Why It Is Not Enough Just To Give Green OA Higher Weight Than Gold OA

MELIBEA‘s validator assesses OA policies using an algorithm that generates for each policy a one-dimensional measure, “OA%val,” based on a number of weighted factors.

In assigning weights to these factors it is it not just a matter of whether one puts a greater weight on green than on gold overall. The devil is in the details. Since MELIBEA’s “OA%val” is one-dimensional, the exact weights assigned by the algorithm matter very much, for in some crucial combinations the “score” can be deleterious to green (and hence to OA itself) by assigning¬†any non-zero weight at all to gold in an OA policy evaluation. I will use the most problematic case to illustrate:

With all the policy components that one can combine in order to give an OA policy a score, consider the relative weighting one is to give to four policy models:

Policy Model 1 neither requires green nor funds gold (gr/go)

Policy Model 2 does not require green, but funds gold (gr/GO)

Policy Model 3 requires green and does not fund gold (GR/go)

Policy Model 4 requires green and funds gold (GR/GO).

One can agree to weight GR/GO > gr/go

One can also agree (as above) to weight GR/go > gr/GO

One can even agree to weight GR/GO > GR/go (although I do have reservations about this, because the potential deterrent effects of over-demanding early policy models on the spread of green OA mandates, but I will not bring these reservations into this discussion)

The problematic case concerns whether to assign a greater weight to gr/GO than to gr/go in the MELIBEA score (i.e., whether gr/GO > gr/go, Policy 4 vs. Policy 3).

I am strongly opposed to weighting gr/GO > gr/go, because I am convinced that when an institution adopts a premature gold payment policy without first adopting a green requirement policy, this diminishes rather than increases the likelihood of an upgrade to a green requirement.

So in that case, despite the fact that a gr/GO policy no doubt generates somewhat more OA than gr/go, this small local increase OA is not better for the growth of OA overall. Rather, it reinforces the widespread misconception that the way to generate OA is to pay for gold OA (and then wait for others to do the same). Such a policy neglects the much more important need to mandate green OA, cost-free, first. It tries to pay for OA even while subscriptions are still paying the full cost of publication, hence still tying down most of the potential funds to pay for gold OA. Giving a gr/GO policy a higher weight than gr/go obscures the fact that paid gold can only cover a small fraction of an institution’s output, and at an extra cost, whereas requiring green covers all of it, and at no extra cost.

There are ways to remedy this, algorithmically (for example, by giving GO a non-zero weight only when GR also has a non-zero weight).

The important point to note, however, is that these algorithmic subtleties are not resolved by simply stating that one assigns a higher weight — even a much higher weight — to GR than to GO: Promoting the right priorities in OA policy design requires a much more nuanced approach.

Regarding the question of IR (institutional repository) vs CR (central repository) deposit too, the devil is in the details. Just as one more Gold OA article is indeed one more piece of OA, exactly as one more Green OA deposit is, so too one more CR deposit is indeed one more piece of OA, exactly as one more IR deposit is.

But the goal is to weight the algorithm to promote stronger policy models, not just to promote isolated increments in OA. And just as a policy that pays for gold without mandating green is generating only a little more OA at the expense of not generating a lot more OA, so a funder policy that mandates CR deposit instead of IR deposit is generating only a little more OA at the expense of not generating a lot more OA (by reinforcing — at no cost, and with no loss in OA — the adoption of a cooperative, convergent IR deposit policy for the rest of each institution’s output, funded and unfunded, across all its discipline, instead of gratuitously competing with institutional OA policies, by adopting a divergent CR deposit policy).

The problem is not with publishers’ green policies but with institutions’ (and funders) lack of green policies! Over 60% of journals endorse immediate Green OA deposit for the postprint and over 40% more for the preprint (hence over 90% of all articles, overall), yet only 15% of articles are being deposited annually overall, because less than 1% of institutions have yet mandated deposit.

This is the real gap that needs to be closed — and can be closed, immediately, by mandating Green OA. And this is what is completely overlooked by institutions and funders hurrying to pay for gold OA instead of first mandating green OA, or funders needlessly mandating CR deposit instead of IR deposit.

The fact is that there are still much fewer than even 1% mandates (about 160, out of a total of perhaps 18,000 universities plus 8,000 research institutions and at least several hundred major funders, funding across multiple institutions, worldwide). The lesson before us is hence most definitely not that mandates are not enough; it is that there are not enough mandates — far from it.

Gold OA payment is minor matter, providing a small amount of OA, whereas green OA mandates are a major priority, able to scale up to providing 100% OA.¬†Gold is nothing but a distraction — for either an institution or a funder — until and unless it first mandates green.

Nor is the problem that publishers are only paying lip-service to repository deposit. The problem is that the overwhelming majority of institutions and funders are still only paying lip service to repository deposit — instead of mandating it.

Nor will funders and institutions pre-emptively paying publishers for gold without first mandating green (while subscriptions are still paying for publishing, tying up the potential funds to pay for gold) solve the problem of getting green mandated by institutions and funders.

For these reasons it is not enough, in evaluating OA Policy factors, just to give Green OA a higher weight than Gold OA.