics Collection is to provide a forum for interdisciplinary research aimed at translation of knowledge across a number of fields such as:

  • Neurosurgery (e.g. Image Guided Therapy/intervention, brain tumors and intraoperative navigation, nanoneurosurgery, stereotactic radiosurgery, minimally invasive therapy, vascular neurosurgery, functional neurosurgery…)
  • Neurology (e.g. movement disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, neurooncology, as well as image guided device implantation…)
  • Psychiatry (e.g. medical imaging for psychiatric conditions such as schizophrenia, depression, PTSD…)
  • Radiology (e.g. fMRI, PET, Nuclear medicine, MR SPEC, MRI, MR-PET, DTI, CT-PET, Focused Ultrasound, SQUID MRI, low magnet MRI…)
  • Neuroscience (e.g. stem cell, molecular neuroscience, image guided mapping of genes, proteomics, genomics…)
  • Neuroengineering (e.g. iomaterial & tissue engineering, human brain Machine Interface, brain and spinal cord devices, nanomedicine, extraterrestrial/space medicine & clinical practice…)
  • Policy (e.g. healthcare policy issues that affect the treatment delivery and usage of certain devices/drugs/imaging technologies…)

This Collection will contain a selection of those articles published within PLoS ONE, which the Editorial Board of the Collection feel are representative of the aims and scope of the SBMT society.  It will continue to expand over time as the number of relevant articles grows and are added to the Collection.

The SBMT welcomes submissions to the PLoS ONE NeuroMapping & Therapeutics Collection. If you wish to submit your research please consider the following when preparing your manuscript:

  • Submission to PLoS ONE as part of the NMT Collection does not guarantee publication or inclusion into the final Collection due to highly competitive nature of this collection.

When you are ready to submit your manuscript to the collection, please log in to the PLoS ONE manuscript submission system and select the ‘SBMT NeuroMapping & Therapeutics Collection’ from the dropdown menu to ensure the PLoS ONE staff are aware of your submission.

Please contact Sam Moore (smoore@plos.org) if you would like further information about how to submit your research to the PLoS ONE NeuroMapping & Therapeutics Collection.

The following PLoS ONE Editorial Board members have agreed to assist with this collection:

  • Dr. Krystof Bankiewicz, University of California at San Francisco, US
  • Dr. Mitch Berger, University of California at San Francisco, US
  • Dr. Keith Black, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, US
  • Dr. Aria Tzika, Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, US
  • Dr. Michael Lim, Johns Hopkins Hospital, US
  • Dr. Antoni Rodriguez-Fornells, University of Barcelona, Spain
  • Dr. Shawn Hochman, Emory University, US
  • Dr. Stephen Ginsberg, Nathan Kline Institute and New York University School of Medicine, US
  • Dr. Andreas Meisel, Charité Universitaetsmedizin Berlin, Germany
  • Dr. Hitoshi Okazawa, Tokyo Medical and Dental University, Japan
  • Dr. Joseph El Khoury, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, US
  • Dr. Karin Peterson, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases – Rocky Mountain Laboratories, US
  • Dr. Tsuneya Ikezu, Boston University School of Medicine, US
  • Dr. Mike Chen, City of Hope, US
  • Dr. Christopher Wheeler, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, US
  • Dr. Maya Koronyo-Hamaoui, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, US
  • Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, Johns Hopkins Hospital, US


Curators: Babak Kateb and Allyson C. Rosen

The third issue of ChemistryOpen is now available online!

ChemistryOpenIssue 3 of ChemistyOpen is now available via Wiley Online Library  and the journal’s homepage: www.chemistryopen.org.  This issue covers a great range of current hot topics in chemistry. While Albericio et al. optimize reactivity and stability of active esters for peptide bond formation, the Communication by Córdova et al. deals with a highly enantioselective, metal-free cascade reaction for an efficient entry to pyrazolidine derivatives. König et al. apply visible light to a modified Meerwein arylation and thereby improve its yield and together with Reiser et al. report on zinc(II)-cyclen complexes immobilized on magnetic nanobeads that allow a quantitative reversible extraction of riboflavin. In a second contribution to ChemistryOpen this year, Larhed et al. exploit the scope of aryltrifluoroborates for palladium(II)-catalyzed coupling with olefins.

