Not a Proud Day in the Annals of the Royal Society

Stevan Harnad | American Scientist Open Access Forum | November 24, 2005

The Royal Society's statement (below, with comments) is not only ill-informed, failing even to grasp what either Open Access or the proposed RCUK policy is about and for, but it is a statement for which the Royal Society (RS), a venerable and distinguished institution, will have profound reason to be ashamed in coming years.

The RCUK proposed to require RCUK-funded -- i.e., publicly-funded, tax-payer-funded -- research journal articles to be made freely available online to all those would-be users world-wide who cannot afford access to the journal in which they were published.

This is called Open Access (OA) self-archiving; it is a supplement to -- not a substitute for -- the existing peer-reviewed journal publishing system. And it has already been practised, and has co-existed peacefully, with the journal system for over a decade and half now (for researchers have been self-archiving their articles for at least that long), even in certain areas -- notably some branches of physics -- in which 100% of the articles are being self-archived immediately upon publication or even earlier, and have been for years.

The physics publishers -- the American Physical Society and Institute of Physics Publishing -- have both reported publicly that they have detected no subscription decline at all as a result of self-archiving.

  "we asked the American Physical Society (APS) and the Institute of Physics Publishing Ltd (IOPP) what their experiences have been over the 14 years that arXiv has been in existence. How many subscriptions have been lost as a result of arXiv?  Both societies said they could not identify any losses of subscriptions for this reason and that they do not view arXiv as a threat to their business (rather the opposite -- in fact the APS helped establish an arXiv mirror siteat the Brookhaven National Laboratory)." [IOPP has since established one too.]

So why is the RS objecting? Because they are mixing up what the RCUK *is* proposing to mandate -- which is Open Access (OA) self-archiving of articles published in conventional, non-OA journals -- with what it is *not* proposing to mandate, which is publishing in OA journals. (RCUK is merely offering to help cover author costs for publishing in OA journals if they wish to publish in OA journals.)