Re: The "big koan"

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Wed, 22 May 2002 22:30:25 +0100 (BST)

Dear Peter,

According to my own construal of it, the "big koan" is the puzzle of
why, when free online access to their give-away work is at last within
reach, giveaway authors do not go ahead and grasp it.

In your FOS essay "Why FOS progress has been slow"
you equate open-access almost completely with publishing in open-access
journals (BOAI Strategy 2). But if that were the case, there would be
no koan: Most authors don't publish most of their work in open-access
journals for the simple reason that almost no open-access journals yet

So is the koan then why don't authors found more open-access journals? But
that would begin to sound less and less like a koan, because founding
new journals (let alone open-access journals) is certainly not within
the reach of most authors.

It isn't even a koan to ask why all authors who can do so do not
publish in the (few) open-access journals that do exist: Why should they
publish there, rather than in their preferred journals of established
quality and impact? It has never been a koan to explain why authors do
(and should) prefer established journals.

And by the very same token, it is not a koan that promotion and tenure
(and prize and funding) committees likewise prefer to continue to rely
on the known quality standards of established journals rather than the
not yet established quality standards of new journals. (JHEP managed
to establish its bona fides within just a few years.)

I think it is very important that FOS and BOAI should not head
exclusively or primarily down the BOAI Strategy 2 route (founding new
open-access journals, converting old ones), otherwise I'm afraid that
we will not see much progress in this decade.

For the fact is that if Strategy 2 were the only way to free access, or
the primary way, then free access would still be a very long way off --
and there would be no koan in why we are not there yet!

My koan was formulated specifically about self-archiving (BOAI Strategy 1):
It is THAT that is entirely within researchers' reach already.

(You do S1 a bit of a disservice to say it only frees "some form of
their postprints": In the majority of cases it already frees the final
peer-reviewed draft, and in all cases it frees the equivalent of it.
And the koan is predicated on the fact that immediate free access to
the full peer-reviewed corpus, right now, even in the less convenient
form of preprint+corrigenda, would still be infinitely better for both
authors and users than no access at all. And no-access is indeed the
relevant baseline for comparison here, not toll-based access to the
deluxe postprint for those few lucky enough to afford it!)

So my koan was an expression of socio-historical perplexity about why
researchers do not immediately grasp BOAI Strategy 1; for it's the only
one of the two that's entirely within immediate immediate reach, right

IF FOS and BOAI become preoccupied instead with the much more remote
road of BOAI Strategy 2, they merely add to the koan, preferring to
focus on the not-yet-reachable instead of grasping what is already

Cheers, Stevan
Received on Wed May 22 2002 - 22:30:25 BST

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