All articles published in ChemistryOpen are fully open access and freely available to all. Click here  to browse the latest issue!

Aping around: Locomotor behavior of an extinct great ape

A great ape that roamed Spain 10 million years ago got around like no other hominids known before or since, researchers conclude, based on a unique mosaic of skeletal features that suggest a combination of suspensory and quadrupedal behaviors.

The authors of the study, led by David Alba of the Catalan Paleontology Institute, analyzed bones from the elbow area, shoulder girdle, rib cage, and forelimb of a partial Hispanopithecus laietanus skeleton. They found features suggesting multiple different types of locomotion patterns for the extinct ape, including both swinging through the branches by the arms and walking among the branches on all four feet. The precise combination of features and behaviors, they write, is totally unique among known extinct and extant ape species.

Based on these results, they call the species a ”transitional state,” in that the combination of features simultaneously allowed the ape to maintain balance on all fours while also allowing it to move toward more suspensory behavior, which ultimately took over as the predominant mode of locomotion for the lineage.

This study probably doesn’t have immediate implications for the hotly debated question of how and why human bipedalism evolved, but sometimes it’s nice to take a step back from our relentlessly anthropocentric view and simply appreciate our ape cousins for what they are – and what they were millions of years ago. And, in a broader sense, this study also serves as a reminder that we must be careful to remember that we can’t conceptualize extinct species based only on “the biased evidence provided by their few and very specialized remaining living representatives,” as the authors write. The true evolutionary history is simply much too complex.

Citation: Alba DM, Almécija S, Casanovas-Vilar I, Méndez JM, Moyà-Solà S (2012) A Partial Skeleton of the Fossil Great Ape Hispanopithecus laietanus from Can Feu and the Mosaic Evolution of Crown-Hominoid Positional Behaviors. PLoS ONE 7(6): e39617. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039617

New articles online for Food and Energy Security

We are delighted to share with readers two papers which have recently published in Food and Energy Security. Included among these is the journal’s first original research paper by Paulo Mazzafera. We hope that you enjoy reading these articles.

Halford FigToward two decades of plant biotechnology: successes, failures, and prospects
Nigel G. Halford
A review of the genetically modified crop varieties and traits that have been launched in the last 18 years, the issues of regulation and consumer acceptance that still have to be overcome, and the prospects for the future development of plant biotechnology.


Coffee figWhich is the by-product: caffeine or decaf coffee?
Paulo Mazzafera
The market for caffeine has increased continuously over the last years while the production of decaf coffee, the main source of natural caffeine, has been almost steady. Synthetic caffeine might replace natural caffeine, but the market for natural and health products demands the latter.


Food and Energy Security is a new open access journal published in association with the Association of Applied Biologists. It publishes original research on agricultural crop and forest productivity to improve food and energy security.
Submit your paper today >     Sign up for e-toc alerts >

Drug Discovery course at Nijmegen – hands-on

I’ve spent a day and a half at Nijmegen, and have given a presentation on Semantic Science. Since much of the course is hands on, I’ve put together 3 simple web-based examples:


  • Run chemicaltagger on abstracts from EGU’s Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics to pick up geo-locations.
  • Run Quixote (http://quixote.ch.cam.ac.uk ) to find structures of benzene calculated at different levels of theory (use the SMILES search c1ccccc1)

And many thanks for a great time here!




Finch Fiasco in Figures

The Finch Report, under strong and palpable influence from the publishing lobby, instead of recommending extending and optimizing the UK’s worldwide lead in providing Green OA, cost-free, through institutional and funder self-archiving mandates, has recommended abandoning Green OA and Green OA mandates and instead spending extra money (£50-60 million yearly) on paying publishers’ Gold OA fees as well as a UK blanket national site-license fee to cover whatever is not yet Gold OA (i.e., all the journals that UK institutions currently subscribe to, rather like the “Big Deals” publishers have been successfully negotiating with individual institutions and consortia):

Finch on Green: “The [Green OA] policies of neither research funders nor universities themselves have yet had a major effect in ensuring that researchers make their publications accessible in institutional repositories? [so] the infrastructure of subject and institutional repositories should [instead] be developed [to] play a valuable role complementary to formal publishing, particularly in providing access to research data and to grey literature, and in digital preservation [no mention of Green OA]?”

