Thursday, January 19, 2006

Means and Ends

Self-archiving advocate Stevan Harnad has responded to the interview published here yesterday with Catherine Candee, the director of publishing and strategic initiatives in the Office of Scholarly Communication at the University of California (UC). In the interview Candee discussed the development of UC's eScholarship Repository, and outlined her vision of the future of scholarly publishing.

Below is a summary of Harnad's main points of disagreement with UC's views on open access (OA) and institutional repositories (IRs) — as described by Candee. A copy of Harnad's full commentary is available on his blog.

(1) UC considers publication reform to be the goal, OA merely a means: I would consider OA to be the goal and publication reform merely a hypothetical possibility that might or might not follow from OA.

(2) UC considers providing OA to postprints (i.e., final drafts of published journal articles) a lesser priority for IRs, I think they are the first priority.

(3) UC moved away from Eprints and postprint self-archiving because of the extremely low level of spontaneous uptake by UC faculty, assuming it was because it was "too difficult." It is far more likely that the low uptake was because UC did not adopt an institutional self-archiving mandate. Those institutions that have done so have dramatically higher self-archiving rates.

(4) UC instead outsourced self-archiving to an expensive service that, being a secondary publisher, needs to expend a lot of resources on following up rights problems for each published paper; the result so far is that UC's eScholarship IR is still not self-archiving more than the c.15% worldwide self-archiving baseline for postprints.

(5) The other reason UC moved away from Eprints and postprint archiving is because of its publishing reform goals, including university self-publishing (of journals and monographs). I think monographs are (for the time being) a separate matter, and should be handled separately from journal article OA, and that peer review needs to be implemented by a neutral 3rd party, not the author or the author's institution. The immediate priority is postprint OA.

In summary, UC seems to be giving its own hypothetical conjectures on the future of scholarly publishing — and its own aspirations for the hypothetical new publishing system — priority over an immediate, pressing, and remediable practical problem: the needless, daily loss of 25% - 250% or more of the usage and impact of 85% of UC research output.

Because researchers are relatively uninformed and uninvolved in all this, they do not have a clear sense of the implicit trade-off between (a) the actual daily, cumulative usage/impact loss for their own research output, with its tested and demonstrated remedy, and (b) the untested hypothetical possibilities with which the library community seems to be preoccupied.

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