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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Stevan Harnad's response to the STM briefing document

Stevan Harnad, STM Publisher Briefing on Institution Repository Deposit Mandates, Open Access Archivangelism, January 13, 2009.  The square brackets in this excerpt are Stevan's, not mine.

[Two members of STM have kindly, at my request, allowed me to see a copy of the STM Briefing on IRs and Deposit Mandates. I focused the commentary below on quoted excerpts, but before posting it I asked STM CEO Michael Mabe for permission to include the quotes. As I do not yet have an answer, I am posting the commentary with paraphrases of the passages I had hoped to quote. If I receive permission from Michael, I will repost this with the verbatim quotes. As it stands, it is self-contained and self-explanatory.]

The International Association of Scientific, Technical and Medical Publishers (STM) has circulated a fairly anodyne briefing to its member publishers. Although it contains a few familiar items of misinformation that need to be corrected (yet again), there is nothing alarming or subversive in it, along the lines of the PRISM/pitbull misadventure of 2007.

Below are some quote/comments along with the (gentle) corrections of the persistent bits of misinformation: My responses are unavoidably -- almost ritually -- repetitive, because the errors and misinformation themselves are so repetitive....

[Exclusive copyright transfer is essential so alternative versions do not prevent publishers from making ends meet. Publishers add value in return.]

(a) In their IRs, authors deposit supplementary versions of their own peer-reviewed publications in order to maximize their uptake, usage, applications, and impact, by maximizing access to them.

(b) So far, all evidence is that this self-archiving has not undermined the traditional toll-based (subscription/license) funding model for peer-reviewed journal publishing: rather, they co-exist peacefully.

(c) But if and when IR deposit should ever make subscriptions unsustainable for covering the remaining essential costs of peer-reviewed journal publishing, there is an obvious alternative: conversion to the Gold OA publishing funding model.

(d) What is definitely not an acceptable alternative for the research community, however, is to refrain from maximizing research access, uptake, usage, applications, impact and progress (by mandating IR deposit) merely in order to insure publishers' current funding model against any possibility that universal IR deposit might eventually lead to a change in funding model.

(e) Unlike trade authors, researchers transfer to the publishers of their peer-reviewed research all the rights to sell the published text, without asking for any royalties or fees in return. They have always, however, exercised the right to distribute free copies of their own articles to all would-be users who requested them, for research purposes. In the web era, OA IRs have become the natural way for researchers to continue that practice, in order to maximize research access, uptake, usage, applications, impact and progress....

[Talking points in responding to the media: subscription publishing does require exclusive copyright transfer; perhaps OA publishing doesn't.]
This mixes up issues: The only relevant issue here for IRs and IR deposit policies is whether or not the publisher has formally endorsed providing open access to the peer-reviewed postprint immediately upon acceptance for publication. (This is called a "Green" publisher policy on OA self-archiving. It has nothing to do with author-pays/Gold OA publishing models. And authors paying for the "right" to deposit would be absurd and out of the question.) ...
[Should we endorse deposits that are open webwide only for a fee?]
Paying to deposit in researchers' own IRs would be absurd, and roundly rejected as such by the research community....
[Inform the media that publishers have made journal articles more accessible today than ever before.]

True (though thanks also to the advent of the Web). But this literature is not yet accessible to all those would-be users webwide whose institutions cannot afford to subscribe to the journal in which it was published -- and no institution can afford to subscribe to all or most peer-reviewed journals....

(The publishing industry has to remind itself that the reason peer-reviewed research is conducted, peer-reviewed and published is not in order to fund the publishing industry, but in order to maximize research access, uptake, usage, applications, impact and progress.) ...

[Researchers should stay free "to choose how and where to publish."]

By all means. And they should continue to exercise their freedom to supplement access to their published research by depositing their postprints in their IRs for all would-be users webwide who cannot afford access to the publisher's proprietary version....

Comment.  I support all of Stevan's responses.  I also support his request to Michael Mabe to allow us to post quotations from the STM members-only briefing.  If Mabe agrees, then I'll blog the briefing (again) and include some excerpts from the text. 

Update (1/16/09). STM has given permission to quote from the statement, and Stevan has re-posted his response with quotations instead of paraphrases.

Update (1/17/09). Also see my comments on the STM briefing.

Update (1/18/09). Also see Heather Morrison's comments.