Finch on Gold: “Gold” open access, funded by article charges, should be seen as “the main vehicle for the publication of research”? Public funders should establish “more effective and flexible arrangements” to pay [Gold OA] article charges? During the transition to [Gold] open access, funding should be found to extend licences [subscriptions] for non-openaccess content to the whole UK higher education and health sectors?

Now here are some of the actual figures behind the above assertions. Let readers come to their own conclusions about the relative success, cost, benefits, cost-effectiveness, growth potential and timetable of mandating Green OA vs funding Gold OA:

1. Mandated vs. Unmandated Green OA (20% vs 70%+):

2. Rise of Green Mandates:

3. Rise of Green OA, 2009-2011:

4. Rise of Gold OA 2003-2011 (from Nature, 2012)
(N.B.: Re-scaled at right for accurate comparison with rise of Green, above):

5. Projected rise of Gold OA (70% in 2020 or 2026; 100% in 2022 or 2029):

6. Relative Green and Gold OA Worldwide in 2010

7. Relative Green and Gold OA in United Kingdom in 2010 (from Nature, 2012)

8. The OA Citation Impact Advantage: (OA vs. non-OA)

9. The OA Economic Advantage for the United Kingdom:

Gargouri, Y., Hajjem, C., Lariviere, V., Gingras, Y., Brody, T., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2010) Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research. PLOS ONE 5 (10) e13636

Harnad, S. (2007) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition. In: Anna Gacs. The Culture of Periodicals from the Perspective of the Electronic Age L’Harmattan. 99-106.

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).

Harnad, S. (2010) The Immediate Practical Implication of the Houghton Report: Provide Green Open Access Now. Prometheus 28 (1): 55-59.

Harnad, S. (2011) Gold Open Access Publishing Must Not Be Allowed to Retard the Progress of Green Open Access Self-Archiving Logos: The Journal of the World Book Community 21(3-4): 86-93

YOU must Support Intellectual Property Reform in UK

The UK government commissioned the Hargreaves report into Intellectual Property Reform and their recommendations (summarised by RLUK) were:

Professor Hargreaves’ Review made a number of important recommendations, including that exceptions at national level should include format shifting (vital for preservation), non-commercial research, and library archiving, and that EU exceptions should support text and data mining. There were also proposals on orphan works, which will allow a pragmatic solution to the question of how to digitize older material while still respecting rights holders

The Intellectual Property Office then asked anyone (this is useful modern democracy) to comment and got over 450 replies:


including one from me, and one from the Open Knowledge Foundation Open Science Group.


Worth reading but most sections include “both sides” of the case. “Both sides”? Don’t we all want reform? Well some people are very happy with the status quo. They have good businesses, especially scholarly publishers where universities give them content, they add near-zero value and then sell it back to the world. And the UK is very strong in this area – we have lots of wealth-generating publishers. Wealth-generating? Income generating, perhaps. But adding value?

Anyway there is substantial resistance to Hargreaves from publishers. Why should people like me be allowed to mine the scientific literature? It could destroy British industry. The Royal Society of Chemistry’s view (on this blog) is that I can only text-mine “RSC content” if I can guarantee they won’t lose business. And I can’t guarantee this.

Well if its’ that fragile, it’ll crash anyway.


So a number of MPs have tables an “Early day motion”. This is Houses-of-Parliament-speak for something the MPs want, rather than the government. The RLUK has provided some background:


They need support (ONLY FROM BRITS, I am afraid – anyone can write to Obama but it doesn’t work in reverse).

So you can write to them using www.writetothem.com

I don’t need to as our MP used to work in our lab.

BUT YOU DO. And RLUK’ll expect 100% effort from UK librarians on this.

And everyone else needs to as well.



Ask EveryONE: Where can I find Supporting Information in a manuscript?

