Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Blackwell CEO objects

Rene Olivieri, Making a pig's ear of an unscientific free-for-all, Times Higher-Education Supplement, August 19, 2005 (accessible only to subscribers). Olivieri is the CEO of Blackwell Publishing. Excerpt:
A movement that aligns itself under the banner of Open Access (OA) has launched a campaign of liberation from the capitalists. Its arguments and rhetoric are often simplistic and inflammatory....First, one wing of the OA evangelists asserts that placing copies of articles in freely accessible databases will not harm existing journals. This is self-evidently nonsense. We know that libraries do not have enough money to buy everything their users require. If all (or most) of the content of journals were to be freely available and easily retrievable, why wouldn't they save money by cancelling subscriptions? Publishers are already finding that this is what happens. Second, another OA faction claims that author-pays publishing will cost less. The Wellcome Trust report on OA calls itself an "economic analysis of scientific research publishing" but the economics it employs is more in the Marx and Lenin mould than in the neoclassical tradition recognised by most economists today....The one detailed bit of real analysis done so far...indicates that most top US research institutions would pay more under an author-pays version of OA than they do in subscriptions.

Comment. There are too many simplistic and inflammatory assertions here to rebut in a blog posting. But here's a quick start: (1) There are in fact many reasons to think that OA archiving will not undercut subscriptions, including empirical evidence from fields like physics where OA archiving is most extensive. (2) OA archiving is desirable even if it does undercut subscriptions. Showing harm to non-OA journals would not derail the OA argument. (3) If Olivieri knew of errors in the Wellcome Trust study, then I assume he would point them out rather than rely on abusive name-calling. (4) The calculation purporting to show that universities would pay more for OA journals than they pay now for non-OA journals is deeply flawed. It assumed an average journal fee much higher than the actual average; it assumed that all OA journals charge fees when fewer than half actually do; and it assumed that for those that do charge fees, only universities would pay them. (5) OA is entirely compatible with capitalism and everyone who is paying attention understands this. More than one OA publisher is for-profit. Other for-profit publishers are experimenting with OA. The NIH was instructed to adopt its public-access policy by a Republican Congress. Even capitalists want to spread the benefits of science, take advantage of new technologies, and give taxpayers access to the research for which they have paid.