Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Universities with green OA mandates haven't stopped paying for peer review

Stevan Harnad, On Parasitism and Double-Dipping: I (of 2), Open Access Archivangelism, May 17, 2008.

Summary:  Ian Russell (CEO of ALPSP) is an alumnus of U. Southampton, the institution that designed and adopted the world's first Green OA self-archiving mandate (first as a departmental mandate, then university-wide).
    Ian suggests that his alma mater's mandate is "parasitic" because it is "unfunded." By unfunded, Ian does not mean that Southampton isn't funding its own Institutional Repositories (IRs) (it is); he means that Southampton does not provide funds to pay the costs of publication.
    But of course Southampton (like all other research universities) is already funding the costs of publication: through its journal subscriptions. Subscriptions buy in the research output of other universities; this has nothing to do with mandating the self-archiving of Southampton's own research output.
    If and when all universities mandate self-archiving, and if and when the resultant universal Green OA causes subscriptions to become unsustainable as the means of covering publishing costs, then journals will convert to Gold OA publishing and universities will pay the publication costs for their own research output out of a portion of their windfall subscription cancellation savings. This is already guaranteed by universities' longstanding mandate to "Publish or Perish." (No risk of "parasitism," because otherwise the "parasite" would perish.)
    But for publishers to ask universities to pay publication costs now -- at current asking prices, and while the potential funds are still tied up paying for it via subscriptions -- is either to seek double-dipping or to seek an indefensible hedge against any downsizing and cost-cutting that might be induced by mandated OA.
    OA is optimal and inevitable for research, and feasible right now, through Green OA self-archiving mandates. Both universities and publishers will adapt quite naturally to its sequelae.

Also see, On Parasitism and Double-Dipping: II (2nd of 2), May 18, 2008.  Excerpt:

Summary:  Sandy Thatcher (President, AAUP) thinks universities prefer building football fields to paying for publishing. I reply that universities are already paying for publishing today, via their journal subscriptions, and that if that cash is ever saved (because subscriptions are cancelled, mandated Green OA having made all journal articles accessible online for free) and journals convert to Gold OA publishing, universities will still need to "publish or perish," which still trumps building football fields. So universities will redirect a portion of their windfall cancellation savings to cover that basic necessity. Only a portion of those savings will be needed, though, because journals will have downsized to just providing peer review, which costs much less than publishing does now. Universities' own institutional repositories will take over the burden of providing the documents, the archiving and the access.


  • Stevan is right.  See my similar arguments in an article from September 2007 (esp. Sections 6 and 11-13) and an article from April 2008 (esp. Principle 3).
  • One further point:  Even if universities canceled all their subscriptions, they would continue to subsidize peer-reviewed journals simply by paying the salaries of the faculty members who provide articles and refereeing services to journals at no charge.  Hence, if we have to use the language of parasitism, journals are parasites on universities at least as much universities (with OA mandates) are parasites on journals.