If you’ve just created a manuscript in Editorial Manager and you’re reviewing it before submitting to the PLoS ONE office, or if you’re a reviewer or Academic Editor providing feedback on a paper, you may be asking yourself the above question.

You can access all supporting information at the end of a manuscript through the hyperlinks at the top of the page. It will look something like this:

Our submission system is designed to create these hyperlinks because most often, the kind of data in a supporting information file is quite large, making it far too cumbersome to embed directly into the pdf.

For answers to other questions you may have, visit our Most Common Questions page.  As always, if you still have questions, please don’t hesitate emailing us directly at plosone@plos.org.

#scholpub, PeerJ and Tim O’Reilly

I’ve trailed this post over the last two days. Who / what will be the major revolution in for-profit (FP) #scholpub? (I’m not forgetting PLoS and eLIFE, but I think that there will be a place for responsible private sector participants. And competition in this area will be beneficial.)

I’m currently tipping PeerJ (about which I have all of 1-2 week’s knowledge) (http://peerj.com/ ). So why the rapid jumping on yet another bandwagon?

To be clear I know nothing about PeerJ other than what’s on the web (blog: http://blog.peerj.com/ ). I haven’t spoken to anyone or read insightful blogs. So here’s an introduction:

“If we can set a goal to sequence the human genome for $99,

…then why not $99 for scholarly publishing?


That single sentence says it all.

They get it.

In a way that no one else has publicly done. Publishing is a commodity market, and as such is wildly overpriced.

That will cause howls from the mainstream #scholpub. They howled against PLoS (“unfair!!”). They howled against PLoSOne (“unreviewed low quality rubbish”) and they probably howl foul against eLIFE.

But the reality is that scholarly pub has foundered on the conflation of providing a service (which costs 100 USD) and providing Glory. These can be separated. I imagine Nature will continue to prosper – they once hired James Randi the magician to oversee an experiment (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_memory -if you don’t know this it’s worth reading!).

So let’s assume that – say – 1 billion of #scholpub goes – somehow – to glamour science. We could have shows, gladiatorial contests, etc.

While PLoSOne and PeerJ (and Acta Cryst) develop commodity publishing.

PeerJ has a very challenging business model: 99USD to publish one paper (against 10,000 in Nature and about >=1500 USD elsewhere). And even more exciting, it’s 300 USD for unlimited papers in your lifetime. Note these charges are per-author. So if I write 2-author papers it costs 200 USD. If I write a 96-author paper(which I have) then it costs 100*(min(12, nauth)) = 1200 USD. But if they have paid their 300 USD that’s then nothing.

The real point is that in a commodity market lots of other avenues open up. The authoring for example. Or re-use of data. Conventional publishers cannot address these as they have hacked authors off with their awful dismissive attitude to authors – simply fodder. A clever publisher will give the author something back – something of value. Mendeley gives something back, for example. What have you got of lasting value after authoring an Elsevier paper? A decimal point.

But the real thing that swung me to PeerJ was a member of its Board, Tim O’Reilly.

If there was one person in the world that I would want to reform #scholpub (and pace Robert Kiley et al) it would be Tim. I’ve met Tim several times – he’s invited me to Foo Camp (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foo_Camp ) on three occasions. Foo Camp is one of many ways he is transforming the world.

Tim’s a real revolutionary. He wants to create an open world where the key commodity is innovation. If he puts his energy into PeerJ it will transform the landscape. His commitment to Open means he won’t sell out to Springer or anyone else. He knows more about the dynamics of the information world than anyone else I know.

I also know Peter Binfield and Jason Hoyt. They have come up from innovative backgrounds – PloS and Mendeley.

But I hope they won’t mind me saying that it’s Tim’s involvement that is critical.

It won’t be easy for PeerJ. It never is in a stagnant self-congratulatory lawyer-run bloated market. But if they stick to commodities in and beyond #scholpub and foreswear the Glory trail they have a good chance. I reckon that the #scholdata market is even bigger than #scholpub. I doubt that’s news to them.

And, because I hate monopolies, I hope others challenge them.

On fair value, not on reselling someone else’s content.

The coming revolution in STM #scholpub

I have prophesied that there will be a revolution in STM #scholpub and now I can put some flesh on the bones.

