Critique of EPS/RIN/RCUK/DTI "Evidence-Based Analysis of Data Concerning Scholarly Journal Publishing".
This Report on UK Scholarly Journals was commissioned by RIN, RCUK and DTI, and conducted by ELS, but its questions, answers and interpretations are clearly far more concerned with the interests of the publishing lobby than with those of the research community. The Report's two relevant overall findings are correct and stated very fairly in their summary form:  "Overall, [self-archiving] of articles in open access repositories seems to be associated with both a larger number of citations, and earlier citations for the items deposited....The reasons for this [association] have not been clearly established - there are many factors that influence citation rates... Consistent longitudinal data over a period of years... would fill this gap."  "There is no evidence as yet to demonstrate any relationship (or lack of relationship) between subscription cancellations and repositories... Proving or disproving a [causal] link between availability in self-archived repositories and cancellations will be difficult without long and rigorous research." The obvious empirical and practical conclusion to draw from the findings -- that (1) all the self-archiving evidence to date is positive for research and that (2) none of the self-archiving evidence to date is negative for publishing -- would have been that the research community should now apply and extend these findings -- by applying and extending self-archiving (through self-archiving mandates) to all UK research output, along with consistent, rigorous longtitudinal studies over a period of years, to test (1) whether the positive effect on citations continues to be present (and why) and (2) whether the negative effect on subscriptions continues to be absent. But instead, the two overall findings are hedged with volumes of special pleading, based mostly on wishful thinking, to the effect that (1') the observed relationship between self-archiving and citations may not be causal, and that (2') there may exist an as-yet-unobserved causal relationship between self-archiving and cancellations after all. Even that would be alright, if this Report's conclusions were coupled with a clear endorsement of the proposed self-archiving mandates, so that the competing hypotheses can be put to a rigorous long-term test. But the only test the commissioners of this Report seem to be interested in conducting is "Open Option" publishing, i.e., authors paying publishers to make their article OA for them, instead of self-archiving it for themselves. This would certainly be a nice way to hold author self-archiving and institution/funder self-archiving mandates at bay for a few years more, while at the same time protecting publishers from undemonstrated risk of revenue loss. But it would also leave global unmandated self-archiving to continue to languish at the current spontaneous 15% rate that the self-archiving mandates had been meant to drive up to 100%. And it would leave research unprotected from its demonstrated risk of impact loss. The option of having to pay to provide OA is certainly not likely to enhance the unmandated rate of uptake by authors (though I'm sure publishers would have no quarrel with funder mandates to provide OA coupled with the funds to pay publishers' asking price for paid OA, as provided by the Wellcome Trust). The longterm test will nevertheless be conducted, because four out of eight UK Research Councils have already mandated self-archiving. Their citation rates and their cancellation rates can then be compared with those for the four that have not mandated self-archiving (and whose authors hence do it spontaneously by "self-selection"). Alas this will be mostly comparing apples and oranges (e.g. MRC vs AHRC), and it will needlessly be depriving the oranges of several more years of potential growth enhancement. My guess is that all the other councils -- except possibly the paradoxical EPSRC (which evidently thinks, with the publishing lobby, that there's still some sort of pertinent pretesting to be done for a few more years here) -- will come to their senses long before that, unpersuaded by Reports like this one.
Actions (login required)