If You Were Composing the Subversive Proposal Today…

Richard Poynder: “If you were composing the Subversive Proposal today how different would it be? Would it be different? If so, would you care to rephrase it to fit today?s environment? In other words, how would the Subversive Proposal look if written for a 2014 audience (in less than 500 words)?”

SH: Knowing now, in 2014, that researchers won?t do it of their own accord, I would have addressed the proposal instead to their institutions and funders, and in less than 200 words:

“To maximize the access, uptake, usage, progress, productivity, applications and impact of your publicly funded research output, mandate (require) that the refereed, revised, accepted final draft of all articles must be deposited in the author?s institutional repository immediately upon acceptance for publication as a condition for research evaluation and funding. If you allow a publisher embargo on making the deposit OA (freely accessible to all online), implement the automated almost-OA Button (and don?t let the embargo exceed 6-12 months at most). This is called ?Gratis Green OA.? Do not pay for Gold OA journal publication fees (?Fool?s Gold?) until global Green OA has made subscriptions unsustainable; then you can pay for Fair-Gold out of your subscription cancellation savings. Fair-Gold will also be Libre OA (with re-use rights such as data-mining, re-mixing and re-publishing). Ignore publishers? lobbying to the effect that Green OA will destroy peer-reviewed journal publishing: it will re-vitalize it and save the research community a lot of money while maximizing the access, uptake, usage, progress, productivity, applications and impact of their research.”

And this is how I should have written the original Proposal in 1994:


Abstract: We have heard many predictions about the demise of paper publishing, but life is short and the inevitable day still seems a long way off. This is a subversive proposal that could radically hasten that day. It is applicable only to refereed scientific and scholarly journal articles (but that is the lion’s share of the research corpus anyway), a body of work for which authors (researchers) do not and never have expected to SELL their words. They want only to PUBLISH them, that is, to reach the eyes of their peers, their fellow scientists and scholars the world over, so that they can build on one another’s work in that collaborative enterprise called learned inquiry.
      For centuries, it was only out of reluctant necessity that authors of research journal articles made the Faustian bargain to allow a price-tag to be erected as a barrier between their work and its intended readership because that was the only way to make their work public in the era when paper publication (and its substantial real expenses) were the only way to do so. But today there is another way, and that is by depositing it in the author’s institution’s online repository:
      If every research institution in the world this very day established a globally accessible online institutional repository for every piece of refereed research output from this day forward, and if all research institutions and research funders mandated (required) that the final, refereed drafts of all their research output must be deposited in the repository immediately upon acceptance for publication, the long-heralded transition to free online access would follow almost immediately.
      The only factor standing in the way of this transition at the moment is the fact that peer review happens to be implemented today almost exclusively by journal publishers. If all scholars’ refereed final drafts were universally available to all scholars online, institutions could cancel their journal subscriptions and refereed journal publishers would then have to restructure themselves, phasing out their obsolete print and online editions, access-provision and archiving and their costs, and downsizing to just implementing the peer review service, paid for by researchers’ institutions out of their subscription cancellation savings.
      The subversion will be complete, because the refereed research literature will have taken to the airwaves, where it always belonged, and those airwaves will be free (to the benefit of us all) because their true minimal expenses will be covered the optimal way for the unimpeded flow of research findings to all: In advance.