Surveying the Sound of One Hand Clapping

Open Access ≠ Open Access Journals. In AAAS’s ScienceInsider, Jocelyn Kaiser reports the results of yet another survey showing that researchers want Open Access but do not provide it.

But if you ask the wrong questions, you get the wrong answers.

Open Access (OA) means free online access to peer-reviewed journal articles.

OA provides for researchers the advantage of maximizing the access, uptake, usage, applications, progress and impact of their research findings by making them accessible to all potential users, not just subscribers. Most researchers already know this.

There are two ways for researchers to provide OA:

— (1) either researchers publish in an OA journal, which makes its article free for all online (“Gold OA”);

— (2) or researchers publish in their journal of choice but also self-archive their final peer-reviewed draft in their institutional OA repository, which makes it free for all online (“Green OA”).

Gold OA has all the disadvantages mentioned and not mentioned by Kaiser: (i) not the author’s established journal of choice; (iii) may have low or no peer-review standards (iii) may cost the author money to publish, out of scarce research funds.

That explains why most authors want OA but few provide Gold OA (as this latest Science survey yet again found).

About twice as many authors provide Green OA as Gold OA, but that’s still very few: So what are the reasons authors don’t provide Green OA?

Authors don’t provide Green OA because they (i) fear it might be illegal; (ii) fear it might jeopardize publishing in their journal of choice; (iii) fear it might jeopardize peer-reviewed publishing itself.

The difference between the reasons why authors don’t provide Gold OA and the reasons they don’t provide Green OA is that the former are valid reasons and the latter are not.

But the solution is already being implemented worldwide, although Kaiser does not mention it:

Research funders and research institutions worldwide are mandating (requiring) Green OA.

Over 60% of journals already formally endorse immediate, unembargoed Green OA.

For the remaining 40% of articles, published in journals that embargo Green OA for 6, 12, 24 months or longer, they can be deposited as Closed Access (CA) instead of OA duriing the embargo: institutional repositories have a request-a-copy Button that allows users to request and authors to provide an email copy of any CA deposit with one click each (“Almost-OA”).

So Green OA mandates can provide at least 60% immediate OA plus 40% Almost-OA. (This unused potential for immediate Green-OA and Almost-OA has long been known and noted — most recently by Laakso (2014)).

And if Green OA mandates eventually make subscriptions unsustainable — because Green OA from OA institutional repositories makes it possible for institutions to cancel their subscriptions — then journals will cut costs (leaving all access-provision and archiving to the Green OA repositories), downsize and convert to Gold OA, providing peer review at a fair, affordable, sustainable price, paid for out of the institutions’ subscription cancellation savings (not authors’ research funds).

So mandatory Green OA is (i) legal, (ii) does not jeopardize authors’ publishing in their journal of choice and (iii) does not jeopardize publishing or peer review:

Mandating Green OA merely provides Green OA (and Almost-OA) until journals convert to affordable Gold OA so that (i) authors can continue to publish in their established journal of choice; (ii) need not risk low or no peer-review standards (iii) need not pay to publish out of scarce research funds.

It would have been more complicated for the Science survey to explain the Green/Gold contingencies before asking the questions, but it would have been more informative than asking, as this survey did, “What is the Sound of One Hand Clapping?”

The outcome would have been that the vast majority of researchers will willingly comply with a Green OA mandate, exactly as had already been found by Swan & Brown‘s classic international JISC survey in 2005: