Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Monday, January 28, 2008

More on mandates, self-interest, professional responsibility, consent, and coercion

Stevan Harnad, On Open Access, Self-Interest and Coercion, Open Access Archivangelism, January 27, 2008.  Excerpt:

On Thu, 24 Jan 2008, James J. O'Donnell (JJO'D) wrote (on liblicense):

JJO'D: "...Whether to include [books] in OA "mandates" is Stevan Harnad's question, and since I regard such mandates with skepticism, that question doesn't concern me." ...
So this might be an opportune time to re-examine the basis of one's skepticism about OA mandates...
JJO'D: "I am struck by the assertion that "all authors would want OA for their articles" if certain conditions are met. That's an interesting hypothesis, but I would simply underscore that the number of authors who currently do want OA for their articles is low enough that Harnad and others recommend they be coerced to achieve the goal. That fundamental disjuncture is important to understand and is advanced by empirical work, not by thought experiments."

(1) "Coerced" is a rather shrill term! (Is every rule that is in the public interest -- smoking bans? seatbelt laws? breathalyzer tests? taxes? -- coercion? Is academia's "publish or perish" mandate "coercion"?)

(2) It is empirically incorrect to assume that the number of authors that do want OA for their articles is the same as the number who spontaneously self-archive or publish in an OA journal today:

(3) Considerable empirical work has been done on these questions: The surveys by Alma Swan and others have repeatedly shown that (a) many authors still don't know about OA, and (b) many of those who know about it agree that they would want it for their articles, but they fear (wrongly) that it might be illegal, prejudicial to their publishing in their journal of choice, or just plain (c) too complicated and time-consuming to do it.

(4) As a matter of empirical fact, (a) - (c) are all wrong.

(5) More important, the surveys have found that although most authors still do not self-archive, 95% report that they would self-archive if their institutions and/or funders mandated it -- and 81% of them report they would do so willingly.

(6) In other words, most authors regard Green OA self-archiving mandates not as coercion, but as facilitation, for doing what they would want to do, but otherwise daren't (or otherwise could not assign it the proper priority in their academic publish-or-perish obligations)....


  • First some my own past comments on mandates and coercion:
    • From July 2006:  "[T]he best rationale for an OA mandate is to get the attention of authors.  Authors control the rate of OA growth, but they're not paying attention to OA.  We can't appeal to them as a bloc because they don't act as a bloc.  It's not hard to persuade them, or even excite them, once we catch their attention, but it's very hard to catch their attention because they are so anarchical, overworked, and preoccupied.  So we have to work through the institutions that have the greatest influence on authors [namely, universities and funders]....One objection is that a mandate paternalistically coerces [authors] for their own good.  If true, this would be a serious problem for me, though perhaps not for everyone who defends mandates.  I cannot support paternalism over competent adults....Fortunately, the paternalism objection misses the target and is easily answered....First, I only support mandates that are conditions on voluntary contracts.  They might be funding contracts:  if you take our money, you'll have to provide OA to your research; if this bothers you, then don't take our money.  They might be employment contracts:  if you work here, you'll have to provide OA to your research; if this bothers you, then don't work here....Second, I only support mandates with reasonable exceptions....Third, an OA mandate [advances other interests beyond the author's].  The [author] interest is greater visibility and impact.  The university [or funder] interest is that an OA mandate will better fulfill the university [or funder] mission to share the knowledge it produces, and better assist researchers elsewhere who could benefit from this knowledge...."
    • From January 2007:  "[S]uccessful mandates rely on expectations, education, assistance, and incentives, not coercion."
    • From March 2007:  "[W]e should assess the coercive impact of a mandate by looking at the actual practices implementing it, not at what might theoretically be covered by the word."
  • Second, I'd like to quote Les Carr's wonderful take on mandates and coercion (yesterday on the AmSci OA Forum):  "No-one refers to the examinations process as "coercion" or a "mandate", it is just a part of our professional activities. Not to fulfill our duties is simply unacceptable when that's what we're paid for and so many people are depending on us. I don't think I'm making an inappropriate comparison when I say that Science, Research and Scholarship are collaborative ventures, with colleagues all over the world depending on us to provide them with some shoulders on which to stand. Being unusual, the language of mandate makes some people cry "foul", but that is perhaps because we don't have an equivalent word for "the process by which you force lecturers to attend Exam Board". An OA mandate isn't an unusual, invented and offensive concept, it is simply a realisation of our professional duty to our research colleagues."
  • For more discussion, see the ongoing thread at the AmSci OA Forum.