Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Scholarly Journals and Open Access

An article on page E1 of the New York Times Arts section today discusses a vote today by the Harvard Arts and Sciences faculty on whether to implement a new opt-out policy that would provide open, free Internet access to professors' finished articles. Robert Darnton, director of the university library, is quoted as saying, "In place of a closed, privileged and costly system , it will help open up a world of learning to everyone who wants to learn. It will be a first step toward freeing scholarship from the stranglehold of commercial publishers by making it freely available on our own repository."

Under the proposal, all articles are made available, unless the author specifically requested in not be. The article notes that commercial publishers have opposed open access proposals in the past, although not the particular Harvard proposal because of the opt-out. A publishers' representative is quoted as saying "As long as they leave the element of choice for authors and publishers, there isn't a problem." What I wonder about is whether there is a choice provided to authors by publishers in this circumstance: say an author wants to put his or her article in Harvard's repository and have it published in a commercially published scholarly journal? Will the publisher mandate that the author not put the article in the repository as the price of publication in the journal? If so, that doesn't sound like an element of choice to me, especially in the publish or perish world of academia.

The open access issue had been confronted a few months ago in the legislative battles over the National Institute of Health's Public Access Policy. That Policy, signed into law by the resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue N.W. in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2007 (H.R. 2764), changed a voluntary program into a mandatory one, requiring that peer-reviewed articles funded with NIH monies be deposited for free in the National Library of Medicine's online archive, no later than 12 months after publication in a journal. This 12 month delay gives publishers an exclusivity window, and one would think therefore the ability to sell subscriptions. Nor does the policy prevent a grant of exclusive rights in journal form.

Publishers, though, vehemently objected to the mandatory nature of the NIH requirement, alleging that it "effectively allows the agency to take the important publisher property interests without compensation, including the value added to the article by publishers' investment in the peer review process and other quality-assurance aspects of journal publication." Others disagreed, noting the investment of public monies and the heavy investment by universities in funding faculty salaries and equipment. As with the term "jurisdiction," "choice" seems to be a word of many meanings.


Stevan Harnad said...

Optimizing Harvard's Proposed Open Access Self-Archiving Mandate

It is a great (and widespread) mistake to treat the problems of (1) journal overpricing, (2) publishing reform, and (3) copyright reform as if they were all the same thing as the problem of (4) research access. They are not. Open Access (OA) to research can be provided, quickly, easily, and directly, without first having to solve (1)-(3). And, once provided, OA can help pave the way toward solving (1)-(3). But conflate OA with (1)-(3) from the outset, and all you do is delay and handicap OA.

Harvard faculty are voting today on an Open Access (OA) Self-Archiving Mandate Proposal.

The Harvard proposal is to try the copyright-retention strategy: Retain copyright so faculty can (among other things) deposit their writings in Harvard's OA Institutional Repository.

Let me try to say why I think this is the wrong strategy, whereas something not so different from it would not only have much greater probability of success, but would serve as a model that would generalize much more readily to the worldwide academic community.

(1) Articles vs. Books. The objective is to make peer-reviewed research journal articles OA. That is OA's primary target content. The policy has to make a clear distinction between journal articles and books, otherwise it is doomed to fuzziness and failure. The time is ripe for making journal articles -- which are all, without exception, author give-aways, written only for scholarly usage and impact, not for sales royalty income -- Open Access, but it is not yet ripe for books in general (although there are already some exceptions, ready to do the same). Hence it would be a great and gratuitous handicap to try to apply OA policy today in a blanket way to articles and books alike, covering exceptions with an "opt-out" option instead of directly targeting the exception-free journal article literature exclusively.

(2) Unrefereed Preprints vs. Peer-Reviewed Postprints. Again, the objective is to make published, peer-reviewed research journal articles ("postprints") OA. Papers are only peer-reviewed publications after they have been submitted, refereed, revised, and accepted for publication. Yet Harvard's proposed copyright retention policy targets the draft that has not yet been accepted for publication (the "preprint"): That means the unrefereed raw manuscript. Not only does this risk enshrining unrefereed, unpublished results in Harvard's OA IR, but it risks missing OA's target altogether, which is refereed postprints, not unrefereed preprints.

