15 Feb 2007

Declaration of Pomposity, and a Declaration of War?

Ahead of the EC Conference on Scientific Publishing in the European Research Area, a group of publishers have released what they dub the 'Brussels Declaration', which shamelessly echoes the Berlin Declaration on Open Access, the Budapest Open Access Initiative and the Bethseda Statement on Open Access Publishing. Richard Charkin, who works for Macmillan, has irreverently nicknamed it the Bognor Declaration, which will hopefully take some of the wind out of their sails.

They have stated that "we have decided to publish a declaration of principles which we believe to be self-evident". Oh, for pity's sake! Using language that apes the US Declaration of Independence makes them sound very pompous. Is it really 'self-evident' that "Copyright protects the investment of both authors and publishers"? Insisting on transfer of copyright to the publisher certainly helps maintain publisher profits, but how does that help the authors? The statement that "authors should be free to choose where they publish in a healthy, undistorted free market" is plainly a dig at PLoS (who have received philanthropic funding), but since when was journal publishing an 'undistorted free market'? The many mergers over the years have led towards the creation of monopolies.

The real target of this declaration is self-archiving. Stevan Harnad, the "archivangelist", optimistically commented on the IWR Blog that "There will be no war in Brussels. The meeting is about online access to European research findings. The European research community is meeting to decide how to maximise access, usage and impact for its research findings. The answer -- the very same answer -- has already been proposed by the European Commission [...] As a condition for receiving public research funding, all funded researchers should self-archive the resulting research publications online in an Open Access Repository, free for all would-be users".

In other news, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain has declared that there will be "peace for our time". Um, perhaps not. The ninth "principle" in this declaration is that "Open deposit of accepted manuscripts [self-archiving] risks destabilising subscription revenues and undermining peer review [...] Free availability of significant proportions of a journal’s content may result in its cancellation and therefore destroy the peer review system upon which researchers and society depend". I sense that hostilities have started... Perhaps soon the publisher tanks will be parked on the University of Southampton's driveway?

Overall this declaration makes these publishers look self-satisfied and a bit silly. I'd have expected better from the BMJ Group, who are one of the signatories.

1 comment:

Les said...

Pomposity, perhaps! Although there are many recent Brussels Declarations ("On Preventing and Combating
Trafficking in Human Beings", "On Asylum, Migration and Mobility" and even "On Assisted Dying"), this one from "the publishing industry" is actually very helpful for OA advocates.

The reason that I like it is that it represents a community agreement of what publishers believe about themselves and their role in scholarly communication. As such, it can be built upon, argued with and augmented to reach a common understanding between the publishing industry and the research industry.

I think that the principle fault with the document is not that it doesn't support OA, but that it makes researchers and scientists look like passive users of scholarly knowledge that is provided exclusively by the publishing industry. The logical consequence of that position is that anything that challenges the publishing status quo is a bad thing that will destroy society (see point 9).

I believe that this document needs to be recast to honestly reflect the partnership between scientists/scholars and publishers. The former provide the intellectual content and QA; the latter provide organisational and business support.