Interview, Issue 10 February 2012

Interview with Peter Suber

Peter Suber is the Director of the Harvard Open Access Project, a Faculty Fellow at Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Special Advisor at Harvard's Office for Scholarly Communication, Senior Researcher at SPARC, Open Access Project Director at Public Knowledge, Research Professor of Philosophy at Earlham College, and a non-practicing lawyer. He writes the SPARC Open Access Newsletter, was the principal drafter of the Budapest Open Access Initiative, and sits on the Board of Enabling Open Scholarship, the Advisory Board of the Open Knowledge Foundation, and the boards of several other groups devoted to open access, scholarly communication, and the information commons. He has been active in promoting open access for many years through his research, speaking, and writing.

Author Zone spoke to Peter Suber to find out more about his pivotal role in this new publishing paradigm.

Thanks for sharing your opinion with AuthorZone, Peter. From your perspective, what are the benefits for authors when publishing open access?

Suber: The benefit for authors is that OA helps them reach the readers who can build on their work, apply it, extend it, and cite it. OA increases an author's audience and impact. For example, OA articles are cited more often than non-OA articles, even when published in the same issues of the same journals (see Steve Hitchcock's bibliography of studies).*
This matters because scholars write journal articles for impact, not for money. In the age of print, they had no choice but to publish their articles in journals of limited circulation. That's no longer the case.

One common misunderstanding is that authors can only acquire this impact advantage by sacrificing the prestige which advances their careers. Untrue. There are two ways for authors to make their work OA. They may publish in peer-reviewed OA journals or they may publish in conventional journals and deposit their peer-reviewed manuscripts in an OA repository. Both methods are compatible with career advancement and prestige. First, in most scientific fields, the best OA journals are already among the most prestigious and highly-cited journals. Over time the number of high-prestige, high-impact, high-quality OA journals will only grow. Second, even in fields where the top journals don't yet include OA journals, authors may publish in a high-prestige conventional journal and then deposit their manuscript in an OA repository. One of the best-kept secrets about OA is that most non-OA journals give standing permission for authors to make their work OA through a repository, and that most of the rest will give permission on request or when the author is subject to an institutional OA policy.
Finally, authors who make their own work OA contribute to a milieu in which others do the same. It's the golden rule. If you want OA to the research in your field, as a reader, then make your own research OA, as an author.

In your opinion, what are the obstacles funding bodies face?

Suber: More than 50 funding agencies around the world require OA to peer-reviewed articles arising from the research they fund. (see ROARMAP). The number is not only growing, but the growth is accelerating. Funders are charities or philanthropies, and that explains why they grasp the logic of OA. If a research project is worth funding, then its results are worth sharing. Funders have no reason to hold research back, in order to generate a revenue stream or meter it out to paying customers. On the contrary, they have every reason to make it available to everyone who could make use of it.

Some publishers, including Springer (see Interview Derk Haank), lobby against OA mandates at public funding agencies**. But as I've argued elsewhere (see Interview Peter Suber), that's equivalent to arguing that public agencies should put the private interests of publishers ahead of the public interest in research, or that the public should compromise and publishers should not compromise.

Governments and policy-makers see the need for public agencies to put the public interest first and provide OA to publicly-funded research. Unfortunately, special-interest lobbying sometimes succeeds in delaying or diluting effective policies.

Fortunately, there are no other obstacles. Good policies don't break budgets or violate copyrights. Drafting and implementing a good policy is not rocket science. There are plenty of excellent precedents worldwide to show new agencies how to do the job, and in fact to show that the job can be done.

Where do you think open access will be in five years time?

Suber: Over the past decade we've seen steady growth in (1) peer-reviewed OA journals, (2) OA repositories, (3) OA policies at funding agencies, (4) OA policies at universities, (5) experiments with OA by traditionally non-OA publishers, and (6) understanding of OA by researchers, librarians, university administrators, funders, and policy-makers. All six of these trends will continue. There's no single "finish line" for OA, and we may never see OA for all new research literature. But within five years we should reach a tipping point at which OA is the default for new research literature.

**Springer Statement:

We are critical of open access mandates that force published Springer articles or their reviewed manuscripts to become freely available immediately after publication. We believe that our publishing services create value to the scientific community for which we need to be compensated. If authors want to assure open access to articles, they are allowed to self-archive 12 months after publication or choose “Open Choice – Your way to open access” and “SpringerOpen” as a way to publish with immediate open access against payment of a service fee.

Peter Suber´s Response:

I don't know whether Springer makes clear in its lobbying that it accepts the legitimacy of mandating OA for publicly-funded research, and only opposes short embargoes. If so, then its lobbying is appropriately surgical, and I welcome a public debate about the best length of a funding agency's permissible embargo. If it opposes OA mandates for publicly-funded research as such, regardless of the length of the embargo, then its lobbying is not appropriately surgical, and unjustifiably attempts to put the company's private interest ahead of the public interest.