(3) Copyright Retention is Unnecessary for OA and Needlessly Handicaps Both the Probability of Adoption of the Policy and the Probability of Success If Adopted. Copyright retention is always welcome wherever it is desired and successfully negotiated by the author. But there is no need to require retention of copyright in order to provide OA.

Sixty-two percent of journals already officially endorse authors making their postprints OA immediately upon acceptance for publication by depositing them in their Institutional Repository, and a further 30% already endorse making preprints OA. That already covers 92% of Harvard's intended target. For the remaining 8% (and indeed for 38%, because OA's primary target is postprints, not just preprints), they too can be deposited immediately upon acceptance for publication, with access set as "Closed Access" instead of Open Access. To provide for worldwide research usage needs for such embargoed papers, both the EPrints and the DSpace IR software now have an "email eprint request" button that allows any would-be user who reaches a Closed Access postprint to paste in his email address and click, which sends an immediate automatized email request to the author, containing a URL, on which the author need merely click to have an eprint automatically emailed to the requester. (Mailing article reprints to requesters has been standard academic practice for decades and is merely made more powerful, immediate, ubiquitous and effective with the help of email, an IR, and the semi-automatic button; it likewise does not require permission or copyright retention.)

This means that it is already possible to adopt a universal, exception-free mandate to deposit all postprints immediately upon acceptance for publication, without the author's having to decide whether or not to deposit the unrefereed preprint and whether or not to retain copyright (hence whether or not to opt out).

This blanket mandate provides immediate OA to at least 62% of OA's target content, and almost-immediate, almost-OA to the rest. This not only provides for all immediate usage needs for 100% of research output, worldwide, but it will soon usher in the natural and well-deserved death of the remaining minority of access embargoes under the growing global pressure from OA's and almost-OA's increasingly palpable benefits to research and researchers. (With it will come copyright retention too, as a matter of course.) It is also a policy with no legal problems, no author risk, and hence no need for loopholes and opt-outs.

Needlessly requiring authors instead to deposit their unrefereed preprints and to commit themselves to retaining copyright today puts both the consensus for adoption and, if adopted, the efficacy of the Harvard policy itself at risk, because of author resistance either to exposing unrefereed work publicly or to putting their work's acceptance and publication by their journal of choice at risk. It also opens up an opt-out loophole that is likely to reduce the policy compliance rate to minority levels for years, just as did NIH's initial, unsuccessful non-mandate (since upgraded to an immediate deposit mandate), with the needless loss of 3 more years of research usage and impact.

I strongly urge Harvard to reconsider, and to adopt the Immediate-Deposit/Optional-Access mandate (ID/OA) that is now being adopted by a growing number of universities and research funders worldwide, instead of the copyright-retention policy now being contemplated.

Stevan Harnad
American Scientist Open Access Forum

William Patry said...

I fail to see the harm in preprints being made available. SSRN does this and in law journals, no articles are peer reviewed. why isn't it beneficial to the author too, by having his or her work accessible and therefore read by others who might have constructive comments to be made.

Anonymous said...

A similar, albeit less high-brow, system is already in place in some universities. Master and PHD candidates now have the option of digitally publishing or hard printing their thesis papers. Digitally published papers are made available to a wider audience through the university's online library resources. This saves a tremendous amount of shelf space - space that would have been used by little used and often quickly dated material.

People confuse access with copyright. Making something accessible does not deny an author copyright ownership. I think it could to lead to quicker peer review and eventual collaboration, if desired. Denying such access, as the previous commenter desires, will relegate information to privileged circles and deny the possibility of learning and growth by outsiders. Those that work in the realm of academia prefer their old, stodgy models, I guess.

William Patry said...

Professor Michael Carroll has a good post on the issue on his blog: http://carrollogos.blogspot.com/

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much. This was a great help.