Authors: The “slumbering behemoth”

I read, with considerable interest, Peter Suber’s Predictions for 2007 in the SPARC Open Access Newsletter, issue #104 (December 2, 2006).

One of his predictions was: “More publishers will adopt the hybrid OA model for more journals” … “The question in 2007 will not be whether the hybrid model will spread among publishers (it will) but whether it will appeal to authors” … “The big question for publishers is whether they want author uptake badly enough to make it attractive”.

(Please note that I’ve omitted from this excerpt Peter’s summary of several features of an attractive hybrid model, such as keeping fees low and permitting self-archiving without embargo or fee).

Another of Peter’s predictions is that spontaneous author education about OA will continue to grow. A relevant excerpt: “OA literature is the best advertisement for OA and we’re starting to see a critical mass of it exert its effect. It doesn’t take academic readers of OA articles very long to figure out that this is what they want for themselves as authors. Since the volume of OA literature is growing in every field, it’s easy to predict that this kind of spontaneous author education will also continue to grow. We’ve only started to see what this kind of viral self-advertising can do to spread the word about OA and create a tipping point”.

Both predictions involve “appeal to authors”. Authors continue to be, in the well-chosen words of Dorothea Salo, the “slumbering behemoth”. See, for example, these excerpts from her blog entry, “How are we doing?” (Caveat Lector, 12 May 2006): “We have the (largely US- and Europe-based) for-profit publishers, who hate and fear open access to the point of telling flat-out lies about it. We have librarians and a few visionary researchers, who want it desperately. And we have the slumbering behemoth, the vast quantity of researchers who don’t understand the system and don’t care, but will do what they are told and act in what they perceive to be their self-interest”. …“But the slumbering behemoth slumbers on, letting us change its sleeping-space behind the scenes. The publishers daren’t disturb it—for example, by aggressively hunting down e-reserves programs or institutional repositories – for fear that it will turn on them when it wakes. Sure, the behemoth isn’t using its current power (and it has quite a lot, in the form of unremunerated labor) to force change, nor is it actively changing. It won’t use its power to resist change, either, and I do think that may just be good enough, the way the world is moving”.

Another, more recent, excerpt is from “The behemoth stirs” (Caveat Lector, 28 July 2006): “I have referred to university faculty and academic administrators, none too kindly, as the slumbering behemoth as regards the march of open access”. … “The behemoth is starting to yawn, stretch, and bestir itself”. She then goes on to mention the support of a large number of academic leaders in the USA for FRPAA (Federal Research Public Access Act of 2006, S. 2695). As of November 27, 2006, this number had reached 131, according to a SPARC Advocacy webpage about FRPAA.

One reason why the behemoth is starting to bestir itself here in Canada is the Draft policy on Access to CIHR-funded Research Outputs of the Canadian Institutes of Health (CIHR). A public consultation about this draft policy ended on November 24, 2006, and the responses are currently being analyzed. The results of this analysis, when they become available, should provide some initial clues about ways in which the behemoth is beginning to react to the kind of prodding that’s outlined in CIHR’s draft policy. Stay tuned.




  1. tillje said

    Concerns about possible reactions of the “slumbering behemoth” appear to have played some role in the policy on research deposits recently announced by the Australian Research Council (ARC) and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC). See: Australian National Health and Medical Research Council – policy on research deposits released (9 December 2006), and Australian mandates (7 December 2006). An excerpt from the latter (comments by Arthur Sale about the strategy chosen by the ARC):

    Why did it take this particular tack? Well as I have written previously Australians have a cultural myth of independent action, and don’t like to be commanded what to do in the language of ‘mandate’. But using the right language, they will do as required.

  2. tillje said

    Bruce D’Arcus has posted a comment about why the slumbering behemoth continues to slumber. See: The Weight of Inertia. Excerpts:

    Publish or perish, the old mantra goes. But it’s not that simple; one’s promotion, salary, and tenure are typically not just conditioned on whether you publish, but where. In other words, a rigorous peer review process and some objective measure of a publishing outlet’s level of respect in the field are a crucial marker of the quality of one’s work.

    In a world of Web 2.0, social networking, WikiPedia, and so forth, it’s really surprising just how much inertia there is in academia!.

  3. tillje said

    Information is available about the public consultation on the CIHR proposed Policy on Access to Research Outputs. A link is provided to a summary report (posted on April 4, 2007) on the responses received to the public consultation that ended on November 24, 2006. Two excerpts, under the heading General comments:

    6. In general, respondents were supportive of the development of a policy promoting access to research outputs. As stated by one researcher “As a publicly funded agency and in line with the scientific endeavour, it is essential that the research outputs and data generated be fully accessible by the public, with, of course, safeguards for the protection of privacy and intellectual property rights.” Furthermore, many researchers recognized that “making research outputs available to a wider number of people would be very useful for the scientific community and could facilitate new collaborations between researchers.” However, other respondents felt that CIHR should not be proceeding with a policy that would require CIHR-funded researchers to “do more science with less money” given: (i) cuts to operating grants; and (ii) the small number of grants currently being funded. Undoubtedly CIHR faces challenges in developing a policy requiring the sharing of unique data, materials and publications, however, as stated by one respondent “there are a series of other challenges with the current state of affairs that I personally feel are more problematic with respect to the advancement of science. This includes publication bias, outcome reporting bias, general non-analysis of some of the data for a variety of reasons, etc. If we don’t make the proposed changes, then I think we need even more creative thinking to overcome the existing obstacles.”


    9. Some researchers felt that taking a researcher’s track record of providing access to research outputs into consideration for future funding was an aggressive approach. One researcher felt that if this was the case, then applicants should be given much more information about the criteria that would be used to assess these plans. Moreover, some respondents felt that there were no systems in place to monitor compliance with the policy.

    What has happened after the public consultation? There was a meeting of the external policy advisory committee on January 24, 2007. An excerpt from the minutes of that meeting (posted on March 20, 2007), under the heading 6. Research Access Plan/End-of-Grant Reporting:

    Participants discussed the proposal to require researchers to submit a research access plan with their applications. It was noted that CIHR should carefully consider what information is needed and how it would be used for before asking researchers for more information. It was also mentioned that researchers often do not know what the outputs will be at the start of the grant. As another approach it was suggested that CIHR introduce some mechanism in the application process that demonstrates that applicants understand their obligations in relation to sharing research outputs, and then monitor the policy through the end-of-grant reporting system that is currently being developed. For example, applicants could be asked to click “yes” in a box in the application form to indicate that they are aware of the requirements of the access policy. Participants generally agreed that the end-of-grant reporting system would be the best option to begin to foster the development and evaluation of output plans, to monitor compliance and to gather information about research outputs. CIHR should look towards the Australian Research Council as well as the Australian National Medical Research Council for guidance. These funders are requiring that grant recipients provide explanations why research outputs have not been shared or archived in repositories.

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