Re: The "big koan"

From: Peter Suber <>
Date: Wed, 22 May 2002 20:51:02 -0400

At 06:15 PM 5/22/2002 -0400, Stevan Harnad wrote:

>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).

Dear Stevan,

I didn't equate open access with open-access journals, but you make a good
point that in that essay I did spend more time explaining our slow progress
toward open-access journals than I spent explaining our slow progress
toward self-archiving. I admit that the latter is a harder problem than
the former, more "koanesque". But three of my eight points (1, 2, and 8)
apply to self-archiving --that scholars tend not to think there's a
problem, that they tend to misunderstand the solution, and there aren't yet
many institutions with eprints archives.

In the next issue of FOSN (to be mailed tomorrow, probably) I intend to
refocus on the slow progress toward self-archiving and the difficult of
explaining it.

>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

That's one reason, but I believe there are at least seven others as well.

>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.

Even if our slow progress toward self-archiving is hard to explain (a
proper koan), or even if I have less insight into it than the analogous
problem with journals, it doesn't follow that I or BOAI are "heading
exclusively or primarily" down the path toward open-access journals rather
than a more inclusive strategy that gives self-archiving equal
prominence. This excerpt from one of my May 17 postings to this forum
shows that I'm as concerned to push self-archiving as I am to push
open-access journals: "[R]eforming the journal system is only one of
several methods to achieve FOS. Another one, self-archiving, doesn't
depend at all on steering the super-tanker and could be adopted by every
university in the world this month."

>(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!)

In context I was trying to explain that self-archiving doesn't run into
copyright problems. But self-archiving postprints can run into a copyright
problem, namely, denial of permission from the rightsholder. Posting the
preprint+corrigenda is a way around this, and that's exactly what I was
referring to when I said that authors can self-archive "some form of their
postprints". I agree that preprint+corrigenda is much better than nothing,
but that doesn't change the fact that it is "some form of the postprint"
rather than the postprint itself. We seem to agree here.

Best wishes,
Peter Suber, Professor of Philosophy
Earlham College, Richmond, Indiana, 47374

Editor, The Free Online Scholarship Newsletter
Received on Thu May 23 2002 - 01:51:02 BST

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