Green Gold Hybrid

Peter Suber reports Jan Velterop’s comments on the Green version of Open Access: More on JAM about the NIH policy (Jan Velterop, JAM tomorrow) The Parachute, November 9, 2007:

JV: Applied to OA, ‘green’ and ‘gold’ are qualifiers of a different order. ‘Gold’ is straightforward: you pay for the service of being published in a peer-reviewed journal and your article is unambiguously Open Access. ‘Green’, however, is little more than an indulgence allowed by the publisher. This, for most publishers at least, is fine, as long as it doesn’t undermine their capability to make money with the work they do. But a ‘green’ policy is reversible.

PS: Comments

  • On the other hand, Jan may be right that there is “something…in the distinction between ‘green’ and ‘gold’ that wrong-foots otherwise intelligent people”. I’ve tried for years to understand why otherwise intelligent people so frequently get it wrong. Last month I put it this way (p. 46): “The fact is that green OA has always had to fight for recognition. Its novelty makes it invisible. People understand OA journals, more or less, because they understand journals. But there’s no obvious counterpart to OA archiving in the traditional landscape of scholarly communication. It’s as if people can only understand new things that they can assimilate to old things.”

PMR: My point here is not to re-open the Green-Gold debate but to declare that I find the whole thing very complex and am frequently wrong footed. For me the world needs to be simple. Gold is simple to understand. Closed access and legal threats are simple to understand. The rest is messy and complicated. I do not wish to re-open the discussions we have had here about whether Green OA makes permission barriers irrelevant – my personal view is that Green makes permission more complicated; Stevan Harnad thinks it makes it simple; we agree to differ.
To me OA ==> CC-BY (freedom to do almost anything with the work). And if the whole world took that view it would be simple. There must be literally 500 different positions taken up by various publishers – free redistribution except for photocopies – no commercial use except for textbooks – re-use by academics but not the pharma industry (see OUP for this amazing restriction). It’s impossible.

So about 6 months ago I tried to understand the Open Access (hybrid) policy of a journal I was an editor on (J. Molecular Modeling, Springer). Authors paid 3000 USD for an article labelled “Open Choice” but still copyrighted by the Journal and still with restrictive permissions. I was upset and said so, sufficiently that I resigned. In retrospect Springer and Jan Velterop suffered this because it was the first hybrid Open Access article/publisher I encountered. The others are just as bad – if not worse. But all of them are making hybrid Open Access so (unnecessarily) complicated that I suspect no-one in the world understands all the details. Anyway Jan promised some changes, so I have revisited the site. Before that, here’s HHMI on Springer’s Open Choice:

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has expressed support for Springer’s Open Choice program whereby articles are — if accepted for publication after a process of rigorous peer-review — immediately published with full open access and deposited in repositories such as PubMed Central, at a flat-rate fee per article of $3,000. Springer’s Open Choice programme applies to all its journals.

… and …

With Springer Open Choice the authors decide how their articles are published in Springer journals. As with all other articles, Springer Open Choice articles are peer-reviewed, professionally produced, and available in both print and electronic versions on SpringerLink. In addition, every article will be registered in CrossRef and included in the appropriate Abstracting and Indexing services. In Springer Open Choice, authors are not required to transfer their copyright to Springer; instead, these articles are published under a Creative Commons License.

PMR: So I go back to the current issue of Journal of Molecular Modeling:


Jimmy Stewart has an Open Choice article. But the copyright is still Springer’s despite what HHMI thinks. Abbasoglu does not have Open Choice. BUT it’s Free Access. You can read it on Springer’s site without a subscription. ALL the papers are Free Access. At least for the last 4 years (I haven’t looked further). Whatever is going on? I have no idea. The Springer system knows that Jimmy’s article is Open Choice because the permissions robot says it’s free whereas it says I would have to pay 150+ USD for 100 copies of Abbsoglu’s article if I wished to use it for distance learning. So I checked in Pubmed. Yes, Jimmy’s article is there – in full. And Abbsoglu’s has only the abstract. So this seems to follow logically.

Jimmy has paid 3000 USD for his article (this is a lot of money and he was not motivated to do it last time we spoke). Abbasoglu has paid nothing. The world can read both of their articles on Springer’s site. The world cannot read Abbasoglu’s in Pubmed nor can they use it for distance learning without paying. But is that worth 3000 USD??

The point of this is that the whole situation is so complex that it is beyond the comprehension of anyone to understand. The publishers aren’t trying to make hybrid work and I suspect many are trying to make it die. The varieties of OA (that is not CC-BY) are so enormously complex that again no-one can remember the whole lot and the publishers make it impossible to find out easily (or more generously fail to make it easy). There is a HUGE amount of wasted human effort in managing this charade – subscription sales, copyright violation police, librarian paralysis, wasted author time, etc. None of this helps science.

In short, OO CC-BY is simple. You can learn it in five minutes. If we all did it then we could use the rest of our time to do something useful like discovering new biologically active compounds. And, since it is a near zero-sum game everyone would still have a living if they performed a useful role.

I’m now off to hack some Java. It’s relaxing…

2 thoughts on “Green Gold Hybrid

  1. pm286

    (1) Compared to reading publishers conditions it is much more satisfying. We have just finished calculating the amounts of molecules in a reaction and got it right. High-school stuff, but it’s now semantic. That means we can do thousands automatically.


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