Re: Discipline Differences in Benefits/Feasibility of Open Access?

From: Stevan Harnad <>
Date: Sat, 23 Nov 2002 18:02:27 +0000

On Sat, 23 Nov 2002, JQ Johnson wrote:

> The prohibition on preprints [in Chemistry]
> was enshrined in journal policies, where the editors took very seriously
> the idea that they should never accept a submission if it even smelled
> of having been released to the public as a preprint. Fast forward to
> 2002, and we still have Chemistry as a problem discipline for self
> archiving, ETDs, and eprints.

Fortunately, editors of peer-reviewed journals are us. So if it is true
that open access maximizes research visibility, accessibility, usage,
citation and impact, whereas toll-access diminishes it -- and, in the
online era, diminishes it needlessly -- then peer-reviewed journal
editors, like researchers themselves, will come round, regardless of
cultural variations in their past.

    Harnad, S. (2000) Ingelfinger Over-Ruled: The Role of the Web in the
    Future of Refereed Medical Journal Publishing. Lancet Perspectives
    256 (December Supplement): s16.

Cultural differences there are, and most of them have simply kept most of
us unaware of the causal connection between research access and research
impact, particularly because in the paper era there was nothing that
could be done about it. The real costs of paper access were great,
and had to be recovered through access-tolls; access-barriers were
accordingly a natural and unquestioned part of the landscape.

But unless the nature of the discipline-differences is such that
there are disciplines that would *not* benefit from maximizing their
research impact, and are *not* now deprived of potential impact by
access-toll-barriers to potential users -- and I really doubt there
are any such disciplines, though I'd be interested to hear -- then the
the only discipline-differences are in informedness about the causal
connection between access and impact, and what can be done about it,
and how. (And we're working on remedying those cultural gaps!)

> that disciplines do
> have different cultures, and that these cultures do impact the rate of
> adoption of changes in scholarly publishing.

That's certainly true. But fortunately, these are academic disciplines,
open to information and learning (rather than, say, military disciplines,
following orders and doing things the way their predecessors did
because that's just the way it's done!). They have all adapted quite
extensively to the newfound possibilities opened for them by the
Web in other respects; this is simply an especially big one of those
new possibilities, requiring a bit more unpacking in order to see and
understand, perhaps more unpacking for some disciplines than others,
because of cultural differences. But the unpacking will go on, the
scales will be removed, and the eyes will eventually see...

Stevan Harnad
Received on Sat Nov 23 2002 - 18:02:27 GMT

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