The title of this post is link bait, of course. Green OA does not rot the brain and it is reckless and irresponsible even to suggest it. Heh. Stranger things, and worse, have happened, even here on the Kitchen, where truth reigns supreme.
But does it rot the brain, maybe, in a manner of speaking, um, perhaps to a degree, or just a little? Or if the word “rot” is just too strong for you, would it be fair to say that some people sometimes let their guard down? When we talk about scientific publishing, are we always scientific in our conversation?
Many, many years ago, when the HBO version of Game of Thrones was just a gleam in Papa Time Warner’s eye, I wrote about this on the now-moribund blog Publishing Frontier, which had been put together by my friend Peter Brantley, who even now moderates the immensely influential invitation-only Read 2.0 mailgroup. You can find that post, “Putting Science into Science Publishing,” here. My argument was that even when the topic is scientific publishing, the discussion often closely resembles that of the general-purpose Internet and not the more rarefied world where rationality and evidence reign.
And thus I was hugely entertained to receive an email from Scott Pluchak, written in support of a position that fellow chef Rick Anderson and I have been arguing, namely, that in some instances librarians will use the availability of Green OA versions of articles as a reason to cancel subscriptions to journals. Here is Scott’s marvelous take on this (reprinted with permission):
So let me get this straight — we need to invest considerable amounts of money, time and political capital building institutional repositories. But since faculty don’t see that they have any value, we need to create institutional mandates that will force faculty to fill them up with imperfect versions of articles that we all agree are not an effective substitute for the version of record, which is still controlled by the evil publishers. Since we don’t want people to actually use the green versions, we need to continue to keep those evil publishers in business by subscribing to their content, because they are on the right side of history for allowing their authors to deposit manifestly inadequate versions of their articles. On the other hand, we should cancel the journals produced by publishers who don’t support green because they are doubly bad, and thus we should make sure that no one has any access at all to what they publish.
I have written about this debate on the Kitchen twice before (here and here) and will not dive into the particulars yet again. Interestingly, this debate, which exploded on the liblicense mailgroup, was finally stopped by the usually hands-off moderator, who noted that the conversation was getting increasingly personal–but not before she weighed in on Rick’s side.
So to the claim that librarians will not use the OA status of publications as they assess what to renew, what to cancel, the answer is: false. Librarians (some) will do this, and some already are. It is therefore entirely reasonable for publishers to resist Green OA. The goal of a publisher is to keep Green OA messy: incomplete, unreliable, and hard to find. And that’s because librarians will act in their own institutions’ interest and decline to pay for what they can get for free.