Saturday, June 13, 2009

Green vs. Gold Open Access

Steven Harnad just published a summary of a longer exchange debate between himself (favoring Green OA as the top priority) and Stuart Shieber of Harvard, who favors an emphasis on Gold OA. If you are new to this, Gold OA is the founding, support, and use of open access journals, whereas Green OA is the posting of peer-reviewed papers (pre- and post-publication) in institutional repositories. See some of my previous posts on Green OA, or the E-Prints self-archiving FAQ. My sympathies are with Harnad on this.

Here is Shieber's post.

Here is Harnad's full response.

And pasted below is Harnad's summary of his rejoinder, taken from the American Scientist Open Access Forum (post # 2009-117):

Date: Fri, 12 Jun 2009 17:13:33 -0400
From: Stevan Harnad
Subject: The Argument Against (Premature) Gold OA Support

** Cross-Posted **

I have written a response to
"The argument for gold OA support" by Stuart Shieber.

The full response is at: "The Argument Against (Premature) Gold OA Support"

Here is just the summary:

What is needed in order to provide universal OA as quickly and surely as possible is for universities (and funders) to mandate that their own researchers provide (Green) OA by depositing their articles in their institution's OA repository immediately upon acceptance for publication. It is both a strategic and a conceptual mistake to think that money has to be spent at this time on paying for publishing in Gold OA journals. Gold OA journals' time will come if and when universal Green OA makes subscriptions unsustainable. Then publishers will cut costs and downsize to just providing the service of managing peer review, paid for by institutions out of their windfall subscription cancellation savings. Universities and funders should not be either distracted or deterred from mandating Green OA now by thinking that they first need to provide funds to pay for Gold OA.
(Once they have adopted a Green OA mandate, this is no longer a distraction or deterrent and they can of course do whatever they like with their spare cash.)

(1) Any needless cost at all associated with adopting and implementing a Green OA mandate is a deterrent to arriving at consensus on adoption, not an incentive.

(2) Minimal costs for Harvard U are not necessarily minimal for HaveNot U.

(3) The way to explain the possible eventual transition to universal Gold OA is via its causal antecedent: universal Green OA.

(4) The way to allay worries about Learned Society Publishers=92 future after universal Green OA is to explain the simple, straightforward relation between institutional subscription collapse and institutional subscription cancellation savings, and how it releases the funds to continue paying for publication via Gold OA. (And remind faculty that if their institutions really want to keep subsidizing Learned Society publishers' "good works" (conferences, scholarships, lobbying) as they are now through subscription-fees, they can certainly continue to do so through publication fees too, as a surcharge, on the Gold OA model, if they wish.)

(5) Reserve any plans for promoting pre-emptive payment of Gold OA fees for those institutions that have already mandated Green OA (and preferably only after we are further along the road from 85 mandates to 10,000!).

(6) Pre-emptive payment for Gold OA before universal Green OA just retards and distracts from providing and mandating Green OA. Moreover, it is incoherent and does not scale ("universalize"): It is like an Escher drawing, leading nowhere, even though it seems to.

Stevan Harnad


Stevan Harnad said...


In all fairness, it is not that I favor an emphasis on Green OA and Stuart favors an emphasis on Gold OA.

(That could hardly be true of the architect of the planet's most important and influential Green OA mandate, Harvard's!)

We both favor Green OA. The difference is that I have given reasons why universities and funders should on no account foreground or fund Gold OA if they have not yet mandated Green OA.

This is especially important if Harvard's Green OA mandate is to serve as a model for the rest of the world's universities. Gold OA is a distraction -- and funding Gold OA a deterrent -- to the adoption of Green OA mandates. And paying for Gold OA is completely unnecessary until Green OA becomes universal -- and even then only if and when universal Green OA goes on to cause subscriptions to become unsustainable as the means of covering the essential costs of publication.

If and when universal Green OA does go on to make subscriptions unsustainable, the natural sequel will be that journals cut costs by offloading all access-provision and archiving unto the worldwide network of Green OA institutional repositories, and downsizing to just providing the essential service of peer review, and converting to Gold OA, paid for, per article, by authors' institutions, out of a fraction of their windfall subscription cancellation savings.

Michael E. Smith said...

As usual, Stevan Harnad is clearer, more precise, and far more erudite than my hasty prose. Anyone who looks at this blog should check out his home page and his papers (click on his name above and follow to his web site). He is one of the guiding lights of the Open Access movement.