If we look at current #scholpub – as the Finch report did – and ask how do we change it, we end up with a mess. The report is a mess and almost all small steps will end up with at least as much mess or even more. The universities have failed to give any sort of moral, organization or technical lead. Their repositories are failures – most have at best a few per cent of their output and academics either ignore them or regard them as a distraction or impediment. No-one uses them to discover scientific information because they are disorganised, have no useful search tools , and do not interoperate.

So STM publishing is probably the most inefficient information market on the planet. Compare it with Amazon, Google, Car insurance, Supermarket products, financial information and more.

Voluntary information resources are better than what the commercial publishers can provide. Compare Wikipedia or Figshare with SpringerImages. Tell me if you disagree.

So let’s get away from the details and see why there must be a catastrophic fracture.

  • Anyone who understands the modern information world – Open source/content, communities, open standards, interoperability etc. will look at current closed STM publishing (I’ll call this TollAccess – TA) and see how appallingly inefficient it is.
  • The market is very significant – perhaps 15,000,000,000 USD (15 billion). This is largely fuelled by governments (who fund universities), students (who pay fees), research funders (universities strip money off grants to pay for journal subscriptions) and endowments. Up till now this has been an infinite cash cow (yes libraries scream, but expenditure has continued to rise). So it’s worth newcomers coming to get a piece of it
  • There has been no change in the market of TA practice for 15 years. No innovation. The Scholarly Kitchen blog, the love-in for TA publishers recently asked itself what the biggest advance was in the last decade. “The Big Deal”. This is a marketing ploy to force libraries to buy more journals than they actually want to buy. (To be fair they also mentioned PLoS).
  • The market has failed to follow Moore’s law. This is not because the law doesn’t apply – it’s because it’s been artificially held back by company lawyers, marketeers, timid librarians, indifferent universities and arrogant academics. Even allowing (say) a Moore’s law of 2 years, you end up with a grossly overpriced journal article.
  • There is no change in the product (“the journal” and the “artickle”) but there is no restriction requiring this. Lawyers can restrict change in their function through their closed practices and communities. Publishers can’t
  • There is no love or respect for publishers. People queue when Apple opens a new store. Do scientists BUY “I love Elsevier” T-Shirts from the “Elsevier Store”?
  • There is serious friction between the aspirations of funders and the practice of publishers. Funders want their work made available to all. “TA publishers” base their business model on restricting access.
  • 99% of the world, including 99% of the rich world (#scholarlypoor) has no access to #scholpub. Only universities can read it. What other market is so hidebound that it only offers its products to such a restricted customer base? Academia compounds this by suggesting that no-one outside its ivory towers can benefit from #scholpub. This arrogance must not and cannot endure.
  • The costs of enforcing TollAccess are a very significant part of the total costs (paywalls, lawyers, etc.). And the hidden costs – to the consumers – are even larger. So much science simply isn’t done because of the TA friction

And the list is probably incomplete.

My point is that any entrepreneur can now see a 15 billion USD market which is ripe for exploitation. You don’t have to be an expert in science.

I can’t see the details of the new market. It will have radically different products. I can guess some. The “journal” will disappear because it has no pupose. There will still be a need for Glory and maybe Nature will still be selling that. Perhaps we shall have TV-based talent contests.

But the article – if it persists – will become a commodity. Here’s my thinking…

There is now mounting evidence that it costs about 100 USD to publish an adequate qualilty open peer-reviewed scientific paper. In total.

My evidence:

* IUCr publishes 3000 OA papers a year (Acta Cryst E), IN FULLY SEMANTIC FORM for 150USD which gives a useful “profit”. They do this because they have engaged the authors who willingly do much of the work for them. Authors do it because IUCr has built the authoring system and it’s far better than anything the main publishers have come up with.

* It costs 7 USD to put a paper in arXiv

* PeerJ charges 99 USD for an open peer-reviewed paper. I believe this figure makes sense.


Nature “has to charge” 10000 USD for an openaccess paper because it is selling glory. Glory commands whatever price people are willing to pay.


Many publishers charge huge amounts for OA because they have an effective monopoly of the subdiscipline and because they are also selling glory.


