David Wiley’s version of the double-payment objection is only partly correct. To the extent that both research funding and research library funding are paid by the tax-payer, there is indeed some double-paying — but the one who gets the free ride is the publisher, who gets to charge for access to material most of which was funded by the tax-payer. (But not so for peer review, which the publisher manages, though the reviewing is again actually being done for free by the peers. Nevertheless, an honest broker is needed to manage the peer review, or else it’s vanity press. The cost of managing peer review is much less than the cost of publishing, but it will be an invariant expense that needs to be paid no matter what.)
I agree with Stevan’s criticism of the publishers’ free riding and have written about this in detail, as in this HR 801 Issue Summary co-written with students and distributed by SPARC. He seems to think publisher free riding is a bigger problem than asking taxpayers to pay multiple times for access to research. I suppose that’s his prerogative. I agree with the idea that the function of peer review needs to be decoupled from the function of publishing in future sensible business models (more on this below).
The double-pay objection is incorrect, however, when it is made from the standpoint of the subscriber institution. (Private universities’ journal budgets are not paid by tax-payers; and even public universities cover it partly out of student fees or other sources.) The institutional librarians who say “Our institution takes the trouble and expense to provide the research, gives it to publishers for free, only to have to buy it back for subscrption fees” are mistaken: An institution has its own research output: It’s buying in the research output of other institutions with its journal subscriptions. (So unless one thinks the same argument ought to be applied to books, there’s no valid double-pay objection here.)
My post doesn’t bring up the notion of institutions as objectors on the twice pay grounds. The objections Stevan raises above must be baggage he brings to the table from previous conversations. My post is focused very clearly on taxpayers, and this paragraph is completely irrelevant to my post.
But, last, the real rationale for Open Access is not the fact that tax-payers feel a burning wish or need to read the peer-reviewed reports of the often highly specialized research they fund. It is that if the research they have funded is to provide the maximal benefits to the tax-payers who funded it, it should be accessible to all of its intended users: the researchers who are in the position to use, apply and build upon the scholarly or scientific findings, and not just those whose institutions can afford a subscription to the journal in which they happen to be punished.
This is the part of his response that concerns me the most. It smacks of Pre-Reformation ideas about restricting access to the scriptures. “You’re not capable of properly interpreting the Bible yourself, so we’re justified in restricting access to the Book to the clergy.” You only have to change a few words here. “Normal taxpayers aren’t capable of understanding research so it’s ok if only qualified, PhD-holding people have access.” This kind of thinking starts us down a very dangerous path.
But the moral is the same: Both research funders and universities should mandate that all their peer-reviewed research articles are made freely accessible to all their potential users online (“Green OA”). If and when making all this peer-reviewed research freely available online makes journal subscriptions unsustainable as the way of recovering the costs of peer review, institutions can pay those true costs, by the outgoing article, out of just a fraction of their annual windfall savings from their subscription cancellations.
It’s unclear to me why universities are acceptable actors here when they weren’t two paragraphs above. As for research funders mandating that articles are made freely available, that’s what I’m arguing – taxpayers (the research funders) should implement measures (legislatively, through their representatives) that guarantee them access to research findings. And again, I do support the idea of separating peer review from publishing.