Applying Optimality Findings:
Critique of Graham Taylor's
Critique of RCUK Self-Archiving Mandate
Graham Taylor, director
of educational, academic and professional publishing at the Publishers
the Research Councils UK (RCUK) proposal
require that the author of every published article based on RCUK-funded
research must "self-archive" a supplementary "open access" version on
the web so it can be freely read and used by any researcher worldwide
whose institution cannot afford the journal in which it was published.
The purpose of the RCUK policy is to maximise the usage and impact of
research. Taylor argues that this may have an adverse affect on some
journals. This critique of Taylor's critique points out that there is no
from 15 years of open-access self-archiving that it has
had any adverse affect on journals and a great deal of evidence that it
probably a good idea... But
should they be used
as a means for "publication"? And what is "publication" exactly?"
No one is proposing that institutional open-access (OA) repositories
(or archives) should be used as a means of publication. They
are a means of providing supplementary access to the (final
drafts of) peer-reviewed, published research articles -- for
those would-be users whose institutions cannot afford the paid access
to the official published versions.
RCUK is not
telling its fundees "where to publish," but what else
they must do with their published (and funded) research, in order to
maximize its usage and impact, over and above publishing it in the best
possible peer-reviewed journal ("publish or perish").
GT: "UK Research Councils (RCUK) [have proposed
a] policy [that] requires that funded researchers must deposit in an
appropriate e-print repository any resultant published journal articles"
Correct. Notice that it says to "deposit" published journal articles,
not to "publish" them. (To publish a published article would be redundant,
whereas to provide a free-access version for those who cannot pay would
merely ensure that the article's impact was more abundant.)
GT: "Publication involves a great deal more than
mere dissemination. After the peer review, the editorial added-value,
the production standards, the marketing, the customer service... the
certification process process is an essential endpoint for any research
activity. How does the RCUK policy relate to this?"
It relates in no way at all. The value can continue being added, and
the resulting product can continue being sold (both on-paper and
online) to all those who can afford to buy it, exactly as before. The
author's self-archived supplement is for those who cannot afford to buy
the official published version.
Does Graham Taylor recommend instead
that research and researchers should continue to renounce the potential
impact of all those potential users worldwide who cannot afford access
to their findings today, and should instead carry on exactly as they
had in the pre-Web era (when the potential to maximize the usage and
impact of their findings by providing open access to them online did
not yet exist)? Why?
GT: "Mandating deposit as close to publication
as possible will inevitably mean that some peer-reviewed journals will
have to close down. "
This is a rather strong statement of a hypothesis for which
there exists no supporting evidence after 15 years of self-archiving --
even in those fields where self-archiving reached 100% some time ago.
In fact, all existing evidence is contrary
to this hypothesis. So on what basis is Graham Taylor depicting this
doomsday scenario as if it were a factual statement, rather than merely
the counterfactual conjecture that it in fact is?
A recent JISC study
conducted by Swan & Brown reported: "[W]e asked the American
Physical Society (APS) and the Institute of Physics Publishing Ltd
(IOPP) what their experiences have been over the 14 years that arXiv
[e-print repository] has been in existence. How many subscriptions have
been lost as a result of arXiv? Both societies said they could not
identify any losses of subscriptions for this reason and that they do
not view arXiv as a threat to their business (rather the opposite -- in
fact the APS helped establish an arXiv mirror site at the Brookhaven
GT: "Why should inadequate and overstretched
library budgets pay for stuff that is available for free?"
(1) In order to have the print edition
(2) In order to have the publisher's official online (value-added)
version of record
GT: "Library acquisition budgets represent less
than 1% of expenditure in higher education... for more than a decade,
despite double digit growth in research funding. Publication and output
management costs represent around 2% of the cost of research to our
economy, yet RCUK appears to want to bring new costs into the system."
Interesting data, but what on earth do they have to do with what we are
talking about here? We are talking about researchers increasing the
impact of their own research by increasing the access to
their own research -- in the online age, which is what has at last made
this maximised access/impact possible (and optimal for
researchers, their institutions, their funders, and for research
We have already established that self-archiving the author's final
draft of a published article is not publishing, that it is done for the
sake of those potential users who cannot afford the published version,
and that those who want and can afford the published version can and do
continue to buy it. So why are we here rehearsing the old and
plaint about the underfunding of library serials budgets? No one
has mentioned the librarians' counter-plaint about publishers'
over-pricing of journals. So why not let sleeping dogs lie? They are in
any case irrelevant to the substantive research issue at hand,
which is: maximising research impact, by and for researchers.