Anyone can author and publish a scientific paper without a “publisher”. Every student’s thesis is a peer-reviewed piece of science. I know some universities opt out of the process by getting student to publish in closed access journals and then simply collecting the papers. These unievrsities are part of the problem.


Many scientists (particularly in CompSci) run peer-reviewed workshops for dissemination and merit and do the whole lot without publishers. Traditionally they may get the proceedings published through a publisher but this is not necessary.



* publishers are not necessary for top-quality peer review

* publishers are not necessary for the technical creation of high-quality documents


And to reiterate:


Traditional publishers now have exactly two unique selling points:

* they sell perceived glory to universities

* they “persuade” universities and authors to give them highly valuable material and then use the legal mechanisms of the last 200 years to control and resell content.


Both are very fragile. If either crashes then the publisher has very little to sell. If both crash so will the publisher.


If Green OA had been done properly – in 1995 – then I would be a supporter. Basically every university would have required its outputs to be fully posted on the web. Departments and  individuals would be judged on that. Instead of building repositories they should have built publishing systems. By now we would have the whole of STM on the web.


But Green has missed the boat and Gold is slow and expensive.



… what or who?


Read the next post.




The Cost of Peer Review: Pre-Emptive Gold vs. Post-Green-OA Gold

This is a response to the comments of Professor Adam Tickell (PVC, U Birmingham) about the Finch Report, Green OA and peer review costs, as quoted in Paul Jump’s article, “Open access may require funds to be rationed,” in today’s Times Higher Ed.

Professor Tickell is quite right that peer review has a cost that must be paid. But what he seems to have forgotten is that that price is already being paid in full today, handsomely, by institutional journal subscriptions, worldwide.

The Green Open Access self-archiving mandates in which the UK leads worldwide (a lead which the Finch Report, if heeded, would squander) require the author’s peer-reviewed final draft to be made freely accessible online so that the peer-reviewed research findings are accessible not only to those users whose institutions can afford to subscribe to the journal in which they were published, but to all would-be users.

The Finch Report instead proposes to pay publishers even more money than they are already paid today. This is obviously not because the peer review is not being paid for already today, but in order to ensure that Green OA itself does not make subscriptions unsustainable as the means of covering the costs of publication.

To repeat: the Finch Report (at the behest of the publishing lobby) is proposing to continue denying access-denied users access to paid-up, peer-reviewed research, conducted with public funding, and instead to pay publishers 50-60 million pounds a year more, gradually, to make that research Gold OA. The Finch Report proposes doing this instead of extending the Green OA mandates that already make twice as much UK research OA (40%) accessible as the worldwide average (20%) at no extra cost, because of the UK’s worldwide lead in mandating Green OA.

Let me also quickly put paid to the publisher FUD (swallowed wholesale by the Finch Committee) about Green OA being (at one and the same time) (#1) inadequate and, at the same time, (#2) leading to the ruination of publishing and peer review:

What is lacking today is clearly not the payment for peer review. Peer review is being paid for many times over by worldwide institutional subscriptions. What is lacking is access to the paid-up, peer-reviewed research, for all those would-be users whose institutions cannot afford the subscription access. Green OA and Green OA mandates from researchers’ institutions and funders provide that much needed access, and the evidence of its benefits has already been demonstrated over and over, in the form the research uptake, use and impact that is enhanced by OA.

Now suppose that once 100% Green OA is reached globally, the users of the world do indeed find that the Green OA versions alone are adequate to their needs, so their institutions cancel their subscriptions, making subscriptions unsustainable as the means of covering the costs of publication: What will happen?

First, publisher FUD premise #1 — that the Green OA version is inadequate — is refuted by FUD premise #2, that Green OA will, after all, be adequate enough to make subscriptions no longer sustainable!

Second, what will happen to peer review? Let us remind ourselves that peer review is done by researchers themselves, for publishers, for free, as a service to research itself, just as authors give publishers their papers for free. The non-zero cost of peer review is hence just the cost of managing the peer-review service. You need editors with expertise in the subject matter to pick the peers and adjudicate their reviews. That costs money, and that needs to be paid for.

