Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, September 21, 2007

Tipping points v. talk about tipping points

Stevan Harnad, Tripping on Tipping Points: Jubilatio Praecox, Open Access Archivangelism, September 21, 2007.  Excerpt:

Thomas & McDonald (2007) wrote:

"This study's findings only reinforce... predictions and arguments favoring institutional mandates. As the data in this article show, a mandate is arguably the "tipping point" described by Gladwell (2000) that can make depositing behavior among scholars not just widespread, but also more of an ingrained and complete behavior"
Sandy Thatcher, President, AAUP, responded:
'If you'll remember our prior discussion about open access, Stevan, I warned that just this "success" might be the "tipping point" to drive a host of commercial and society publishers out of the business of journal publishing. One "tipping point" causes another? Witness, as partial proof, the reaction of STM publishers represented by the PRISM initiative. I read that as a warning that, if the government forces a change in their business model, they may just walk away from the business. I assume you wouldn't consider that a bad thing at all, but my question would be what kind of structure will take its place and what expectations will universities have of their presses to pick up the slack?'

What is remarkable is how actual empirical facts (very few) are being freely admixed, willy-nilly, with fact-free speculations for which there is, and continues to be zero empirical evidence, and, in many cases, decisive and familiar counterevidence, both empirical and logical....

There has been no "tipping point." Just talk about tipping points, and that talk about tipping points has been going on for years.

There has been no one driven out of business, nor any empirical evidence of a trend toward being driven out of business. Just talk about being driven out of business, and that talk about being driven out of business has been going on for years.

And as to the "partial proof" in the form of the STM/PRISM "reaction" -- that very same reaction (with the very same false, alarmist arguments) has been voiced, verbatim, by the very same publisher groups (STM, AAP, ALPSP), over and over, for over a decade now. And they have been debunked just as often (see long list of links below). But that certainly hasn't been enough to make the publishers' anti-OA lobby cease and desist. Do you consider the relentless repetition, at louder and louder volume, of exactly the same specious and evidence-free claims, to be "proof" of anything, partial or otherwise?

And the phrase "the government forces a change in their business model" is just as false a description of what is actually going on when it is spoken in Sandy's own well-meaning words as when it is voiced by PRISM and Eric Dezenhall: The government is not forcing a change in a business model....

This quite natural (and overdue) adaptation to the online age on the part of the research community -- mandating Green OA self-archiving -- may or may not lead to a transition to Gold OA publishing: no one knows whether, or when it will. But what is already known is that OA itself, whether Green or Gold, is enormously beneficial to research, researchers, their institutions and funders, the vast R&D industry, and the tax-paying public that funds research and for whose benefit it is funded, conducted and published....

So the "tipping point" for Green OA itself would be an unalloyed benefit for everyone except the peer-reviewed journal publishing industry, whether or not it led to a second tipping point and a transition to Gold OA....

You ask "what kind of structure will take its place and what expectations will universities have of their presses to pick up the slack?" I presume you are referring to the multiple hypothetical conditional: if Green OA mandates reach the tipping point that generates 100% Green OA, and if that in turn generates journal cancellations that reach the tipping point that generates a transition to Gold OA? The answer (which I have provided many times before) is simple: That "structure" will be Gold OA, funded out of (a part of) the institutional cancellation savings....

Comment.  Well-put.  I made some of the same points in the September SOAN.  There's no evidence yet for a tipping point (or slippery slope), although there might be later.  And there's no evidence that a future tipping point would hurt peer review even if it did hurt revenues at some existing publishers.  On the contrary, there's strong evidence, so far, that OA and TA will coexist for some time, and strong reason to think that, even if OA grows at the expense of TA, research productivity and quality control would both improve.