GT: "We need a sustainable, scaleable system for
publication, which means making a "surplus" in the process to invest
for the future, to fund the activities of the learned societies, to
fund the cost of capital... But deposit on publication can only
cannibalise the very system that makes mandating deposit viable in the
How did we get onto the subject of publishers' profit margins and
investments, when the problem was needlessly lost research impact? Is
researchers' needlessly lost research impact supposed to be subsidising
publishers' venture capital schemes?
GT: "And then there are the costs. Is the
current system failing? If access is a problem, where is the evidence?"
The problem is needless loss of research impact, because not all of the
potential users of a research finding are necessarily at an institution
that can afford to subscribe to the journal in which it was published.
The evidence that the paid-access version alone is not reaching all or
even most of its potential users is the finding -- replicated in field
after field -- that the citation impact of self-archived articles is
50%-300+% higher than that of non-self-archived articles (in the same
journal and issue) -- in all fields analysed so far:
Lost impact is the evidence that limited access is a problem. The web era has made it
possible to put an end to this needlessly
The system is not "failing" -- it is just extremely
(and needlessly) sub-optimal in its access provision in the online age.
In fact, the system is somewhat better today than it had been
in the paper age, but far from the substantially better that it
could and should be (and already is -- for the 15% of articles that
already have a self-archived supplement of the kind the RCUK is
now proposing to require for 100% of UK research article
[Food for thought: This needlessly lost research access and impact
would still be a problem if journals were zero-profit and sold at-cost!
There would still not be enough money in the world so that all
research institutions could afford to purchase access to all the journals
their researchers could conceivably need to use. A self-archived
supplement would still be needed then, as it is now, to maximise impact
by maximising access.]
GT: "Is funding repositories the right way to
spend scarce funds? Maybe, for reasons other than publication, but
isn't this a high risk strategy? So where is the impact assessment and
the rigorous cost appraisal in the RCUK policy?"
(RCUK is not yet proposing to fund repositories; it is only
proposing to require fundees to fill them -- although also helping
to fund institutional repositories' minimal repository costs would
not be a bad idea at all!)
It is not altogether clear to me, however, why Graham Taylor or the
publishing community should be asking about how the research community
spends its research funds! But as it's a fair question all the same,
here's a reply:
However research money is spent, the greater
the usage and impact of the research funded, the better that
money has been spent. And self-archiving enhances research impact by
50%-300+%. (There's your "impact assessment"!):
The output of one research-active university might range from 1000 to
10,000 or more articles per year depending on size and productivity.
Researchers are employed, promoted and salaried -- and their research
projects are funded -- to a large extent on the basis of the usefulness
and impact of their research. Research that is used more tends to be cited
more. So citations are counted, as measures of usage and
The dollar value (in salary and grant income) of one citation varies
from field to field, depending on the average number of authors, papers
and citations in the field; the marginal value of one citation also
varies with the citation range (0 to 1 being a bigger increment than 30
to 31, since 60%
of articles are not cited at all, 90% have 0-5 citations, and very
few have more than 30 citations:
A still much-cited
1986 study estimated the "worth" of one citation (depending on
field and range) at $50-$1300. (This dollar value has of course risen
in the ensuing 20 years.)
The UK Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) ranks UK Universities
according to their research productivity and provides a substantial
amount of top-sliced research funding proportional to each university's
RAE ranking. It turns out that this ranking, hence each university's
amount of funding, is largely determined by the
university's total citation count.
So there's your "impact assessment and the rigorous cost appraisal" for
the RCUK policy.
GT: "Worldwide, 2,000 journal publishers are
publishing 1.8 million articles per year (and rising) in 20,000
journals. Remember the UKeU - £50m to attract 900 students? The
House of Commons education select Committee concluded that supply-side
thinking was to blame. Is the RCUK policy really based on demand and
need, or is supply-side thinking creeping in again"?