But, unlike today, the money to pay for post-Green-OA peer review is freed up by the very premise (#2) that Green OA will cause subscriptions to become unsustainable: For if and when institutions have cancelled their subscriptions — because Green OA proves, contrary to premise #1, to be adequate for their users’ needs after all — the institution’s annual windfall subscription cancelation savings are then available to pay the true Gold OA costs of post-Green-OA peer review (management). Those institutional savings will be unlocked from subscriptions and made available instead of the extra 50-60 million pounds per year that the Finch Report is instead recommending that the UK squander on pre-emptive Gold OA now, pre-Green-OA, when worldwide subscriptions are still paying for peer review through subscriptions.

Moreover — and I can assure you that publishers are well aware of all this, even if naive academics are not — the post-Green-OA cost of peer review will be far less than the cost of peer review cost today, via subscriptions. Cancelation pressure from Green OA will force publishers to cut costs by phasing out needless good and services for which there is no longer any demand (because of Green OA). This means unbundling peer review, which remains essential, from the many other costly publisher goods and services with which it is inextricably bundled today: the print-on-paper edition, the online edition, access-provision and archiving. Green OA will force journal publishing to downsize to peer review service provision alone.

Publisher premise #2 that Green OA will cause subscriptions to become unsustainable (which I think is true — but only when Green OA is reaching 100% globally, so institutions’ users have a sure way to get access to all of the contents of their subscribed journals even if their institutions’ subscriptions are cancelled) is the very same premise that guarantees that the Gold OA costs of the co-bundled products and services that universal Green OA has shown to be obsolete in the online era, can be un-bundled and cut, making post-Green-OA peer review affordable to all institutions, payable out of only a small portion of their very own annual windfall subscription cancelation savings. No more need or market for the print and online editions, because the Green OA versions (on the publishers’ own premise) are adequate, with the former publisher function of access-provision and archiving now offloaded onto the worldwide network of Green OA institutional repositories.

In other words, just a little reflection shows that the publisher FUD about the wrack and ruin that would be induced by Green OA contains its very own refutation.

Yet that publisher FUD has successfully gulled the Finch Committee into recommending the sidelining those inadequate and ruinous Green OA mandates, derailing the long-overdue rise of OA from 40% OA to 100% OA, and proposing instead to pay publishers still more money for costly and unnecessary pre-emptive Gold OA, over and above the worldwide subscription revenue that is already paying for peer review and a lot more. All this, instead of extending and optimizing the Green OA mandates that will provide OA now, at no extra cost, and will eventually downsize post-Green-OA publishing to affordable Gold OA prices for peer review alone, as well as freeing the subscription funds to pay for it.

Publishers will reply that they are willing to make a (very big) deal: Lock in our current prices subscription prices and we will give the UK an annual national consortial site licence that gives UK institutions all the journal access they want, and as our Gold OA revenues rise, the UK’s consortial license fee will shrink, until it is all being paid by Gold OA (at today’s asking prices).

A very expensive insurance policy for publishers, from a UK that can ill afford to pay it, locking in publishers’ current revenue streams and modus operandi, in exchange for very little OA (for UK output alone), and very slowly. (And all this on the outrageous pretext of saving UK jobs in the publishing industry!)

A real head-shaker, if the UK heeds the Finch Report — as I hope it will have the good sense not to do.

Gargouri, Y., Hajjem, C., Lariviere, V., Gingras, Y., Brody, T., Carr, L. and Harnad, S. (2010) Self-Selected or Mandated, Open Access Increases Citation Impact for Higher Quality Research. PLOS ONE 5 (10) e13636

Harnad, S. (2007) The Green Road to Open Access: A Leveraged Transition. In: Anna Gacs. The Culture of Periodicals from the Perspective of the Electronic Age L’Harmattan. 99-106.

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).

Harnad, S. (2011) Gold Open Access Publishing Must Not Be Allowed to Retard the Progress of Green Open Access Self-Archiving Logos: The Journal of the World Book Community 21(3-4): 86-93

Harnad, S. (2010) The Immediate Practical Implication of the Houghton Report: Provide Green Open Access Now. Prometheus 28 (1): 55-59.