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News from the open access movement

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

More on gold OA mandates

Gunther Eysenbach has written a lengthy argument (June 28) in support of gold OA mandates (mandating submission to OA journals rather than deposit in OA repositories), and Stevan Harnad has written a lengthy rebuttal (June 30).  Both are difficult to excerpt, so I'll just refer you to the full texts.

Comment.  But I'm not neutral on the question.  I've often argued against gold OA mandates (for example, here), although as far as I know only one institution has ever considered adopting one.  I've also often defended the principle that universities should not limit the freedom of researchers to submit their work to the journals of their choice (most recently here).  So I'm not persuaded by Gunther's argument, even though I strongly support gold OA, see the efficiencies he underlines, and want to take advantage of them as we free up the money to pay for OA journals, now largely locked away in TA journal subscriptions. 

Gunther's argument overstates the sense in which OA repositories "publish" (hence the sense in which they create a parallel publishing system) and understates the difficulties of restricting where scholars can submit their work (whether or not the restrictions favor OA).  Authors would face serious career difficulties in accepting these restrictions and policymakers would face serious political difficulties in imposing them.  Gunther is right that the author difficulties would disappear if all journals were OA.  But because of the policymaker difficulties, that simply will not happen, not by legislative fiat and not by funder collusion. 

It matters that OA archiving is much simpler and much less expensive than publishing, and doesn't create a full parallel system.  It matters that OA archiving is minimally parallel, or supplementary, and doesn't require regulating publishers.  It matters that OA archiving is under the control of scholars and universities, and doesn't require waiting for markets or legislation.  These features make OA archiving a natural strategy for the early and middle stages of a campaign like ours, because it can harness unilateral action by persuaded individuals and institutions.  Deeper institutional change is necessary too, and it's happening.  But it must come late, as a result, not early, as a strategy.