What on earth is all of this about? RCUK is talking about maximizing
the impact of UK research output by supplementing paid journal access
with free author-provided access -- access provided by and to
researchers, for their own research output -- and we are being regaled
by irrelevant figures about numbers of articles published worldwide per
year, the UKeU distance learning schemes that flopped, and
"supply-side" thinking! What is Graham Taylor thinking?
GT: "The RCUK policy is based on four principles
that we... support... Our problem is that we harbour deep concerns that
the proposals founded on those principles will bring unforeseen - and
potentially irreversible - consequences that we will all live to
In other words, the principles seem unexceptionable, but Graham Taylor
has a doomsday scenario in mind to which he would like the research
community to attach equal (indeed greater) weight, despite the absence
of any supporting evidence, and despite the presence of a good deal of
contrary evidence (see the Swan & Brown JISC
report cited above).
GT: "Instead, we offer some principles of our
own: sustain the capacity to manage and fund peer review; don't
undermine the authority of peer reviewed journals; match fund access to
funding for research; invest in a sustainable organic system based on
surplus not grants."
more money into paying for journals rather than requiring fundees
and their institutions to supplement the impact of their own funded
research by making it accessible for free to potential users worldwide
who cannot afford to pay for access.
(But there is not remotely enough
available money in the world to ensure that all would-be users have
paid access to all the research they could use -- even if publishers
were to renounce all profits and sell their journals at-cost. That is
why the web is such a godsend for research.)
GT: "Publishers will support their authors in
making their material available through repositories, provided they are
not set up to undermine peer-reviewed journals. We say to RCUK, by all
means encourage experiments, but don't mandate. Don't force transition
to an unproven solution."
You would not call a solution that (1) has proven across 15 years to
enhance impact by 50%-300+% and that (2) has not generated any
discernible journal cancellations -- even in fields where
self-archiving reached 100% years ago -- a proven solution? And
you would like RCUK to refrain from mandating it on the strength of
your doomsday scenario, which has no supporting evidence at all, and
only contrary evidence?
GT: "Whatever you do, make the true costs
transparent. The paper backing up the policy makes little or no
acknowledgement of what the learned societies and publishers have
achieved over the last 10 years."
The proposal is to supplement the current system, not to replace
it. The value of the system is already inherently acknowledged in the
fact that it is the content of peer-reviewed journal articles to which
RCUK proposes maximising access -- not something else in their stead.
GT: "This is not to say that the current system
is perfect... but it's getting better fast... [R]ather than standing on
principle... we should allow time for the evidence to make the case.
[That is] the very basis... of research."
It is now over 25 years since the advent of the Net and the possibility
of 100% self-archiving
in FTP sites, 15 years since the advent of the
Web and the possibility of 100% self-archiving on personal
websites, and 6 years since the advent of the OAI protocol and the
possibility of 100% self-archiving in distributed
interoperable institutional repositories.
So far, 49%
of journal-article authors report having spontaneously self-archived at
least once. Yet only about 15% of
annual articles are actually being systematically self-archived. In the
most recent of the international author surveys commissioned by the UK
JISC, researchers have indicated exactly what needs to be done to get
most of them to self-archive systematically: Over 80% replied that
they will not self-archive until and unless their employers or funders require
them to do so; but if/when they do require it, they will
self-archive, and self-archive willingly.
Graham Taylor seems
to be suggesting instead:
"No, don't act on the basis of the existing evidence.
Wait for what? How
much longer? And Why?
losing research impact.
Don't mandate self-archiving.
Harnad, S. (1991) Post-Gutenberg
Galaxy: The Fourth Revolution in the Means of Production of Knowledge.
Public-Access Computer Systems Review 2(1):39 - 53.
Harnad, S., Carr, L., Brody, T. & Oppenheim, C. (2003) Mandated online RAE
CVs Linked to University Eprint Archives: Improving the UK Research
Assessment Exercise whilst making it cheaper and easier. Ariadne
35 (April 2003).
Okerson, A. & O'Donnell. J (1995) (Eds.) Scholarly
Journals at the Crossroads; A Subversive Proposal for Electronic
Publishing. Washington, DC., Association of Research Libraries,
Swan, A. and Brown, S. (2005) Open access
self-archiving: An author study. JISC Technical Report
Taylor, G. (2005) "Don't
tell us where to publish" Guardian: Research News, Friday
July 1, 2005