The Global Research Council?s Open Access Action Plan is, overall, timely and welcome, but it is far too focused on OA as (?Gold?) OA publishing, rather than on OA itself (online access to peer-reviewed research free for all).
And although GRC does also discuss OA self-archiving in repositories (?Green? OA), it does not seem to understand Green OA?s causal role in OA itself, nor does it assign it its proper priority.
There is also no mention at all of the most important, effective and rapidly growing OA plan of action, which is for both funders and institutions to mandate (require) Green OA self-archiving. Hence neither does the action plan give any thought to the all-important task of designing Green OA mandates and ensuring that they have an effective mechanism for monitoring and ensuring compliance.
The plan says:
?The major principles and aims of the Action Plan are simple: they are (a) encouragement and support for publishing in open access journals, (b) encouragement and support for author self-deposit into open access repositories, and (c) the creation and inter-connection of repositories.?
Sounds like it covers everything — (a) Gold, (b) Green, and (c) Gold+Green ? but the devil is in the details, the causal contingencies, and hence the priorities and sequence of action.
?In transitioning to open access, efficient mechanisms to shift money from subscription budgets into open access publication funds need to be developed.?
But the above statement is of course not about transitioning to OA itself, but just about transitioning to OA publishing (Gold OA).
And the GRC?s action plans for this transition are putting the cart before the horse.
There are very strong, explicit reasons why Green OA needs to come first — rather than double-paying for Gold pre-emptively (subscriptions plus Gold) without first having effectively mandated Green, since it is Green OA that will drive the transition to Gold OA at a fair, affordable, sustainable price:
Plans by universities and research funders to pay the costs of Open Access Publishing (“Gold OA”) are premature. Funds are short; 80% of journals (including virtually all the top journals) are still subscription-based, tying up the potential funds to pay for Gold OA; the asking price for Gold OA is still high; and there is concern that paying to publish may inflate acceptance rates and lower quality standards. What is needed now is for universities and funders to mandate OA self-archiving (of authors’ final peer-reviewed drafts, immediately upon acceptance for publication) (“Green OA”). That will provide immediate OA; and if and when universal Green OA should go on to make subscriptions unsustainable (because users are satisfied with just the Green OA versions) that will in turn induce journals to cut costs (print edition, online edition, access-provision, archiving), downsize to just providing the service of peer review, and convert to the Gold OA cost-recovery model; meanwhile, the subscription cancellations will have released the funds to pay these residual service costs. The natural way to charge for the service of peer review then will be on a “no-fault basis,” with the author’s institution or funder paying for each round of refereeing, regardless of outcome (acceptance, revision/re-refereeing, or rejection). This will minimize cost while protecting against inflated acceptance rates and decline in quality standards.
Harnad, S. (2010) No-Fault Peer Review Charges: The Price of Selectivity Need Not Be Access Denied or Delayed. D-Lib Magazine 16 (7/8).
Action 5: Develop an integrated funding stream for hybrid open access
Worst of all, the GRC action plan proposes to encourage and support hybrid Gold OA, with publishing not just being paid for doubly (via subscriptions to subscription publishers + via Gold OA fees to Gold OA publishers) but, in the case of hybrid Gold, with the double-payment going to the very same publisher, which not only entails double-payment by the research community, but allows double-dipping by the publisher.
That is the way to leave both the price and the timetable for any transition to OA in the hands of the publisher.
Action 6: Monitor and assess the affordability of open access
There is no point monitoring the affordability of Gold OA today, at a stage when it is just a needless double-payment, at the publisher?s current arbitrary, inflated Gold OA asking price.
What does need monitoring is compliance with mandates to provide cost-free Green OA, while subscriptions are still paying in full (and fulsomely) for the cost of publication, as they are today.
Action 7: Work with scholarly societies to transition society journals into open access
The only thing needed from publishers today ? whether scholarly or commercial ? is that they not embargo Green OA. Most (60%) don?t.
The transition to Gold OA will only come after Green OA has made subscriptions unsustainable, which will not only induce publishers to cut obsolete costs, downsize and convert to Gold OA, but it will also release the concomitant institutional subscription cancellation windfall savings to pay the price of that affordable, sustainable post-Green Gold.
Action 8: Supporting self-archiving through funding guidelines and copyright regulations
?The deposit of publications in open access repositories is often hampered not only by legal uncertainties, but also by the authors? reluctance to take on such additional tasks. Funding agencies will address this issue by exploring whether and how authors can be encouraged and supported in retaining simple copyrights as a precondition to self-archiving. In doing so, funders will also address authors? need to protect the integrity of their publications by providing guidance on suitable licenses for such purpose.?
Yes, Green OA needs to be supported. But the way to do that is certainly not just to ?encourage? authors to retain copyright and to self-archive.
It is (1) to mandate (require) Green OA self-archiving (as 288 funders and institutions are already doing: see ROARMAP), (2) to adopt effective mandates that moot publisher OA embargoes by requiring immediate-deposit, whether or not access to the deposit is embargoed, and (3) to designate institutional repository deposit as the mechanism for making articles eligible for research performance review. Then institutions will (4) monitor and ensure that their own research output is being deposited immediately upon acceptance for publication.
Action 9: Negotiate publisher services to facilitate deposit in open access repositories
Again, the above is a terribly counterproductive proposal. On no account should it be left up to publishers to deposit articles.
For subscription publishers, it is in their interests to gain control over the Green OA deposit process, thereby making sure that it is done on their timetable (if it is done at all).
For Gold OA, it?s already OA, so depositing it in a repository is no challenge.
It has to be remembered and understood that the ?self? in self-archiving is the author. The keystrokes don?t have to be personally executed by the author (students, librarians, secretaries can do the keystrokes too). But they should definitely not be left to publishers to do!
Green OA mandates are adopted to ensure that the keystrokes get done, and on time. Most journal are not Gold OA, but a Green OA mandate requires immediate deposit whether or not the journal is Gold OA, and whether or not access to the deposit is embargoed.
Action 10: Work with publishers to find intelligent billing solutions for the increasing amount of open access articles
The challenge is not to find ?billing solutions? for the minority of articles that are published as Gold OA today. The challenge if to adopt an effective, verifiable Green OA mandate to self-archive all articles.
Action 11: Work with repository organisations to develop efficient mechanisms for harvesting and accessing information
This is a non-problem. Harvesting and accessing OA content is already powerful and efficient.
It can of course be made incomparably more powerful and efficient. But there is no point or incentive in doing this while the target content is still so sparse ? because it has not yet been made OA (whether Green or Gold)!
Only about 10 ? 40% of content is OA most fields.
The way to drive that up to the 100% that it could already have been for years is to mandate Green OA.
Then (and only then) will be there be the motivation to ?develop [ever more] efficient mechanisms for harvesting and accessing [OA] information?
Action 12: Explore new ways to assess quality and impact of research articles
This too is happening already, and is not really an OA matter. But once most articles are OA, OA itself will generate rich new ways of measuring quality and impact.
Harnad, S. (2009) Open Access Scientometrics and the UK Research Assessment Exercise. Scientometrics 79 (1)
(Some of these comments have already been made in connection with Richard Poynder’s intreview of Johannes Fournier.)