Information Today feature on BOAI - ASCII version

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Mon, 18 Feb 2002 11:46:15 +0000

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Mon, 18 Feb 2002 11:33:57 +0100
From: Darius Cuplinskas <cuplinsk_at_OSI.HU>

George Soros Gives $3 Million to New Open Access Initiative
by Richard Poynder


February 18, 2002 - A new initiative to help provide free access to refereed
articles on the Internet has received $3 million in funding from financier
and philanthropist George Soros' Open Society Institute (OSI). Launched on
February 14, the Budapest Open Access Initiative (BOAI) will help scholars
self-archive their refereed journal articles online and assist in the
establishment of alternative journals that are committed to offering free
and unrestricted online access to published articles. The aim, says Darius
Cuplinskas, director of OSI's Information Program, is "to accelerate
progress in the international effort to make research articles available on
the Internet."

In the manner of the Public Library of Science (PLoS) initiative, supporters
are also being invited to "sign on" to BOAI via the Web
( Hundreds of individuals and dozens of
institutions have already done so. While many of the early signatories-and
indeed designers-of BOAI are representatives from similar initiatives,
including the Scholarly Publishing & Academic Resources Coalition (SPARC),
PloS, and the Open Archives Initiative (OAI), BOAI is not, says Cuplinskas,
merely a rerun of previous efforts. "First, it advocates a dual strategy
(self-archiving and alternative open access journals), which differs from
previous initiatives. Second, it brings together different sets of actors
who have not always coordinated their efforts in the past. Third, it is
backed by a significant funder."

Importantly, it's hoped that bringing the funding and publicity clout of OSI
to bear on what has until now been essentially a fringe activity will help
to catapult it into the mainstream. For this reason, BOAI will encompass not
just the sciences, but all disciplines. While there's no intention that the
new journals will abandon the traditional peer-review process, BOAI will
require those that it supports to place their articles on the Internet and
to levy no subscription or access fees.

Currently, OSI is the only organization providing funds, but it is hoped
that co-sponsors will emerge. "We have been talking to a number of other
organizations and foundations, but this initiative came together very
rapidly, and most organizations need more time for internal discussions
before they can commit to something like this," says Cuplinskas. "I
anticipate that more will join soon."

BOAI looks set to become the new focal point for the long-standing campaign
to "free the refereed literature" from behind the financial firewall of
commercial journal subscriptions. Critics, however, have been quick to point
out that earlier initiatives have had limited success. Despite attracting
nearly 30,000 signatures, for instance, PLoS changed very little.

"It is clear in retrospect that most of those signing on to the PLoS boycott
did so with their fingers crossed," concedes Stevan Harnad, a professor who
helped draft OAI and the main proponent of the self-archiving strategy
enunciated in BOAI. "But the BOAI is not another petition like the PLoS.
Signing it does not mean that one supports the cause, or that one is asking
someone else (e.g., the publishers) to do something. Signing means that one
is oneself (whether individual or institution) committing to do
something-either self-archiving or submitting to alternative journals or

Nevertheless, some remain skeptical about BOAI. "I was told about it about a
month ago, but I didn't sign it. I thought parts of it are simply too
naive," says professor Paul Ginsparg, who in 1991 founded arXiv, the first
self-archiving project.

Specifically, Ginsparg questions what he sees as the assumption that open
access journals can eventually become financially self-supporting. "While
experiments certainly show that open access can be provided in a pure
distribution system for a tiny fraction of what print distribution costs,
there is little indication to date that the editorial costs associated with
peer review can be similarly reduced. Such a proposal is thus wishful
thinking unless it also provides either a long-term sustainable financial
model for supporting the costs of peer review as currently practiced, or a
plan to modify or reform peer review itself to achieve a far less costly

While an FAQ on the BOAI Web site concedes that the jury is still out on
economic sustainability, it is optimistic. "We don't know yet, but 1) there
are ongoing experiments which give us hope, 2) we are proposing further
experiments, and 3) we have good reasons to think that open access
publishing will be economically sustainable."

It also envisages that journals will seek alternative sources of funding,
including the universities and laboratories that employ researchers,
foundations and governments that fund research, endowments set up by
discipline or institution, friends of the cause of open access, profits from
the sale of add-ons to the basic texts, funds freed up by the demise or
cancellation of journals that charge traditional subscription or access
fees, or even contributions from the researchers themselves.

The fact is, says Herbert Van de Sompel, digital library researcher at the
Los Alamos National Laboratory and co-founder of OAI, that while the means
may still need perfecting, the end is inevitable since demands for open
access have now become a flood that cannot be stemmed. "Many initiatives
will still have to emerge (and fail) before real change will penetrate the
scholarly communication system," he said. "But we are learning from all
these experiences, and eventually we will get it right."

Certainly new initiatives are being launched with increasing regularity. On
February 6, for instance, eight of the world's principal research library
organizations announced the establishment of the International Scholarly
Communications Alliance (ISCA). The brainchild of the Consortium of
University Research Libraries (CURL), ISCA's aims map those of BOAI.

"We will be advocating to academics alternative methods for disseminating
and publishing, including the creation of institutional and discipline-based
open archives, and the establishment of alternatives to commercial titles,"
explains Paul Ayris, director of library services at University College
London and chair of CURL's scholarly communications task force.

While such developments are undoubtedly being closely monitored by
commercial journal publishers, none of those I approached while writing this
article-including Reed Elsevier, Wolters Kluwer, and John Wiley & Sons-could
locate a spokesperson who was able to comment.

However, while discussing PLoS in an interview in Information Today's
February issue (p.1 or,
Elsevier Science chairman Derk Haank remarked: "The ghost is out of the
bottle. How will we get it back in?" The concern for publishers now must be
that Van de Sompel is right, and there's no way to capture that ghost.

Richard Johnson, SPARC's enterprise director, predicts that the market for
refereed literature is now entering a period of ineluctable change. "I don't
know what will be the pervasive business model supporting scholarly
communication," he said. "Perhaps a number of models will co-exist. But I
think the current roles of the various players in the value chain will be
changing, and the economic focus will shift from the unique articles to the
value-added enhancements."

Richard Poynder is a U.K.-based freelance journalist. His e-mail address is
Received on Mon Feb 18 2002 - 11:46:31 GMT

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